Military / National Security News
Yesterday, NASA and the Department of Defense (DOD released their plans in case of a government shutdown on Tuesday, the beginning of FY2014. The Senate passed its version of a Continuing Resolution (CR) yesterday as expected, but agreement has not yet been reached with the House.
DOD's shutdown plan is posted on its website . It states that military personnel should report for duty as usual Civilians must report on October 1 to receive their emergency furlough notices, but after that, only those who support "excepted activities" such as military operations will be able to work. Military personnel and excepted civilians will be paid retroactively, according to DOD, but furloughed civilians will not unless Congress passes a law providing that money.
NASA's shutdown plan ensures that operating spacecraft -- including the International Space Station -- are unaffected. Just about everything else is, however. NASA Headquarters directed its Center Directors to "narrowly construe" who should be exempted from the furlough. Exceptions include space launch hardware processing activities necessary to prevent harm to life or property, for example, but "generally" work will halt on missions that have not yet been launched.
Action to avert a shutdown is in the House's court today. At 6:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), the House appeared poised to pass a bill that extends government funding to December 15, but requires a one-year delay to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and repeal of an associated tax on medical devices. A separate bill would allow military personnel to be paid during a shutdown (apparently as opposed to paying them retroactively).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made clear this afternoon that the Senate would not agree to a bill that delays Obamacare, making a shutdown appear more likely, but it is still too early to make useful predictions about how this will turn out.
Sunday is shaping up to be a busy day in the space business with two significant launches -- one U.S., one Russian -- and a commercial cargo demonstration on tap. All are subject to change, of course, but here's the line-up at the moment.
Fortunately for the U.S. missions, Sunday is still FY2013 so they will not be affected by the gridlock over FY2014 funding.
Orbital's Cygnus. At 7:15 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), Orbital Sciences Corporation's Cygnus spacecraft will make a second try to berth to the International Space Station (ISS). The first attempt last Sunday, September 22, was aborted because of a data mismatch between Cygnus and ISS, but a software patch has been uploaded and tested and Orbital and NASA are ready to give it another go. This is Orbital's demonstration mission as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
Space X's Falcon 9 v1.1. At 12:00 noon EDT (9:00 am local time at the launch site), the window opens for launch of SpaceX's new version of the Falcon 9 rocket -- Falcon 9 v1.1 -- from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. This launch was supposed to take place September 15, but was postponed for additional engine tests. It is SpaceX's first launch from Vandenberg and will place a Canadian scientific satellite, Cassiope, and five smaller satellites into orbit.
ILS Proton M. Russia's Proton M rocket will make its return-to-flight carrying a commercial communications satellite, SES's Astra-2E. This is the first Proton M flight since a catastrophic accident 17 seconds after liftoff in July that destroyed three Russian government GLONASS navigation satellites. No one was hurt. International Launch Services (ILS) markets the Proton and confirmed today that the launch is scheduled for Sunday afternoon EDT (early Monday morning at the launch site in Kazakhstan). This flight also had been scheduled for September 15, but was postponed for technical reasons.
UPDATE, September 27, 1:30 pm: NASA's plans in the event of a shutdown are now posted on the agency's budget website.
ORIGINAL STORY, September 27: With just four days to go before the fiscal year changes from 2013 to 2014, the question of whether Congress will be able to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating is as up in the air as ever.
Government workers are to be told by the end of today whether they are "essential" or "non-essential" for shutdown purposes. Essential employees must report for duty even though they may never be paid; non-essential employees are not allowed to work even if they want to. Personnel who operate space-based systems -- including the International Space Station -- seem likely to make the grade as essential, and the shutdown does not affect Members of Congress or political appointees, but who else will be showing up for work on Tuesday morning absent a CR is still to be determined.
Even seasoned political pundits are hedging their bets on how this will turn out. The Senate is expected to vote today on its version of CR that will delete a House-passed provision to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It may also fund the government at a higher level than the House-passed version and is likely to last only through November 15 rather than December 15.
