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Military / National Security News

What's Happening in Space Policy June 23-27, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jun-2014 (Updated: 22-Jun-2014 04:46 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events coming up in the next week, June 23-27, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

The House has S. 1681, the Senate-passed version of the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, on the suspension calendar for this week.  The Senate Intelligence Committee confidently predicted that the House would accept its version of the bill and that is looking likely.  Bills considered under suspension of the rules typically are non-controversial and the sponsors expect to achieve a two-thirds aye vote easily.  The Senate bill differs in many ways from the House version.  For example, it is only for FY2014 while the House-passed bill was for FY2014 and FY2015.   If the Senate bill is enacted, it gives Congress another opportunity to weigh in on intelligence issues legislatively in FY2015, which begins October 1.  The Senate bill also requires Senate confirmation of the Director and Inspector General of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which designs, builds and operates the nation's signals and imagery reconnaissance satellites (the bill also requires Senate confirmation of the Director and Inspector General of the National Security Agency).   No  other space-related bills are on the House agenda as of today (Sunday) and the Senate has only consideration of various nominations on its public schedule.  The fate of the appropriations bills that include NASA, NOAA, and the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation remains in limbo in the Senate.

The House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on the National Research Council's (NRC's) new report on the future of human space exploration on Wednesday. The co-chairs of the NRC committee, Mitch Daniels and Jonathan Lunine, will testify.  So far the report has gotten positive responses from Congress via press releases, but this hearing is an opportunity for Members to get their viewpoints on the record and ask questions that highlight their areas of interest.  The NRC committee's lack of enthusiasm for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, support for human missions back to the lunar surface, and identification of humans on Mars as the "horizon goal" are all in line with the views of most Members of the House SS&T Committee.  One point on which there may be disagreement is the NRC committee's endorsement of space cooperation with China, which Congress has prohibited by law.

Those and other space policy-related events for the upcoming week that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, June 23

Monday-Tuesday, June 23-24

Tuesday, June 24

Wednesday, June 25

Thursday, June 26

House Approves RD-180 Replacement Appropriation As U.S. Readies More Russia Sanctions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jun-2014 (Updated: 20-Jun-2014 04:31 PM)

The House passed the FY2015 defense appropriations bill today (June 20) with the $220 million added to begin building a replacement for Russia's RD-180 rocket engines intact.  Also today, the Obama Administration imposed sanctions against seven Ukrainians and, along with Europe, is readying other sanctions aimed at specific Russian economic sectors including defense.

The availability of RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket has come into question since the deterioration of relationships with Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.  The House now has passed both a FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4435) and a companion FY2015 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 4870) that provide $220 million for the Air Force to begin a program to develop a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the RD-180.  The White House disapproves of the additional funding, arguing that it is premature to commit that much money while options on how best to obtain a new U.S. engine are still being evaluated, but there seems to be agreement that a new U.S engine is needed to end America's reliance on Russia.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) also wants a U.S.-built engine and recommended $100 million in its version of the FY2015 NDAA (S. 2410).  SASC also adopted a McCain amendment that prohibits the purchase of additional RD-180 engines after the current contract expires.

U.S. national space policy requires that the government support two families of launch vehicles to ensure access to space, especially for national security satellites, in case one experiences a long hiatus because of a failure.  The Atlas V is one of the two (Delta IV is the other).  NASA and NOAA also use Atlas V and two of the three competitors for NASA's commercial crew program (Boeing and Sierra Nevada) plan to launch their spacecraft using the Atlas V.

ULA insists that it is "business as usual" with Energomash, the Russian company that manufactures the RD-180s.  The question is whether the evolving situation in Ukraine and potential sanctions against Russia's defense sector could disrupt that relationship.   ULA President Michael Gass said on Wednesday that the company is positioning itself to be able to respond to any eventuality.

