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Military / National Security News

Next Atlas V Launch Now Delayed Indefinitely

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Apr-2016 (Updated: 09-Apr-2016 06:41 PM)

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) said very late yesterday that the launch of the next Atlas V rocket is now delayed indefinitely.  ULA is investigating what went wrong on the launch of Orbital ATK's OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft on March 22.

Orbital ATK's OA-6 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was successful thanks to the Atlas V's Centaur upper stage, which was able to compensate for the under performance of the first stage.  The first stage's RD-180 engine shut down 6 seconds early.  The Centaur fired about one minute longer than planned to make up the difference in thrust needed to place Cygnus in the proper position for its ultimate rendezvous with ISS. 

This was the first problem for the Atlas V in 62 launches.

ULA soon announced that it was delaying the next Atlas V launch -- of a military communications satellite, MUOS-5 -- for one week, from May 5 to May 12, while it investigated what happened.  On March 31, the company said it had traced the anomaly to the first stage fuel system.

Late yesterday, ULA said in an emailed statement that the launch postponement is "indefinite:" 

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. (April 8, 2016) -- The Atlas V MUOS-5 launch is delayed and indefinite on the Eastern Range due to ongoing evaluation of the first stage  anomaly experienced during the OA-6 mission. ULA successfully delivered the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on March 22. The MUOS-5 spacecraft and launch vehicle are secure at their processing facilities. 

Somewhat ironically, ULA's announcement came shortly after a signature success by its competitor, SpaceX, which not only launched its own cargo mission to ISS, but landed the Falcon 9 first stage on a drone ship at sea.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 4-8, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Apr-2016 (Updated: 03-Apr-2016 04:24 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 4-8, 2016.  The Senate is in session this week.  The House remains in recess; it will return April 12.

During the Week

If you haven't registered already, you'll miss one of the most interesting events coming up this week -- a space weather symposium hosted by the State Department and the Secure World Foundation (SWF).   It's at the State Department, so everyone had to register by last Wednesday to get on the list to attend.   Space weather is a hot topic these days with many forums for discussion, but this one seems especially interesting because it includes an international panel with experts from the UK, Europe and international organizations.  Moderated by SWF's Laura Delgado López, it has representatives from the UK Met Office, the European Space Agency, the World Meteorological Organization, the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and NATO.  It will be preceded by a panel of U.S. experts from NASA, NOAA, the Air Force, and the Department of Homeland Security, moderated by Bill Murtaugh from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  If you can't make it in person, the event will be recorded and posted on the Web later.  C-SPAN also may cover it live.

SWF has another timely symposium on Friday.  That one is on the policy and practical implications of spectrum protection.  With everyone's insatiable appetite for wireless broadband connectivity, other users of the electromagnetic spectrum -- like military, civil, and commercial satellites -- are under increasing pressure to surrender spectrum assigned to them.   James Miller from NASA, Scott Pace from the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University, Jennifer Warren from Lockheed Martin and Christopher Hegarty from CNS Engineering & Spectrum will explain it all.   Lunch will be served, so please RSVP by Wednesday so they know how much food to order.

Later on Friday afternoon, SpaceX will attempt its first cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS) since the SpaceX CRS-7 (SpX-7) failure in June 2015.   The Falcon 9 has launched three times since then, all successfully, but this is the first one with a Dragon cargo spacecraft chock full of supplies and equipment for the ISS crew. Among Dragon's cargo is a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that will ride in Dragon's unpressurized "trunk." Later it will be moved to an ISS docking port using Canadarm 2 where it will be expanded and used for tests over the next 2 years. (Mr. Bigelow insists it is "expandable" rather than "inflatable" even though it builds on NASA's work on inflatables when it was developing the TransHab habitation module for ISS.  TransHab was cancelled by NASA, but Bigelow Aerospace picked it up for further development and has launched two test versions, Genesis I and Genesis II, already as free-flyers.)  Launch is at 4:43 pm ET and will be broadcast on NASA TV (and presumably on  SpaceX almost always tries to land the Falcon 9 first stage, but it has not yet posted a press kit for this launch, so we can't definitively say that's in the plan this time (but it's a good bet).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.   Check back throughout the week to see other events we learn about as the week unfolds and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, April 4

Tuesday, April 5

Thursday, April 7

Friday, April 8

What's Happening in Space Policy March 28-April 1, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Mar-2016 (Updated: 27-Mar-2016 01:27 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 28-April 1, 2016.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

Congress may be in recess, but there's still plenty going on in the world of space policy.

The Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine holds its annual Space Science Week Tuesday through Thursday.  The "week" brings together the five SSB standing committees, some of which are joint with other boards:  astrobiology and planetary science, astronomy and astrophysics, biological and physical science in space, earth science and applications from space, and solar and space physics.   The committees meet in plenary session on Tuesday afternoon.  A free public lecture will take place on Wednesday featuring Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto.  The lecture begins at 6:45 pm ET and will be webcast.  All of the activities are at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets at NASA headquarters in Washington on Thursday and Friday (its Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee meets on Tuesday, too).  The NAC agenda has not been posted yet, but these meetings typically are an excellent way to get updated on many of NASA's programs and the budget and policy issues surrounding them.  The meeting is available via WebEx and telecon for those who cannot attend in person.

Activities aboard the International Space Station (ISS) continue at a blistering pace.  Orbital ATK's Cygnus just arrived yesterday, NASA will hold a teleconference tomorrow (Monday) to discuss the science experiments that will be aboard SpaceX's Dragon cargo mission to ISS next week (April 8), and on Thursday Russia will launch its next Progress cargo craft (arriving at ISS on April 2).  All three systems suffered failures in the October 2014-July 2015 period and NASA and its partners are still catching up on supplies, although there have been a number of cargo missions since then. 

The first of two upcoming space weather seminars will be held on Thursday afternoon in Washington.  This one is sponsored by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.  Its focus is the "emerging opportunities for science and practical applications" and includes Tammy Dickinson from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dan Baker from the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), and Lou Lanzerotti from the New Jersey Institute of Technology among its very distinguished speaker lineup.  The other seminar is next Monday (April 4) at the State Department and is sponsored by the State Department and the Secure World Foundation (more on that in next week's edition).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week to learn about additional events that come to our attention and get added to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, March 28

Tuesday, March 29

Tuesday-Thursday, March 29 - 31

Wednesday, March 30

Thursday, March 31

Thursday-Friday, March 31- April 1

ULA Delays Next Launch Due to Anomaly During OA-6 Mission

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Mar-2016 (Updated: 25-Mar-2016 02:25 PM)

United Launch Alliance (ULA) today announced a delay in the launch of its next satellite, the Navy's MUOS-5 mobile communications satellite, because of an anomaly in the Atlas V rocket's first stage during the March 22 launch of Orbital ATK's OA-6 mission to the International Space Station (ISS). 

During the OA-6 launch, the first stage shut down six seconds early according to ULA spokesperson Lyn Chassange.  The Centaur upper stage compensated by firing approximately 60 seconds longer than planned and successfully placed the OA-6 cargo spacecraft into the correct orbit.  Thus, the launch is a "mission success" even though the first stage underperformed.

ULA needs to investigate what happened, however.  Thus it is delaying the MUOS-5 launch until at least May 12 to "allow additional time to review the data and to confirm readiness."  The original launch date was May 5.

Atlas V has a 100% mission success record so far in 62 launches.  The first stage is powered by Russian RD-180 engines, currently the focus of protracted debate in Congress over how many ULA can obtain.   ULA, the Air Force and Congress agree on the need to replace RD-180s with an American-made alternative so the United States is not reliant on a foreign supplier, especially one with which the United States now has a tense relationship.  The dispute is over the timing.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) want to end use of RD-180s in 2019; the Air Force and ULA want flexibility and other Senators, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), agree.

MUOS-5 is part of the Navy's Mobile User Objective System of communications satellites and ground terminals to allow voice, video and mission data to be transmitted over a secure high-speed Internet Protocol-based system. 

