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Military / National Security News

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

What's Happening in Space Policy for the Week of May 26-30, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-May-2014 (Updated: 25-May-2014 03:32 PM)

Here is our weekly list of what is coming up in space policy this week and any insight we can offer.   Usually the week that includes Memorial Day is pretty quiet as lots of people head to the beach or other vacation spots, but the House decided it would be in session for legislative business Wednesday-Friday and take next week off instead.   The Senate is doing the opposite -- off this week and in session next.  

During the Week

The House is scheduled to debate the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this week.  It includes FY2015 funding for NASA and NOAA and was reported from the House Appropriations Committee on May 15 (H.R. 4660, H. Rept. 113-448).   As approved by the committee, NASA would get an increase of $435 million over the President's FY2015 request.  Such a large increase is quite rare and in the zero-sum world of congressional appropriations, other programs and projects in the CJS bill suffered cuts to pay for it.  The floor debate could be quite interesting if some of the advocates of those other programs try to recoup those losses.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's floor schedule website isn't specific about whether the debate will begin on Wednesday or Thursday, but the National Journal's Daybook says Thursday.

On Friday, the House will debate the FY2014-2015 Intelligence Authorization bill, which was just approved by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) on Thursday (May 22).  It had approved a FY2014 bill last year (H.R. 3381).   The new version (H.R. 4681) adds authorizations for FY2015 and, according to a committee press release, makes other changes.  Most of the bill is classified.  The unclassified version, which is posted on the House Rules Committee's website and on THOMAS, doesn't show any provisions specifically related to space activities.

The NASA Advisory Council's Earth Science Subcommittee also decided to be hard at work rather than on vacation this week.  It meets Wednesday-Thursday at NASA Headquarters.

And holidays never really mean much for launch schedules.   Three new ISS crew members are scheduled for launch on their Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft on Wednesday afternoon EDT (very early Thursday morning local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan) and docking later that evening.

Here's the list of the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, May 28

  • Soyuz TMA-13M launch and docking of three ISS crewmembers.  Launch: 3:57 pm EDT (1:57 am May 29 local time at the launch site in Kazakhstan); docking 9:48 pm EDT.   NASA TV launch coverage begins at 3:00 pm EDT; docking coverage at 9:00 pm EDT.

Wednesday-Thursday, May 28-29

Thursday, May 29

  • House floor debate on FY2015 CJS appropriations bill (time TBD), The Capitol, Washington, DC (watch on C-SPAN) [Debate might begin on Wednesday, see text above]

Friday, May 30

  • House floor debate on FY2014-2015 Intelligence Authorization Bill (time TBD), The Capitol, Washington, DC (watch on C-SPAN)

SASC OKs FY2015 NDAA - Adds Money for ORS, New Rocket Engine; Wants More Launch Competition - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-May-2014 (Updated: 05-Jun-2014 09:57 PM)

UPDATE:  The text of the bill and report are now available (see links in last paragraph).

ORIGINAL STORY:  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) late yesterday (May 22).  It contains a number of space-related provisions, especially affecting launches of U.S. national security satellites and also continues funding for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office that the Obama Administration has been trying to close for several years.

The future of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program -- both use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas V rocket and competition between the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and "new entrants" like SpaceX -- features heavily in the space-related actions listed in the committee's summary press release.

The deteriorating geopolitical relationship between the United States and Russia over Ukraine is shining a spotlight on U.S dependence on Russian space hardware and thrown the RD-180 engines into the middle of the controversy.  At the same time, SpaceX is suing the U.S. government because it awarded a block-buy contract for 36 EELV cores -- including some for the Atlas V -- on a sole source rather than competitive basis in December.  SpaceX already launches spacecraft for NASA and the commercial space sector and wants to compete for national security space launches.  That aspiration has the support of key Senators like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). 