Major media outlets including the New York Times report that a "senior administration official" briefed them today that the United States and Europe are readying tougher sanctions targeted against Russia's finance, energy and defense sectors because of continued Russian involvement in Ukraine.   According to the reports, the administration is accusing Russia of covertly arming Ukrainian separatists and redeploying "significant' Russian troops along the Ukrainian border despite a cease-fire declared by Ukraine today and ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Kiev on a peace plan.  The U.S. Treasury Department today imposed sanctions against seven Ukrainians who are viewed as separatist leaders.

Details of the potential sanctions against Russia's economic sectors have not been made public.   President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russian President Putin earlier this month that he risked tougher sanctions if Russia did not withdraw Russian troops from the Ukrainian border and end its support for Ukrainian separatists.  Although Russia initially withdrew some of it troops, they reportedly now are redeploying.

Space-Based Systems Enhance Maritime Domain Awareness Say SWF Panelists

Marcia S. Smith and Len Ly
Posted: 19-Jun-2014 (Updated: 19-Jun-2014 03:01 PM)

Five experts explained the utility of space-based systems to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) at a June 16, 2014 panel discussion hosted by the Secure World Foundation (SWF).

SWF Washington Office Director Victoria Samson explained that MDA is defined as “effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact security, safety, economy, and environment.”  MDA relies on a layered set of terrestrial, air-borne, and space-borne systems.

The panelists focused on the role of satellites in MDA, including optical and radar imaging satellites, especially Canada’s Radarsat-2, as well as satellites that carry receivers for the Automatic Identification System (AIS) created by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

AIS transmitters provide a ship’s identity, location, speed, direction, and other data.   IMO regulations require AIS equipment to be aboard cargo ships of certain sizes that travel in international waters and on all passenger ships. Individual countries may have additional AIS regulations governing their coastal waters.  AIS itself is a terrestrial VHF system, but as panelist Guy Thomas explained, satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) are able to pick up AIS transmissions, leading to Satellite-AIS (S-AIS).

Thomas, co-founder of the C-SIGMA Centre, calls S-AIS the “game-changer” for its ability to “locate the good guys” and permit pattern-based analysis.   The idea is that the “good guys” allow themselves to be identified through AIS so when authorities are looking for the “bad guys,” the ships transmitting on AIS can be eliminated from the target list.  AIS was created as a collision avoidance and traffic management tool, he said, but it has expanded into many other uses including environmental protection, maritime resource protection, safety, commodities trading, and route planning.

The idea for S-AIS emanated from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.   At the time, Thomas was the Johns Hopkins liaison to the Naval War College and tasked to assist the Navy evaluate its maritime security.   He learned the United States lacked ways to detect ships off the coast, with the exception of warships, which have a unique signature.  For all the other maritime vessels, he was convinced that the AIS signals could be picked up by appropriately equipped satellites in LEO.

“I discovered that [at that time] there was only one satellite system in the world that met my requirements -- ORBCOMM,” Thomas said.  He approached ORBCOMM with the idea and in 2006 six satellites equipped with AIS receivers, one of which was funded by the U.S. Coast Guard, were launched.  S-AIS “has been used dramatically in many different ways now,” he said and is provided by ORBCOMM as a commercial service (the Coast Guard no longer funds the satellite receivers, but does buy services).  Additional AIS-equipped ORBCOMM satellites have been launched since and six more are awaiting launch at Cape Canaveral on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.  The launch is currently scheduled for Friday (June 20).

John Mittleman, an engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, pointed out, however, that despite the IMO regulations, AIS and other types of terrestrial ship-board transmissions that provide location and identification data are voluntary.   “The number of ships that may reasonably pose a threat to national security and economic security based on size, cargo-carrying capacity and ocean-going capability is well over 5 million,” and roughly “100,000 changes everyday are tracked [from] vessels based on voluntary broadcasts,” he said.