DOD Inspector General Initiates Investigation Into Air Force Awards to ULA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Mar-2016 (Updated: 23-Mar-2016 12:45 PM)

The Inspector General's office of the Department of Defense (DOD) has notified DOD officials that it is opening an investigation into whether contracts were awarded to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in accordance with DOD and federal regulations.  The investigation was requested by Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Ashton Carter following remarks by then-ULA Vice President for Engineering Brett Tobey that were recorded and posted online.  Tobey has since resigned.

The recording of the March 15, 2016 seminar where Tobey spoke is currently posted on soundcloud.  Tobey made many comments about competition in the launch vehicle development and launch services businesses.  One that may have prompted the investigation is an assertion that ULA's decision not to bid on the first competitive Air Force launch contract (for a GPS launch) after SpaceX became eligible to compete irritated the Air Force because "they had bent over backwards to lean the fill to our advantage" (at the 17:11 mark on the recording).  That is only one of a number of controversial statements he made, however.

ULA President Tory Bruno disavowed Tobey's comments soon after they became public on March 16 and Tobey resigned shortly thereafter.

At a March 17 hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), called on DOD to investigate Tobey's "disturbing statements" that "raise troubling questions about the nature of the relationship" between DOD and ULA.  SecDef Carter was one of the witnesses at that hearing.  McCain is strong supporter of competition in the national security space launch market.  

Yesterday (March 22), DOD Deputy Inspector General for Policy and Oversight Randolph Stone sent a memo to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics informing them of the investigation into "assertions made by United Launch Alliance's (ULA) former Vice-President of Engineering relating to competition for national security space launch and whether contracts to ULA were awarded in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations."  The memo, which is posted on the DOD IG's website, said the investigation would involve site visits, interviews and documentation review with DOD and ULA personnel.

McCain Calls for DOD Investigation into Statements by ULA Executive

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Mar-2016 (Updated: 17-Mar-2016 11:29 PM)

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today called for DOD to investigate statements made by a senior United Launch Alliance (ULA) official that were reported in the media.  ULA President Tory Bruno disavowed the remarks by ULA Engineering Vice President Brett Tobey, who has since resigned.

McCain spoke at the opening of a hearing before his Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today where Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and two other top DOD officials testified.  McCain did not refer to Tobey by name, but said the "disturbing statements ... raise troubling questions about the nature of the relationship" between DOD and ULA.  "This committee treats with the utmost seriousness any implication that the department showed favoritism to a major defense contractor or that efforts have been made to silence members of Congress."

The controversy stems from an account on Reddit and a story in Space News reporting on statements made by Tobey on March 15 to an audience at the University of Colorado-Boulder.   Both sites have links to a recording of the remarks.    His comments about ULA's competition with SpaceX, the competition between Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne in building engines for ULA's new Vulcan rocket following political pressure to discontinue use of Russian RD-180 engines for the existing Atlas V, and other topics were quite frank.

Bruno distanced the company from Tobey's comments soon after they became public.

McCain told Carter that "I expect you will make a full investigation into these statements and take action where appropriate."  The topic did not arise again during the hearing, which was broadly on the U.S. defense posture and the impact of the budget caps in the 2011 Budget Control Act.   Space was mentioned only in the context of three areas where more investment is needed; cyber and electronic warfare were the other two.

What's Happening in Space Policy March 14-18, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Mar-2016 (Updated: 13-Mar-2016 06:33 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 14-18, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Welcome to Daylight Savings Time in the United States.  Not all countries offset their clocks for summer time and those that do may not make the change at the same time as us, so be sure to check your time zone calculator if you are, for example, planning to watch a launch taking place in another country.  Like one or both of the two interesting launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is scheduled for liftoff tomorrow (Monday) morning.  The global time standard is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and the launch is at 09:31 GMT.   Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) is GMT-4, which makes it 5:31 am EDT.  ExoMars TGO is an orbiter, but includes an Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) demonstrator named Schiaparelli in preparation for the second part of the ExoMars program -- a lander scheduled for launch in 2018.  ESA's first attempt to land on Mars was in 2003.  Its Mars Express orbiter carried a small British lander named Beagle 2.  It separated from Mars Express as planned, but did not transmit after landing (NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spotted it on the Mars surface in January 2015).  Mars Express itself successfully entered Mars orbit and continues to operate today.  It will be joined by ExoMars TGO in October 2016 if the launch goes as planned tomorrow.  ESA will webcast the launch beginning at 4:30 am EDT.