McCain issued his own press release yesterday announcing that SASC had adopted his amendment to prohibit future contracts to purchase Russian rocket engines for U.S. national security space launches.  McCain's press release did not provide the full text of the amendment.  The committee's press release does not either, but it elaborates on what it involves.   While the use of RD-180s after the end of the current block-buy contract would be prohibited, that prohibition can be waived for national security reasons or if "space launch and services cannot be obtained at a fair and reasonable price."  McCain said SASC also adopted amendments he sponsored that require full and open competition for two launches "they tried to sole source" and for an investigation of "undue reliance" on foreign suppliers and parts. 

In total, the provisions related to the EELV program and competition for national security space launches approved by SASC are --

  • Requires competition for launching the payload from mission five of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program
  • Prohibits the use of Russian rocket engines on EELVs at the end of the current block-buy contract and requires DOD to pursue domestic development of a new "world class liquid rocket engine with a waiver for national security and if space launch and services cannot be obtained at a fair and reasonable price"
  • Requires the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to develop a program plan to competitively produce by 2019 a new U.S. EELV-class liquid rocket engine
    • the plan must be submitted to Congress by September 30, 2014
    • $100 million is added for FY2015, and $20 million of already appropriated FY2014 funds is designated, to begin engineering design
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the EELV program's reliance and risk on foreign sources
  • Requires GAO to examine the cost and pricing accounting methods of the EELV program, and
  • Requires the Air Force to increase competition in the EELV program by at least one in FY2015 "without breaking the terms of the existing block buy" and allows for an additional competition between FY2016 and FY2017 subject to a SecDef waiver that it will not break the block-buy contract

The House passed its version of the NDAA (H.R. 4435) yesterday and it also contains a number of provisions on these topics.   The House and Senate agree on the need for a new U.S. liquid rocket engine.  The House adds more money than the Senate for it in FY2015 -- about $200 million ($220 million is added to the Aerospace Propulsion account, but then $23 million is subtracted from "liquid rocket engine combustion technologies and advanced liquid engine technologies" in the same account, so the net addition is $197 million).  Both the House and Senate seem supportive of the December 2013 block buy contract that SpaceX is disputing, though the House more strongly than the Senate.  Both call on the Air Force to provide more opportunities for competition, while the Senate is more proscriptive.

The future of the ORS office itself is a long running debate between Congress and the Obama Administration.  Once again DOD submitted a FY2015 budget plan to zero funding for the ORS office and once again Congress is rejecting that proposal.  The Senate bill adds $20 million for ORS for FY2015 to "enable the program to continue designing a low cost space based situational awareness satellite."  The House bill adds $30 million.

The Senate bill includes the following other space-related provisions according to the press release:

  • Requires the Defense Science Board to review the long term systems architecture of the space situational awareness sensor system
  • Requires an update of the space control and space superiority strategy pursuant to the Space Posture Review
  • Prohibits funding to store the last Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellite unless the SecDef certifies to Congress that he intends to launch that satellite and will have sufficient funding to do so in the Future Years Defense Program (that projects future defense spending)
  • Requires a "preponderance" of funds within the Space Security and Defense Program to be allocated to offensive space control and active defense strategies

The House bill also would require DOD to launch the final DMSP satellite.   That and other House space-related provisions are summarized in two previous articles on April 29 and on May 5.

The text of the Senate bill (S. 2410) as approved by SASC and accompanying explanatory report (S. Rept. 113-176) are now posted on the Library of Congress THOMAS website.

SASC Adopts McCain Amendment Prohibiting New Contracts for Russian Rocket Engines

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-May-2014 (Updated: 23-May-2014 08:14 AM)

While one part of official Washington worries that Russia will follow through on a recent threat to prohibit use of RD-180 engines for U.S. national security space launches, another part is working to ensure exactly that outcome.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) yesterday adopted a McCain amendment that prohibits future contracts to purchase Russian rocket engines to launch national security satellites.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) issued a press release yesterday (May 22) announcing 11 amendments adopted by SASC during markup of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  SASC has been working on the bill since Wednesday and was expected to complete its work late yesterday or today (May 23).  No announcement had been made by the committee as of 6:30 am EDT this morning as this article went to press.  (Sen. Carl Levin's website has a press release about a different aspect of the bill that says markup was completed on Thursday, but the committee has not released an announcement or a summary of the action it took.  Levin chairs the committee.)