The key is separating vessels willing to identify themselves through AIS or other systems from those that do not and could pose a threat.   Boats that do not voluntarily transmit identification information and boats made of fiberglass or wood that cannot be detected by space-based radars are “dark vessels.”  Only the vantage point of space can provide a global perspective on maritime activities, Mittleman said, but it is a combination of observations from satellites, aircraft and other boats that narrow down where to investigate and when.

Maj. Charity Weeden, Royal Canadian Air Force and Assistant Attaché for Air and Space Operations at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, noted that Canada has maritime approaches from three oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic) and more than 150,000 miles of coastline.  “The existing gaps of knowing what is on the ocean approaches are starting to close,” she said, due to space-based solutions.  Among them is the launch of Canada’s Radarsat-2 in 2007, which helps provide “near real-time ship detection, tracking ice floes, detecting oil pollution, monitoring sea ice, and even determining wave direction, day or night.”  But the satellite’s average revisit rate is only 3 or 4 days. “The aim now is persistence,” she said.  The Radarsat Constellation Mission, which will consist of three satellites set to launch in 2018 that will work in tandem, will have daily access to 95% of the globe, up to four passes per day in the Arctic.  They will also have S-AIS. Weeden added that Canada and the United States share similar MDA commitments and should continue working together to maximize results.

Jon Huggins, director of the Oceans Beyond Piracy project of the One Earth Future Foundation, called MDA an essential element in addressing piracy while adding that “not everyone is in favor of more MDA.”  He cited a number of examples where ships do not want to be identified and choose, for example, to turn off their AIS systems in certain parts of the world.  “There were some reports that pirates were able to access certain types of AIS equipment, so a lot of ships were turning off their AIS systems that were transmitting in high-risk areas.”  Others prefer the freedom associated with anonymity such as when “you have an unapproved private security team, and perhaps an incident happens at sea that you may not want reported that brings liability issues as well as some reputation damage.”  Another example is ships that may briefly travel through war zones, but do not want to pay the higher insurance premiums required in those areas.

Bharath Gopalaswamy, deputy director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, focused on MDA in South and Southeast Asia and the need for international cooperation.  No single country has the resources to do it alone, he said, but he also identified a lengthy list of challenges, including “lack of shared training or conduct in maritime operations, limited maritime intelligence collection and sharing, limited patrol capacity” as well as a perception of the dangers of “a maritime arms race in the region.”  He added there are inadequate “crisis management mechanisms” among the nations in that region and two other challenges are “U.S. behavior in the region” and “the China factor.”  He did not address satellite or other types systems necessary for MDA, but rather the need for enhanced governance and security in that region.

Other panelists also stressed the need for international cooperation.  Regarding the space-borne contribution to MDA, a number of other countries are launching optical and radar imaging satellites and ORBCOMM is no longer the only satellite system equipped with S-AIS.  Thomas’ C-SIGMA Centre – Collaboration in Space for International Global Maritime Awareness Centre -- was founded specifically to “foster wider cooperation and exchange in the use of and access to satellite based maritime surveillance information” on a global level.

Weeden pointed out, however, that satellites cannot do the MDA job alone.  They are an “enhancer,” but there is no one solution -- an international, multilayered approach involving terrestrial, air- and space-borne systems is needed.

ULA Fights To Change Perceptions, Accelerates RD-180 Deliveries

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jun-2014 (Updated: 18-Jun-2014 11:09 PM)

United Launch Alliance (ULA) President Michael Gass announced today that the company is initiating an advertising campaign to change misperceptions and correct misinformation as its Air Force customer fights a lawsuit filed by competitor SpaceX and controversy swirls over the future of the Russian RD-180 rocket engines it uses for the Atlas V rocket.

ULA builds and launches the nation's two major launch vehicle families -- Atlas V and Delta IV -- that are primarily used for putting national security satellites into space.  NASA and NOAA also use those rockets.  The Air Force awarded ULA a sole-source block-buy contract for 36 rocket engine cores last year.  SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the Air Force in April arguing that it should have had a chance to compete for some of those launches.

