Military / National Security News
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.
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
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:
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 7-11, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week; the House is in recess.
During the Week
It's another busy week as three conferences take place at the same time, all in the D.C.-area. One, AIAA's DEFENSE 2016, is classified SECRET/U.S. ONLY so that limits participation and is broadly focused, not just about space. The other two are open to anyone who can afford the registration fee: the American Astronautical Society's annual Goddard Memorial Symposium in Greenbelt, MD and, around the Beltway, SATELLITE 2016, in National Harbor, MD. Great sessions at both conferences will make it difficult choose where to be. Without traffic, the distance between the two is about 25 minutes, so conceivably one could go back and forth, though in reality the "without traffic" hours in the D.C.-area are severely limited.
Up on the Hill, House members are taking the week off from legislative duties to check in with their constituents back home. The Senate is in session, though, and on Thursday the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will hold its hearing on NASA's FY2017 budget request. As usual, the Obama Administration decided to request far less funding for programs that are congressional priorities -- like the Space Launch System, which is near and dear to subcommittee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), so one can well imagine how the hearing will go. Not to mention that the Obama Administration is using the "gimmick" explained in our fact sheet on NASA's budget request. The White House and NASA say the request is for $19.025 billion, which is $260 million less than what Congress provided for FY2016, but be sure to read the fine print. In actuality, the request for appropriations is $18.262 billion, about $1 billion less than FY2016. The White House and NASA display the request as $19.025 billion by adding in $664 million they expect Congress to transfer to the discretionary portion of the federal budget (that funds NASA and other agencies) from the mandatory portion (that funds Medicare and Social Security, e.g.). Then they add another $100 million for aeronautics from a $10-dollar-a-barrel tax the White House wants to levy on oil companies for a 21st Century Clean Transportation System initiative. If you haven't heard about this already, you can learn more from our fact sheet, but, safe to say, the hearing will be lively.
If all that doesn't keep you busy enough, the NASA Advisory Council's Science committee is meeting at the end of the week, preceded by a meeting of its planetary science subcommittee.
And all of this will be topped off Friday night with the annual "space prom" -- the National Space Club's Goddard Memorial Dinner -- with about 2,000 VIPs from all sectors of the aerospace community dressed to the hilt.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for additional events that we learn about as the week progresses and are added to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, March 7
Monday-Thursday, March 7-10
Tuesday, March 8
Tuesday-Thursday, March 8-10
Wednesday, March 9
Wednesday-Thursday, March 9-10
Thursday, March 10
Thursday-Friday, March 10-11
Friday, March 11
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today, SASC chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) and Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Deborah Lee James engaged in a feisty exchange over Russian RD-180 rocket engines. The two disagree on how many RD-180s the United Launch Alliance (ULA) should be able to obtain for launching national security satellites. Today's exchange focused on whether ULA should be prohibited from buying any because a restructuring of the Russian aerospace sector places the engines under the purview of two Russians who are sanctioned by the United States.
McCain challenged James's knowledge of the new Russian space governance structure, repeatedly asking if she knew that two "cronies" of Russian President Vladimir Putin are now on the board that oversees the new Roscosmos state corporation. In his view, they financially benefit from the sales of RD-180s because the company that manufactures them, Energomash, is now part of the Roscosmos state corporation.
Roscosmos was a government agency separate from the Russian aerospace industry, but was recently restructured into a state corporation with the same name that merges both sectors. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister who oversees the aerospace sector, and Sergei Chemezov, both were sanctioned by the United States after Russia's actions in Ukraine. McCain asserts both serve on the new Roscosmos Board of Directors. McCain argues that sales of RD-180 engines provide financial gain to those two individuals and therefore the sales should be stopped. The U.S. Treasury Department is in charge of implementing sanctions and DOD acquisition chief Frank Kendall reportedly said last week that it has made a preliminary determination that the RD-180 sales do not violate them.
In his opening statement today, McCain said the Treasury Department's determination reflects "a level of hypocrisy" that will "make it harder to convince our European allies to renew their own sanctions on Russia this summer."
The FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) limits to 9 the additional RD-180 engines ULA may obtain beyond 15 that were purchased as part of a 2013 Air Force-ULA block buy contract for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) services. ULA's two EELVs, the Atlas V and Delta IV, launch virtually all U.S. national security satellites. The block buy was for 36 launches, 29 of which were Atlas Vs, which are powered by Russia's RD-180s. At the time of Russia's incursion into Ukraine, 15 were purchased, leaving 14, of which 5 were under contract. The Air Force and ULA have steadfastly insisted that all 14 are needed despite efforts to build a new U.S. engine to replace the RD-180s. McCain insists that only 9 are needed (the 5 under contact plus 4 more), hence the language in the NDAA. In recent months, the Air Force and ULA have been saying that 18 (not 14) more are required.