McCain's press release did not include the exact wording of the amendment, but it would "prohibit future contracts to buy Russian rocket engines to launch our national security satellites." 

The amendment also requires the Air Force to "have a full and open competition on two satellites that they tried to sole-source" and for an investigation on "undue reliance by the U.S. space industry on foreign suppliers and parts such as engines."

McCain sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on May 6 asking a series of questions about DOD's use of Russian rocket engines and plans by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to accelerate delivery of those engines in case the geopolitical situation between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine situation worsens.  HIs questions focused on whether the purchases violate U.S. sanctions in Executive Order 13661 and the impact of increased costs if deliveries are accelerated.   That followed letters he sent on April 25 to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and, separately, to DOD Inspector General Jon Rymer, asking questions about the Air Force's decision to award a contract to ULA for 36 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) cores in December 2013 on a sole-source rather than competitive basis,

SpaceX founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk is suing the Air Force over the award of that contract.  Musk wants to be able to compete with ULA for launches of U.S. national security satellites.  One thrust of his argument is that one of the two EELVs, Atlas V, relies on Russian RD-180 engines and using his Falcon rockets with U.S.-built engines would be better.  McCain apparently agrees.   However, an Air Force review panel recently concluded that there are no easy answers to launching U.S. national security  satellites if the RD-180s no longer are available.   Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin recently threatened to prohibit use of RD-180 engines for such launches because of sanctions the Obama Administration imposed against him and other Russian officials because of Russia's actions in Ukraine.  Rogozin oversees Russia's aerospace sector.

Another Shoe Drops in SpaceX-Air Force/ULA Dispute

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2014 (Updated: 22-May-2014 10:55 PM)

SpaceX's already heated debate with the Air Force (AF) and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) over the sole-source contract awarded to ULA in December 2013 ratcheted up another notch today.  SpaceX founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk implied in a series of tweets that the recent employment of an Air Force procurement official by Aerojet Rocketdyne was in exchange for that official awarding the contract to ULA.

The National Legal and Policy Center reported on May 18 that Roger "Scott" Correll, a recently retired Air Force procurement official involved in the ULA contract, has taken a job with Aerojet Rocketdyne, which provides rocket engines for one of ULA's two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs), the Delta IV.   (The other EELV, Atlas V, is under scrutiny for unrelated reasons associated with the fact that its RD-180 engines are supplied by Russia.)

SpaceX filed suit against the U.S. Government earlier this month on the basis that the contract should have been competed rather than awarded on a sole source basis.  Musk said via Twitter (@elonmusk) this evening that it was "V likely AF official Correll was told by ULA/Rocketdyne that a rich VP job was his if he gave them a sole source contract."  In a separate tweet, Musk says "Reason I believe this is likely is that Correll first tried to work at SpaceX, but we turned him down.  Our competitor, it seems, did not."  In a third tweet, Musk says that the issue deserves examination by the DOD Inspector General as part of an investigation already requested by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

Musk is trying to break into the national security space launch market.  SpaceX already conducts launches of its Falcon 9 rocket for NASA and for the commercial satellite industry.  The first step in getting Falcon 9 certified by the Air Force to compete as a "new entrant" in the national security space launch services business is to successfully complete three launches of the same version of the Falcon 9 rocket it intends to use for the Air Force. 