The SpaceX lawsuit was one of three topics Gass wanted to discuss with representatives of the trade press at a media roundtable this morning in ULA's Washington-area office.  Among the points he stressed were that SpaceX was not -- and is not -- a certified launch services provider for the Air Force even today and "was not a viable competitor" when the Air Force issued the Request for Proposals in March 2012.  Another key message was that ULA has more than 100 years of combined experience launching rockets -- roughly 50 years each for the Atlas and Delta, which date back to the earliest days of the Space Age -- versus newcomer SpaceX.   The national security satellites launched by ULA "save lives," Gass emphasized, and experience counts to be sure they get into orbit when needed.

SpaceX not only wants to be able to compete against ULA for Air Force launches, but founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk argues that ULA's Atlas V rocket should be discontinued entirely because it relies on Russia's RD-180 engines.  National space policy calls for the government to support two families of launch vehicles to ensure access to space in case one requires a lengthy stand-down because of a failure.  Atlas and Delta are those two rockets today.  Musk wants his all-American Falcon to replace Atlas.

The future availability of RD-180s is a hot topic in Washington right now as the House debates the FY2015 Defense Appropriations bill, which would add $220 million to the Air Force budget to begin development on a new U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace it.   Gass made clear today that despite threats from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to prohibit RD-180s from being used to launch U.S. national security satellites, it is "business as usual" with the engines' Russian manufacturer Energomash.   However, ULA decided to accelerate delivery of the RD-180 engines it already has under contract.   Five engines were due to be delivered in November, but now two will arrive in August and the remaining three in November.  The plan had been for six engines per year after that, but instead Energomash will deliver eight per year.  That means the contract will be fulfilled a year earlier and Gass expects savings because of the shorter period of performance.

Although he still has confidence in the supply of RD-180s from Russia, Gass said ULA wants to position itself for any eventuality.  Therefore it announced earlier this week that it has contracted with "multiple" U.S. companies to develop technical concepts and perform business case analyses for alternative engines.  He declined to say how many companies, who they are, or precisely how much they are being paid, but he said it was company money.  ULA expects to choose one design and supplier by the end of this year with the goal of having a new engine ready for launch in 2019.

Gass complained about widespread misperceptions and "misinformation" being spread about ULA.  Consequently, the company is launching an advertising campaign aimed at decision makers to "illuminate the contrast between ULA and SpaceX."  The nation "has made mistakes in the past," Gass said, and "it is incumbent on us to not let the nation make those same mistakes again."

Obama Administration Opposes New Money for RD-180 Replacement Engine

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jun-2014 (Updated: 17-Jun-2014 10:07 PM)

The White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the FY2015 defense appropriations bill this evening.  The bill is scheduled for House floor action tomorrow.  The White House "strongly opposes" the bill for many reasons, one of which is the $220 million it provides to begin development of a new rocket engine to replace Russia's RD-180 used for the Atlas V launch vehicle.

The White House asserts that it is premature to commit that level of resources to a new engine while it is still "evaluating several cost-effective options including public-private partnerships with multiple awards that will drive innovation, stimulate the industrial base, and reduce costs through competition."

As the SAP says, a recent study of alternatives to the RD-180 concluded that building a new engine would take eight years and cost $1.5 billion, with another $3 billion needed for a suitable launch vehicle to utilize it.  The White House apparently believes it can reduce that cost and schedule through public-private partnerships.

Last night, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that it had awarded commercial contracts to "multiple" U.S. companies to develop concepts for a new U.S. liquid rocket engine that could be ready in five years -- by 2019.  ULA said it plans to choose one design and supplier by the end of this year.  ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that builds and launches the Atlas V and Delta IV families of rockets.  They are primarily used for national security space launches, as well as for NASA and NOAA satellites. ULA President Michael Gass said that as "the nation's steward of the launch industrial base" it is "incumbent" on the company to "bring forward the best solutions."   ULA added that it is evaluating the technical feasibility of the new concepts for "both private investment and the potential for government-industry investment" -- in short, public-private partnerships. 