On Friday, three new crew members will launch to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Soyuz TMA-20M.  NASA's Jeff Williams and Roscosmos's Oleg Skripockha and Alexey Ovchinin will launch at 5:26 pm EDT and dock with ISS at 11:12 pm EDT.   Launch and docking will be broadcast on NASA TV.   The crew is scheduled to stay until September.  This is the third ISS visit for Williams who will set a new U.S. record for CUMULATIVE time in space if all goes as planned.  (Scott Kelly has the record now and he will retain the U.S. record for CONTINUOUS time in space.)

In between the wee hours of Monday morning and Friday night, there's a lot going on.   Various congressional committees will hold hearings on the FY2017 budget requests for NASA, NOAA and national security space programs, there's a Senate committee markup of the FAA reauthorization bill, and much more.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will testify to two House committees this week about the FY2017 budget request.   First is the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.   Second is the Space Subcommittee of the House, Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee on Thursday.   The Senate CJS hearing was last week, which leaves only the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as a potential hearing venue.   The subcommittee that oversees NASA is chaired by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who is a little busy right now, so when or if that hearing will take place is unclear. 

Separately, the full Senate Commerce committee will mark up its version of the FAA reauthorization bill (S. 2658) on Wednesday.  Among its many provisions are one requiring a GAO report on the existing system of FAA-licensed spaceports and another requiring a rulemaking to implement an amendment added by the bill regarding navigable airspace analysis for commercial space launch site runways.  The text of the bill is posted on the committee's website.

NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan will have a chance to explain NOAA's FY2017 budget request to the House SS&T Environment Subcommittee on Wednesday afternoon. Subcommittee chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is particularly interested in NOAA purchasing commercial weather data, so that may be one theme at the hearing.

On the national security space front, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will hold its annual hearing on national security space programs on Tuesday afternoon.  SASC held its hearing last week, but it was closed.  This one will be open -- initially at least.  HASC will hold a broader hearing on the budget requests for the military departments (e.g. Air Force) on Wednesday and SASC's annual DOD posture hearing is on Thursday.

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

Monday, March 14

Tuesday, March 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 15-16

Wednesday, March 16

Wednesday-Thursday, March 16-17

Thursday, March 17

Friday, March 18


GAO: "DOD Is At A Crossroads for Space"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Mar-2016 (Updated: 10-Mar-2016 06:49 AM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said yesterday that "DOD is at a crossroads for space" and faces several major challenges as it tries to change its approach to space acquisitions.

In a statement for the record associated with a closed hearing held by the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, GAO's Cristina Chaplain enumerated significant cost increases and schedule delays in several DOD space programs.  The list includes:

  • Advanced EHF Communications satellite system (cost growth, 116 percent; first launch more than 3.5 years late)
  • Space Based Infrared System High (SBIRS) missile warning system (cost growth,almost 300 percent; first launch delayed 9 years); and
  • Global Positioning System ground system (cost growth, more than double; 6-year delay - "some DOD officials say even that is an optimistic timeline").

More broadly, however, Chaplain reported that "Right now, DOD is at a crossroads for space.  Fiscal constraints and increasing threats -- both environmental and adversarial -- to space systems have led DOD to consider alternatives for acquiring and launching space-based capabilities."  Those alternatives include disaggregation, hosted payloads, and procuring some capabilities, such as bandwidth and ground control, as services instead of developing and deploying them as government-owned systems, she said.