Those launches have been completed, but SpaceX and the Air Force disagree on how promptly the certification process is proceeding.   Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. William Shelton said at the Space Foundation's Space Symposium in Colorado earlier this week that the Air Force has accepted the first launch, but is still analyzing the other two and in any case the three launches are "just openers."  The Air Force also wants to make sure that SpaceX's manufacturing and engineering processes "are right" and that it has "an auditable financial system."  Overall, he argued, it takes time, money and people to complete the certification process and the Air Force is spending $60 million and has 100 people working on it, but SpaceX "cannot compete, will not compete, until they are certified."

Air Force RD-180 Alternatives Study Finds No Easy Answers

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2014 (Updated: 22-May-2014 09:36 PM)

A quick turnaround Air Force review panel assessing the impact on U.S. space launches if Russia's RD-180 rocket engines no longer are available has found there are no easy remedies.

According to briefing charts obtained by, between now and FY2017 the impacts of losing use of RD-180 engines are "significant" and "options to mitigate them are limited."  The panel was chaired by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mitch Mitchell.  Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin was deputy chair and Gen. (Ret.) Tom Moorman was a senior advisor to the group.

One of the more interesting slides in the package is the "how did we get here" slide 8.  U.S. use of Russian rocket engines for a workhorse U,S. launch system was originally predicated on establishment of a U.S.-based co-production capability so that the engines could be produced here rather than relying on delivery from Russia. 

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) uses RD-180 engines to power the Atlas V rocket, one of the two U.S. "Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles" or EELVs.  Delta IV is the other.  The two EELVs are used for most launches of national security satellites, as well as NASA and NOAA spacecraft.

As demonstrated in slide 8, DOD delayed the co-production requirement for the RD-180 engines for the Atlas rocket -- originally built by General Dynamics, which was later bought by Lockheed Martin -- throughout the late 1990s and 2000s.   The requirement never went into effect, so RD-180s continue to be manufactured in Russia and imported to the United States.  That is why Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin's threat to prohibit using RD-180 engines to launch U.S. national security satellites is creating such concern.

ULA says it has a 2-year supply of the RD-180 engines already in the United States, but the Mitchell study points out that 56 percent of the EELV launches between now and 2020 are planned for the Atlas V.  While ULA has said satellites could be shifted to the Delta IV instead, the Mitchell study concludes that Delta IV production cannot be accelerated sufficiently to avoid launch delays.  It also concludes that "New Entrants" like SpaceX will not be ready in time to avoid delays.

In a worst case scenario where the last launch of an Atlas V with an RD-180 engine was today's launch of a National Reconnaissance Office satellite (NROL-33), the study concludes that 31 launches could be delayed with a cost impact of $5 billion.  If all the RD-180 engines currently in the United States can be used, there would be 9 launch delays costing $2.5 billion.

The Mitchell study does not recommend reinstituting the co-production requirement, saying it is "doable but does not improve the current situation."  Instead, it calls for U.S. production of a domestic liquid rocket engine and other mitigation actions.  The study calls for issuance of a DOD Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) to develop a new liquid oxygen/hydrocarbon (LOx/HC) engine as well as a new generation launch vehicle.  It recommends creation of a joint DOD/NASA program office to manage "investment in a LOx/HC engine risk reduction phase ($141M)" and to provide "options for engines and new launch vehicles in support of Phase 3 EELV acquisition strategy."  Phase 3 of the EELV acquisition strategy is for the years FY2023-2030.

The bottom line of the study is that actions are needed now, in FY2014, to "mitigate current risk and preserve future options."

Today, the House passed the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4355), which includes about $200 million for development of a new liquid rocket engine.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is expected to complete markup of its version of the NDAA tomorrow, but what it will say about a new rocket engine has not been made public.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announced today, however, that the committee adopted one of his amendments that would prohibit future purchases of Russian rocket engines to launch national security satellites.  The appropriations committees in the House and Senate have not yet acted on the FY2015 defense appropriations bill.

Space Foundation: Space Economy Grew by 4 Percent in 2013

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-May-2014 (Updated: 19-May-2014 09:36 PM)

The Space Foundation released its annual report on the state of the space economy today.   It asserts that the global space economy grew by 4 percent in 2013 reaching a new record of $314.17 billion.