U.S. reliance on Russian RD-180 rocket engines for launching national security satellites entered the spotlight earlier this year when the U.S.-Russian geopolitical relationship deteriorated after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.   Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia's aerospace sector and is one of the Russians sanctioned by the Obama Administration, threatened to prohibit use of the RD-180s for launching U.S. national security satellites.   The response from the Administration and Congress has been to eliminate U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines by building a U.S. alternative, though there clearly are differences in how to accomplish that goal.

Lockheed Martin's decision to use Russian rocket engines for the Atlas V dates back to the 1990s, soon after the Soviet Union collapsed.  At the time, the Air Force required the company to build a co-production facility in the United States to manufacture the engines independently of Russia in case the geopolitical relationship changed.   The Air Force later waived that requirement and Lockheed Martin -- through ULA -- stockpiled a two-year supply of the engines to guard against any such eventuality.  Consequently, today the engines are still manufactured in Russia by Energomash and provided to ULA through RD-AMROSS, a joint venture between Energomash and United Technologies, a U.S. company.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the Air Force for awarding a sole-source block-buy contract to ULA in December rather than allowing SpaceX to compete.  SpaceX founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk argues that the Atlas V should be discontinued because of its reliance on Russian engines.  U.S. space policy requires that the government support two launch vehicle families to ensure access to space in case one should experience a lengthy hiatus because of a failure.  Atlas V and Delta IV are those two families today, but Musk sees a future when it is Delta IV and his American-made Falcon.

Intelligence Bill Would Require Senate Confirmation for NRO Director and IG

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jun-2014 (Updated: 16-Jun-2014 06:03 PM)

The Senate-passed version of the latest Intelligence Authorization bill would require that the Director and Inspector General (IG) of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) be subject to Senate confirmation, as well as the Director and IG of the National Security Agency (NSA).   The House-passed bill requires only that the NSA IG receive Senate confirmation.  A Senate Intelligence Committee press release, however, predicts that the House will accept its version.

The Senate's FY2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, S. 1681, was reported from committee last fall (S. Rept. 113-120), but the version passed by the Senate on June 11 is an "amendment in the nature of a substitute."  The new version retains language from the previous text, however, requiring Senate confirmation for the NRO Director and IG.  The bill passed by voice vote.

The House passed a two-year bill for both FY2014 and 2015 on May 30.  It was an amended version of what the House Intelligence Committee cleared in November.  There is nothing in the unclassified version of that bill about national security space activities including any requirement for Senate confirmation of the NRO Director and IG.  

NRO design, builds, and operates the nation's signals and imagery reconnaissance satellites.  Its Director and IG are currently appointed by the President.  The Senate's requirement that they henceforth be confirmed by the Senate come at a time when relationships between the Executive Branch and Congress on intelligence matters are under considerable strain.  The Senate committee also has shown strong interest for several years in tradeoffs between the expensive government-built imagery satellites under NRO's control versus buying commercial imagery from companies like DigitalGlobe.

Senate confirmation is required for a wide range of top level Executive Branch officials from Cabinet secretaries to NASA's Chief Financial Officer.  The confirmation process not only gives the Senate leverage over who is appointed in the first place, but subsequently those individuals can be required to testify, presumably providing more transparency for Congress to know what is going on in the Executive Branch. 

Quite a few top-level intelligence officials already are subject to Senate confirmation, including the Director of National Intelligence and Director of Central Intelligence along with several of their top staff and their agencies' IGs and the Under Secretaries of Intelligence at DOD and the Department of Homeland Security, as a few examples.

The Senate bill would add a total of four more positions to the list:  the Director and IG of NRO and the Director and IG of NSA.