GAO did not make any recommendations, but highlighted three broad challenges the department faces in acquiring space systems:

  • Although DOD is conducting analyses of alternatives to support decisions about the future of space programs, there are gaps in cost and other data needed to weigh the pros and cons of changes to space systems;
  • Most changes being considered will impact ground systems and user equipment, but these systems continue to be troubled by management and development issues; and
  • Leadership for space acquisitions is still fragmented, which will likely hamper the implementation of new acquisition approaches.

Chaplain gave DOD credit for improvements in cost estimating practices, development testing, and oversight and leadership (such as the addition of the Defense Space Council), but considering all the ongoing problems, particularly with the GPS program, "it is clear that more needs to be done to improve the management of space acquisitions."   She noted that DOD recently designated the Secretary of the Air Force to serve as the Principal DOD Space Advisor, but said it is too early to tell how effective that position will be in meeting the challenges.

Aerospace Corp's Wanda Austin Wins AIAA-NAE Brill Lectureship

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Mar-2016 (Updated: 08-Mar-2016 01:25 AM)

Wanda Austin, President and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship.  Sponsored the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), it is awarded biennially to emphasize research or engineering issues for space travel and exploration, aerospace education of the public and students, and other aerospace issues.

Austin is an internationally recognized expert in satellite and payload systems acquisition, systems engineering, and system simulation.  Most of her career has been spent working on classified national security space programs, but she also has been involving in civil space programs and currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council and on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Dr. Wanda Austin.  Photo credit:  Aerospace Corporation website

The lecture honors Yvonne Brill, one of the nation's top aerospace engineers who passed away in 2013.  President Obama presented her with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011.  Brill was an Honorary Fellow of AIAA (its highest level of recognition) and a member of NAE.

Austin obtained her Ph.D. in systems engineering from the University of Southern California.  Like Brill, she is a member of NAE and was elected as an AIAA Honorary Fellow in 2015.  She will present the lecture -- "Engineering Leadership: The Need for Technical Excellence and Diversity" -- on September 15, 2016 in conjunction with AIAA's SPACE 2016 conference in Long Beach, CA.   Additional details are in AIAA's press release.

Space Industry Coalition Presents White Paper to Political Candidates

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Mar-2016 (Updated: 08-Mar-2016 12:53 AM)

A coalition of 13 U.S. space industry organizations released a white paper on March 4 to help presidential and other political candidates understand the need for ensuring U.S. leadership in space.   The paper does not advocate for any particular program, but more broadly explains why the United States should be a leader, the challenges it faces, and what actions politicians could take.

Led by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Space Foundation, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), the organizations argue that government and private sector investments in space represent a $330 billion global industry and enable a broad range of capabilities critical to national security, communications networks, and understanding Earth.    However, a list of challenges threaten U.S. leadership, including unpredictable funding; foreign competition; a congested, contested and competitive space environment, and workforce trends.   The paper lists 10 actions that are needed, ranging from committing to predictable budgets and repealing the 2011 Budget Control Act (which requires sequestration if budgets exceed specified limits) to restoring a U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space to strengthening the U.S. industrial base to committing to a national security space program that maintains U.S. dominance in space.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham said the goal of the white paper is to ensure there is "an appreciation for the great importance of space" by the presidential candidates and other politicians.  The purpose is "not to have space become a presidential issue," Pulham stressed, adding that "we would be happy if no one on the campaign trail says something stupid about space."  Instead, they should understand that as a candidate for the highest office in the land that they should embrace the space program because it is "quintessentially American."   AIAA Executive Director Sandy Magnus agreed that the goal was to create a strong consensus in the industry "such that [space] becomes a non-issue," a way to "take it off the table, but stress its importance."   Eric Stallmer, President of CSF, added that they want to avoid space becoming a local jobs issue:  "We have to think nationally, not locally."

Pulham said they had been able to present the paper to all but one of the presidential campaigns and it was received "with gratitude and interest."

The other 10 organizations involved in writing the white paper are: Aerospace Industries Association, Aerospace States Association, American Astronautical Society, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, Colorado Space Coalition, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Satellite Industry Association, Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, Space Angels Network, and Space Florida.

The white paper is posted on the websites of many of those organizations.