Government spending around the world accounts for less than a quarter of that amount, and was less in 2013 compared to 2012 "as significant cuts in the U.S. space budget were only partly offset by growth in the space budgets of other countries." 

The reduction in U.S. Government space spending was both in civil and national security space primarily because of the sequester.  

NASA's spending dropped from $17.77 billion in FY2012 to $16.85 billion in FY2013, for example.   (It rebounded to $17.65 billion for the current fiscal year, FY2014.)   Calculating how much the United States spends on national security space is a challenge since so much information is classified and space activities are not grouped together into a single account in the DOD budget.   The Space Foundation estimates that it was $21.72 billion in FY2013.   Adding in funding for other agencies like NOAA and NSF, it uses $41.257 billion as the total for U.S. government space spending in 2013, 9.4 percent less than 2012.

Even with that reduction, the U.S. space program overall still accounted for 55.7 percent of total government spending around the globe in 2013 according to the report.

The growth in the space economy was in the commercial sector.  The report concludes that of the $314.17 billion space economy in 2013:

  • 24 percent was government spending
    • 13 percent U.S.;
    • 11 percent non-U.S
  • 76 percent was commercial
    • 37 percent for commercial infrastructure and support industries;
    • 39 percent commercial space products and services

Commercial space infrastructure includes satellite manufacturing, launch services, space stations, ground stations, and associated equipment.    Commercial space products and services includes revenues from satellite broadcasting (television and radio), communications, and Earth observation.

In terms of the satellite launch industry, there were 81 orbital launch attempts in 2013, of which 78 were successful in placing their primary payloads into orbit.  The Space Foundation counts 23 of those as commercial launches, of which Russia conducted 12, the United States 6, Europe 4, and the multinational Sea Launch consortium 1. 

A brief summary of the report and information on how to purchase the full report is on the Space Foundation's website.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 19-25, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-May-2014 (Updated: 19-May-2014 08:26 AM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy events for the week of May 19-25, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate are in the session this week.

During the Week

As the country gets ready to celebrate Memorial Day and honor those who gave their lives defending our country, Congress will be acting on the authorization bill for the Department of Defense (DOD).   The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will go before the House Rules Committee on Monday and Tuesday, with floor action expected later in the week.  Meanwhile the Senate Armed Services Committee (and its subcommittees) will be busy marking up its version of the bill. The DOD authorization bill is the only authorization bill that reliably gets passed year after year despite the many controversies therein.  A big issue this year, of course, is what to do about Russia's threat to stop providing RD-180 engines for the Atlas V rocket.  The House wants to add about $200 million to start a U.S. program to build a new liquid rocket engine to replace it.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will be debating it during markups this week.

Also on tap in the House this week is the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which cleared committee on May 8.  It includes funding for NASA and NOAA.  NASA is slated to get a significant increase ($435 million) compared to the President's request.   Appropriations being a zero sum game, that means other agencies in the CJS bill got less than the President requested.   Time will tell whether champions of the activities that were cut offer amendments to take money from what is recommended for NASA and restore it to the other programs.  NOAA's satellite programs did comparatively well, though not its strategy for launching three sensors that do not fit on the JPSS spacecraft.  Last year Congress zeroed the "Polar Free Flyer" program and told NOAA to try again.  This year, it is the SIDAR program and House Appropriations zeroed it, too.

Other big events are -- in the United States -- the Space Foundation's annual Space Symposium (formerly the National Space Symposium) in Colorado Springs, CO, and -- In Europe -- the Berlin Air Show in Berlin, Germany.

Lots of other interesting activities as well.  Here is the list of what we know about as of Sunday afternoon.

Monday, May 19

Monday-Tuesday, May 19-20

Monday-Thursday, May 19-22

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 20-21

Tuesday-Sunday, May 20-25

Wednesday, May 21

Wednesday-Friday, May 21-23