In its report, the Senate committee said that Senate confirmation "will improve oversight and accountability and, ultimately, the effectiveness of the agencies in question."  The committee added, however, that it actually thinks fewer positions across the government should be subject to Senate confirmation and it would "evaluate" whether other positions in the Intelligence Community that currently require Senate confirmation can be relieved of that requirement. 

The House-passed bill would add a requirement of Senate confirmation only for the NSA IG.   Even though the Senate bill affects four positions and the House version only one, a press release from the Senate committee issued after the bill cleared the Senate asserts that the measure would now go to the House "where it is expected to be passed in its current form and sent to the president for enactment."  Whether the President will agree to Senate confirmation for these positions remains to be seen.

Separately, in its report on the bill last fall, the Senate committee included extensive language encouraging the use of commercial satellite imagery generally and specifically allowing commercial firms to sell data with higher resolution -- 0.25 meter -- than the 0.50 meter then allowed.   The government recently agreed to the 0.25 meter limit.

What's Happening in Space Policy June 16-20, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jun-2014 (Updated: 15-Jun-2014 05:02 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events for the week of June 16-20, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate both are in session this week.

During the Week

Inside the Beltway, perhaps the most interesting event will be Senate debate on a "minibus" appropriations bill that bundles the bill that funds NASA and NOAA (Commerce-Justice-Science or CJS), the bill that funds FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (Transportation-HUD or T-HUD), and the Agriculture bill.  The Hill newspaper reports that's the plan and the Senate did begin debate on the motion to proceed to the CJS bill last week, a procedural step.   Those three bills were bundled together in FY2012, too. 

It's hard to remember the last time the Senate took up the CJS appropriations bill so early in the year.  Typically the Senate turns to such bills after the August recess.   It is amazing to see how much progress is being made on appropriations bills on both sides of Capitol Hill this year thanks to the Ryan-Murray budget agreement reached last December that set the spending limits for FY2014 and FY2015.  It's never over till the fat lady sings, of course, but one kernel of optimism for those three bills, at least, is that the House already has passed two (CJS and T-HUD) and begun debate on the third (Agriculture) though it is not the Majority Leader's schedule for the coming week.  Instead the House will be debating the defense appropriations bill, which was reported from committee on Friday (H.R. 4870, H. Rept. 113-473).

Outside the Beltway, the third International Space Station Research and Development Conference in Chicago should be interesting.   Organized by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) in cooperation with NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the conference has a very impressive agenda.  AAS sometimes offers webcasts of key sessions of its conferences; we're checking to see if they are providing webcasts this time and will add the information to our calendar item for that event if the answer is yes.

Those and the other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, June 16

Monday-Friday, June 16-20

Tuesday-Thursday, June 17-19

Wednesday, June 18

Wednesday-Thursday, June 18-19

Friday, June 20

DigitalGlobe Wins Permission To Sell Higher Resolution Imagery

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2014 (Updated: 11-Jun-2014 05:55 PM)

Commercial satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe announced today that it has received permission from the U.S. government to collect and sell satellite imagery with greater resolution than allowed in the past.  The company has been seeking a change to the resolution restriction for quite some time.

Under the new limits, DigitalGlobe can collect and sell imagery as sharp as 0.25 meters (m) instead of 0.50 m.  Until now, if the satellite could image the Earth with greater accuracy, the company had to degrade the data so it had only the allowable resolution.  (Resolution is essentially the ability to "see" an object on Earth.)   Beginning immediately, it may sell the imagery from its existing satellites at its "native" resolution.   DigitalGlobe, after its merger with competitor GeoEye in 2013, operates a fleet of five high-resolution imaging satellites, two of which can provide better than 0.50 m resolution with their panchromatic (black and white) sensors:  GeoEye-1 (0.41 m) and WorldView-2 (0.46 m). 

The WorldView-3 satellite is scheduled for launch in August 2014.  It will have 0.31 m resolution.  Six months after it is operational, DigitalGlobe will be allowed to offer imagery with that resolution for sale to commercial customers.