At today's hearing, McCain repeatedly challenged James over whether or not she knew that Roscosmos now is overseen by individuals who are sanctioned.
James insisted she does not know who makes money from RD-180 sales and the Treasury Department determined that purchasing them does not violate the sanctions. In her opening statement, she said the sooner an RD-180 prohibition comes into effect, the more disruptive it will be and the more it will cost -- $1.5 to $5 billion -- and none of those costs are included in the Air Force's FY2017 budget request.
McCain sternly asked if she knew Roscosmos is the parent of the company (Energomash) that manufactures RD-180s. She replied she had not studied the matter in detail but "if you say so, I believe you." McCain angrily honed in on whether or not she knew that the new Roscosmos, with Rogozin and Chemezov on its board, is the parent company. James frostily rejoined "prior to you telling me this today, that individual aspect, no. But I accept your word and I know it now." She insisted that the Treasury Department does not have Roscosmos on the sanctions list.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) focused on the opportunity costs to the Air Force of ending use of RD-180s soon: "You really can't make foolish decisions and incur more costs than is reasonably necessary...." ULA builds the Atlas V and Delta IV in Alabama.
James's estimate of the potential cost of ending use of RD-180s sooner rather than later reflects a potential need to shift satellites to the much more expensive Delta IV. SpaceX also recently was certified to launch national security satellites with its Falcon 9 rocket, but Falcon 9 is not capable of launching the heaviest national security satellites. The Air Force has announced four rocket propulsion awards for the development a new U.S.-built rocket engine to replace the RD-180, but it will take some time for them to be ready and integrated into a launch vehicle. The Air Force, ULA and Congress agree on the need to transition from the RD-180s to a U.S. alternative. The debate is over the timing.
James told SASC member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) that assured access to space is the Air Force's top concern. She argued for more flexibility over when RD-180s no longer will be allowed. Nelson said he worries that there will be a gap between when RD-180s are prohibited, meaning Atlas V rockets are no longer available, and when new launch vehicles with new engines are ready. The result would be that the expensive Delta IV Heavy rockets will be required to launch the majority of national security satellites, costing a lot of money. James agreed.
ULA President Tory Bruno estimates the cost of a Delta IV launch at $400-600 million versus $140-164 million on average for an Atlas V.
The RD-180 issue splits congressional defense authorizers, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who want to limit RD-180s, and appropriators, the House and Senate appropriations committees, who want flexibility.
At a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing yesterday, James faced a much more friendly audience that agreed that flexibility is needed as to when the use of RD-180s should end. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) complimented James on the award of four contracts to build new rocket propulsion systems. He and subcommittee chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) quizzed James on whether SpaceX could launch more national security satellites. She said there are eight types of launches and SpaceX can launch four. Calvert and Frelinghuysen focused on the need for assured access to space and James stressed that having a new U.S. engine ready by 2019, as required by law, is one thing, but it will not be integrated into a new launch vehicle and certified by that time, hence the need for flexibility on the availability of RD-180s.
Today's SASC hearing ended on a combative note. In its final moments, McCain challenged James on her earlier statement that terminating use of RD-180s could cost between $1.5 billion and $5 billion. He cited a letter he received from James that day "after several months" of waiting saying that the cost would be "in excess of $1.45 billion," but now she was saying up to $5 billion. She rejoined that it is matter of what assumptions are made. McCain had the last word: "I am to disregard, really, the letter you sent to me that I've been waiting several months for. Maybe that helps explains some of the difficulties that we have."
The Air Force awarded the last two of four contracts to develop new rocket propulsion systems today. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is partnered with Blue Origin on one of the awards and with Aerojet Rocketdyne on the other. The Air Force announced the other two awards last month.
The Air Force is using "Other Transaction Authority" to enter into public-private partnerships with companies to develop new rocket engines. The first two awards went to Orbital ATK and SpaceX in January, with initial government investments of $46.9 million for Orbital ATK and $33.6 million for SpaceX.
The government's goal is to have at least two competitive U.S. launch vehicles, using American-built engines, to launch national security satellites beginning in 2019. The catalysts for this effort were a congressional decision to end use of Russian RD-180 engines, which power the Atlas V, because of Russia's actions in Ukraine, and more broadly a desire to lower launch costs through competition. ULA has been essentially a monopoly provider of national security launch services with its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets since it was formed in 2006 as a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The debate over RD-180s and the timing of the transition to an all-American rocket is much debated and has been reported extensively on this website.
ULA initially chose Blue Origin as its engine partner to build an American-only alternative to the Atlas V. Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, is developing a new type of engine that uses liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (methane). Designated BE-4, Blue Origin is funding the engine development program itself. Two BE-4s would replace one RD-180, although other engineering modifications are needed. It is not a simple swap. The contract announced today will pay for integrating the engine into the new Vulcan rocket and for ULA to develop a new Advanced Cyrogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) upper stage. The initial government investment for this contract is $46.6 million -- $45.8 million for the integration effort and $0.8 million for ACES. Neither ULA nor the Air Force announced the total potential government investment, only the initial investment.