DigitalGlobe CEO Jeffrey Tanber thanked Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker as well as the Departments of Defense and State and the Intelligence Community for making this "forward-leaning change to our nation's policy."

DigitalGlobe also operates Ikonos, QuickBird, WorldView-1 and GeoEye-1.   Another satellite, GeoEye-2, also with 0.31 m resolution, is under construction.

The U.S. government has steadily relaxed image resolution limits for commercial imaging satellites since commercial satellite remote sensing was first envisioned in the 1980s.  NOAA, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is responsible for licensing commercial remote sensing satellites under the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act, which replaced the 1984 Land-Remote Sensing Commercialization Act.  The resolution limits reflect a tension between those who want to restrict availability of the very best imagery to those involved in protecting U.S. national security and those who want to make such data widely available for multiple uses and to more easily enable sharing with other countries.

House Appropriators Support RD-180 Replacement, Want More EELV Info - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jun-2014 (Updated: 10-Jun-2014 12:05 PM)

UPDATE, June 10, 2014:   The committee approved the bill today with no changes to the space provisions.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 9, 2014:  The House Appropriations Committee supports adding $220 million to begin development of a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180s currently used for the Atlas V rocket in its draft FY2015 defense bill.  The committee also directs the Air Force to provide more information about changes in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  

Those recommendations are included in the committee's draft bill and report on the FY2015 defense budget request, which are posted on the committee's website. The defense subcommittee approved the draft on May 30.  Full committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday, June 10).

U.S. dependence on Russian engines for one of the two rockets used to launch most U.S. national security satellites is getting a lot of attention as U.S.-Russian relationships remain strained due to events in Ukraine.  Lockheed Martin's decision to use Russian engines for its Atlas V rocket dates back to the 1990s and was approved by DOD initially with the requirement that the company build a co-production facility in the United States where the engines could be provided independently of Russia in case geopolitical circumstances changed.  That requirement was later waived by the government, with the company buying extra engines to stockpile instead.   Today, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA), builds both Atlas V and Boeing's Delta IV.  ULA says it has a two-year supply of RD-180s, but it would take longer than that to develop a U.S.-built replacement creating the conundrum now being faced by the U.S. government.

The House passed the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in May, which includes $220 million to begin development of a U.S. engine to replace the RD-180.   That is an authorization bill, though, not an appropriation.  (Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not actually provide money.  Only appropriations bills provide money).  Winning support from House appropriators is a key step, though not the only one.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted on its version of the bill so it is too early to tell if it will follow the lead of the Senate's DOD authorization committee.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) recommended $100 million for FY2015 rather than $220 million for this purpose when it approved its version of the NDAA in May.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) included language in the committee-approved NDAA prohibiting the purchase of any more RD-180 engines after the current block buy contract is completed, although waivers are permitted in certain circumstances.  Even if the Senate Appropriations Committee does agree with SASC, there is quite a difference in the dollar amount between the House and Senate that would have to be negotiated.

Apart from the RD-180 issue, the House Appropriations Committee's draft bill and report highlight these other space-related recommendations:

  • Cuts the FY2015 EELV procurement request of $1.346 billion for three launches and infrastructure by $35 million.
  • Rescinds $118.7 million of FY2014 EELV funding.
  • Directs the Secretary of the Air Force to notify Congress of "each change to the EELV acquisition plan and schedule as compared to the plan and schedule" in the FY2015 budget submission "including the national security rationale for the change, the impact on the EELV block buy contract and launch manifest, the impact on the change in opportunities for competition for certified EELV launch providers, and the costs or savings associated with the change."
  • Cuts the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and associated ground system request of $309.5 million by $10 million.
  • Provides $212.6 million for the GPS III operational ground control segment, the same as the request.
  • Adds $30 million to the $57 million requested for advance procurement of the GPS IIII space segment to allow for acquiring two satellites per year instead of one.
  • Provides the full request of $156.7 million for the Military GPS User Equipment program.
  • Provides the full request of $32.9 million for the GPS Space Modernization Initiative, but directs that $20 million be used to study "technological maturation, including the use of an alternative digital GPS payload, and risk reduction consistent with the GPS enterprise analysis of alternatives."
  • Directs the Secretary of Defense to consider upgrading existing communications terminals to accelerate the fielding of the full capability of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), a Navy satellite communications program.