ULA subsequently decided to partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne as a "backup" in case Blue Origin's engine did not work out. Aerojet Rocketdyne is developing the AR1 engine that will use traditional liquid oxygen and kerosene. The other contract announced today is for that effort. Aerojet Rocketdyne said in a press release that the total agreement is valued at $804 million, with the Air Force potentially investing $536 million and Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners $268 million. The initial government investment is $115.3 million, with Aerojet Rocketdyne and ULA contributing another $57.7 million.
Aerojet Rocketdyne President and CEO Eileen Drake said the AR1 has the least technical risk and work is expected to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2019. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the leading advocate for replacing Russian RD-180s with an American-made engine, put 2019 in legislation as the date by which the new engine must be ready. Drake said the AR1 will be available for use on the Atlas V, Vulcan, and "other launch vehicles in development."
ULA President Tory Bruno said that ULA is "fully committed to transitioning as quickly and affordably as possible to a domestic engine" and Aerojet Rocketdyne "is moving us toward one of two viable options with the excellent progress on the AR1 engine development."
In a separate press release about the Blue Origin contract, Bruno said ULA continues to work with both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne "to pursue two options for a next-generation American engine and that is why we are teaming with two of the world's leading propulsion companies."
Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force's Program Executive Officer for Space said these "innovative public-private partnerships" are key to assuring access to space and addressing "the urgent need to transition away from strategic foreign reliance."
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 29 - March 4, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
It's another busy week -- on the Hill, off the Hill, and off the planet.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is finishing up his last days on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the "year in space" mission (it's not quite a year, actually, but about 340 days). He and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been on ISS since March 27, 2015 (Eastern Time) to further studies of human physiological and psychological adaptation to spaceflight in preparation for even longer trips to destinations like Mars. Theirs is not the longest duration mission -- four Russian cosmonauts spent 365 days or more continuously on the Soviet/Russian space station Mir in the 1980s and 1990s -- but is the most recent and Kelly is the first American on such a long mission. (The record for total consecutive days in space is held by cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov who spent 438 days aboard the Mir space station in 1994-1995. Sergei Avdeyev spent 380 days on Mir in 1998-1999. Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov spent 365 days together on Mir in 1987-1988. In all cases, other crews came and went during those missions.)
Kelly and Kornienko are scheduled to land in the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft along with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov (who arrived at ISS in September) very late Tuesday night -- 11:27 ET. Kelly will embark on his trip home to Houston very soon thereafter, arriving late Wednesday night (11:45 pm ET) where he will be greeted by Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and other White House and NASA dignitaries. On Friday, he will participate in a press briefing from Johnson Space Center at 2:00 pm ET, preceded at 1:00 by a briefing by two NASA scientists and his identical twin brother, Mark. The two brothers have been part of a Twins Study during the mission. NASA TV will cover it all.
It may be hard to top that in terms of news value, but there is much more going on, including quite a few congressional hearings on military and civil space programs. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III will appear before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday and the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will testify to the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee on Wednesday, though it is not clear how much focus will be on the $19.8 million request for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
Perhaps of most interest to readers of this website is a House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee hearing on Thursday on NASA's new "Ocean Worlds" program. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the subcommittee, is an enthusiast for sending a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, which is thought to have an ocean under its icy crust. It is not the only solar system body thought to have an ocean and Culberson directed NASA to initiate a program to explore these "ocean worlds" in his report on last year's appropriations bill. He has invited Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Cornell's Jonathan Lunine to testify about the program. JPL is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated by the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), so some people consider it a NASA field center while others point out it is a contractor and not "government" in the same sense as the rest of NASA. Thus one can say that the hearing has a NASA witness or not as one chooses, but it is interesting to see just this one part of NASA's program singled out for a hearing, reflecting the chairman's intense interest. Culberson says often that he is convinced that evidence of life will be discovered on Europa and hence he believes this is one of NASA's top priorities. Elachi is retiring this summer, by the way, after 15 years at the helm of JPL (part of a 45 year career there). He will move over to CalTech as professor emeritus to continue his research. His successor has not been announced.
Meanwhile, there are meetings of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), several NASA advisory committees, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committees, the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, an ISU-DC space cafe, an Orbital-ATK investors teleconference, and an announcement by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden about NASA's new plans for X-planes. Whew! Get out your running shoes.
The many events of interest this week that we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for additional events that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Oh, and happy Leap Year! We certainly need that extra day.
Sunday-Wednesday, February 28-March 2
Monday, February 29
Tuesday, March 1
Tuesday-Wednesday, March 1-2
Wednesday, March 2
Wednesday-Thursday, March 2-3
Wednesday-Friday, March 2-4
Thursday, March 3
Friday, March 4
Editor's Note: NASA has countdown clocks on its website for the 1-year mission showing elapsed time and remaining time. At this moment (February 29, 5:50 pm) it shows that the mission duration for the two men will be 340 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 2 seconds, not "just under 342 days" as we calculated yesterday. The text has been changed accordingly.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) is planning a multipronged approach to getting government space agencies to adopt commercial solutions. He will introduce a comprehensive bill -- the American Space Renaissance Act -- later this year, but does not expect it to pass en toto. Instead, he sees it as a repository of "plug and play" provisions that will be inserted into other pieces of legislation, especially this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Speaking at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) breakfast meeting on Friday, Bridenstine laid out his plans "to promote policies that will permanently make America the predominant spacefaring nation." A draft of the American Space Renaissance Act will be released at the Space Foundation's Space Symposium in April and Bridenstine is seeking feedback from interested parties.
He listed a number themes that will be included in the draft legislation: fostering, encouraging and incentivizing industry to innovate and thrive in the United States; expanding launch options and producing more satellites in the United States; having a robust space travel infrastructure; being the home of world-changing plans like point-to-point suborbital flight, lunar habitats and asteroid mining; and getting the government to purchase services instead of owning satellites.
The bill is intended to serve as a "conversation piece as well as a repository for the best ideas that we can plug and play into different pieces of legislation," he said.
Bridenstine serves on both the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Environment, and the House Armed Services Committee, where he is a member of the subcommittee on Strategic Forces. That provides him a broader view of space issues than most Members of Congress. The second-term Congressman said his constituents (in the Tulsa area) have little interest in space programs because they do not recognize the role that space plays in their everyday lives, but he is convinced of its importance.
He is particularly passionate about the nation's weather satellites. His goal is for forecasts to become so accurate that there will be zero deaths from tornadoes, a frequent occurrence in Oklahoma. He has been a strong critic of NOAA's management of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series because of their high cost and schedule delays, but more broadly worries that NOAA builds "Battlestar Gallaticas" that are vulnerable to a range of threats -- from launch failures, to system failures, to attacks from enemies -- and sees commercial weather companies and their constellations of small satellites as part of the solution.
The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act directed NOAA to initiate a commercial weather data pilot program to purchase, evaluate and calibrate commercial weather data and assess its viability for inclusion in NOAA's numerical weather models. The idea originated in the Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act (H.R. 1561) that passed the House last year, which Bridenstine co-sponsored. It would authorize $9 million for this effort. The Senate has not acted on that bill yet, but the weather data pilot program was included in NOAA's portion of the FY2016 appropriations bill, with $3 million allocated. A Bridenstine aide said on Friday that a report from NOAA on its implementation of the pilot program was due on February 16, but has not yet been received. NOAA is requesting $5 million for FY2017.
Bridenstine said he plans to try and include a similar provision for DOD in this year's NDAA. DOD is still struggling to shape its weather satellite strategy following the 2010 cancellation of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). It has had a few false starts and Bridenstine clearly sees commercial data as part of the solution.
He also will try to include language in the NDAA to begin a transition of responsibility for providing space situational awareness (SSA) data and conjunction analyses (to warn of potential collisions) to commercial entities and foreign governments. Today, DOD's Joint Space Operations Center (JPSoC) provides SSA data to everyone, but Bridenstine reiterated Friday what he has said in the past that it is a distraction for JSPoC, which should be focused on its DOD mission of "fighting and winning wars." He wants to create a commercialized Conjunction Analysis and Warning Center that fuses unclassified DOD data with data from international partners and commercial operators. The Center would be subject to oversight by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).
Bridenstine insisted that he is a conservative Republican who typically does not favor government regulation, but it is necessary in some cases. Commercial space is one of them because "the lack of appropriate regulation is regulation itself." His goal is to find a "sweet spot" to "maximize regulatory certainty and minimize regulatory interference - a de minumus approach."
As for his Conjunction Analysis and Warning Center that he wants included in the NDAA, he stressed that he is not proposing any new regulatory authority. "Zero. My objective is to gradually build the capacity of a civilian agency" to do SSA. Eventually, he thinks a government agency -- specifically FAA/AST -- should be in charge of Space Traffic Management, but he is not proposing that right now. He also restated his intent for FAA/AST to be designated as the government agency in charge of implementing a requirement in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that governments authorize and continually supervise the actions of their non-governmental entities, like companies. FAA/AST regulates commercial launches and reentries, NOAA regulates commercial remote sensing satellites, and the Federal Communications Commission regulates commercial communications satellites, but no agency has been appointed to regulate activities such as asteroid mining or commercial activities on the lunar surface. He thinks FAA/AST should expand its role to do so.