Full committee markup is at 9:30 am ET tomorrow morning. 

What's Happening in Space Policy June 2-6, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jun-2014 (Updated: 01-Jun-2014 06:30 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events for the week of June 2-6, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week; the House is in recess.

During the Week

The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup its version of the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this week.  Subcommittee markup is on Tuesday and full committee markup is on Thursday.   The House passed its version after two long days of debate last week, though little of it was about NASA or NOAA satellite programs, and only two minor amendments were adopted that affect NASA.  Overall the House bill would give NASA $435 million more than President Obama requested for FY2015, a significant increase especially in these budget constrained times.   We'll see what the Senate has in mind this week.  NOAA's satellite programs fare pretty well in the House-passed bill, although it denies funding for the new SIDAR program -- a free-flyer that would take three instruments (TSIS, A-DCS, SARSAT) into orbit that cannot fit on the JPSS spacecraft.  Last year this was called the Polar Free Flyer and Congress zeroed funding for it and told NOAA to come up with a new plan.  SIDAR is that plan.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also will begin action on the FY2015 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill this week.  The T-HUD subcommittee will markup the bill on Tuesday morning and full committee markup is on Thursday (along with the CJS bill).  The T-HUD bill funds the Federal Aviation Administration and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  The House Appropriations Committee recommended a cut in AST funding in its version of the bill, from $16.605 million to $16.000 million.

Also of particular note this week is Wednesday's release of the National Research Council's (NRC's) report on the future of the U.S. human spaceflight program.  The report was requested by Congress in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, but Congress directed NASA to contract with the NRC for the study in FY2012, not at the time the bill became law in 2010.   Consequently, the study did not begin until late in FY2012 and the first meeting was in December 2012.   The report is entitled:  Pathways to Exploration:  Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration.  The NRC committee was co-chaired by Cornell space scientist Jonathan Lunine and Purdue University President (and former Indiana Governor) Mitch Daniels.

This week's meeting of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board might also be interesting.   PNT is the official term for what GPS does.  GPS is one of several space-based PNT systems around the world that collectively are referred to as Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).  On Tuesday, the State Department's Ken Hodgkins is slated to give an update on U.S. GNSS International Engagement that hopefully will shed some light on Russian Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin's recent threat to turn off 11 GPS stations located in Russia on June 1 (today) unless the United States allows GLONASS stations in the United States.  Russia's ITAR-TASS news service reported today that Russia has, in fact, changed the status of those 11 stations though it is difficult to discern exactly what has changed.   As far as we've been able to determine so far, the 11 GPS stations in Russia have nothing to do with the operation of the GPS system but are so-called "differential" stations that improve the accuracy of a received GPS signal in a local area.  In this case they are being used by Russian scientists.  Brad Parkinson, the "father" of GPS, gave an interesting interview to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) on May 14 explaining what those stations do -- or don't do.  They are not related to GPS operations at all.  The only impact of turning them off is on the scientific research.   By comparison, the GLONASS monitoring stations Russia wants to put on U.S. soil would improve the accuracy of the GLONASS system itself, so it seems to be an apples to oranges comparison.  The issue of putting the GLONASS stations here became very controversial last fall and the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits placing the GLONASS monitoring stations here unless approved by the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense.

Those and the other space policy-related events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, June 2

Monday-Wednesday, June 2-4

Tuesday, June 3

Tuesday-Wednesday, June 3-4

Wednesday, June 4

Thursday, June 5