What the House will do with the Senate bill is the question. The battle is being fought within the Republican party. Many House Republicans including their leadership (Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eic Cantor) do not want a shutdown for fear it will hurt their chances to retain Republican control of the House in next year's elections. They have been trying to convince a small but key group of Tea Party Republicans who want to defund Obamacare to wage that fight on an upcoming debate over the debt limit rather than on this government funding bill, but so far without success.
The government is expected to hit the debt limit in a few weeks and while emergency measures can prevent a default for a few more weeks, Congress must take action soon to raise or suspend the debt limit in order for the government to pay its bills. The House leadership reportedly proposed a bill to suspend the debt limit in exchange for defunding Obamacare and other Republican priorities to its own Republican members yesterday, but it didn't fly.
The Senate is expected to go home today after it passes its version of the CR leaving the House to work through the issues over the weekend and, presumably, send a bill back to the Senate on Monday, the last day of FY2013. Among the options are that the bill could be a short term "clean" bill that simply keeps the government operating for a week or two while the debate continues, that it calls for a delay in implementing Obamacare instead of defunding it (with the defunding battle to be fought later), that it restores the language the Senate is about to remove to defund Obamacare, or that there is no bill. In either of the last two cases, a government shutdown is almost certain.
Although almost everyone refers to it as "a government shutdown," it actually is a "partial" government shutdown. As noted, some people are exempt and others will be deemed essential and expected to work without pay. In the past, Congress has voted to pay those individuals retroactively, but there is no guarantee of that happening this time.
Fiscal Year 2014 begins exactly a week from today and there is still no end game in sight for the political wrangling to keep the government open. The situation is unchanged from a day ago, or even a week ago, except that the deadline is closing in.
To keep the government operating after midnight September 30, the House and Senate must agree on a funding measure that President Obama is willing to sign into law. All three must accept it.
The House passed a version of a FY2014 Continuing Resolution (CR) that includes a provision - defunding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) -- that it knew the Senate would not accept and the President would not sign. Senate Democrats and enough Senate Republicans do not want a government shutdown and plan to pass a "clean" version of a CR that simply keeps the government operating at current levels. The Senate bill reportedly will fund the government through November 15, not December 15 like the House bill because the Senate remains hopeful that the 12 regular appropriations bills can clear Congress and be signed into law before then.
A small faction of Senate Republicans -- notably Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) -- however, are determined to fight. This afternoon Cruz began what is expected to be a marathon floor speech that seems a lot like a filibuster, though it is not a filibuster since it is not preventing the Senate from proceeding with legislative business. Democrats reportedly have enough Republican votes to end a real filibuster if one were to materialize, which is considered highly unlikely.
At the moment, the Senate is expected to vote on a clean CR tomorrow afternoon, but the timing is subject to change. The bill then must go back to the House where its fate is very uncertain. Although the House Republican Leadership -- Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) -- both also do not want a government shutdown, they are struggling to maintain control of a sizable group of Republican members who are not concerned about shutting down the government, believing that they were elected to get rid of Obamacare. (Defunding it does not repeal the law, however, it only keeps government agencies from spending money to implement it.) The leadership reportedly is trying to convince them that the funding bill is not the place to wage that battle.
Threats of a government shutdown have become so common that it can be difficult to take any of this political drama seriously, but trying to guess what Congress will do is a perilous business. For agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD, it means trying to manage complex, long-term programs amidst continuing uncertainty.
The latest installment of the “A Day Without Space” series, sponsored by the George C. Marshall Institute and the TechAmerica Space Enterprise Council focused on the pressures felt by the Department of Defense (DOD) to ensure its military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) systems respond to demands for cost reduction, improved performance, and reduced vulnerabilities.
Thursday’s “The Future of MILSATCOM” panel discussion outlined the challenges MILSATCOM faces and strategies to address them using a new report by Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments as its basis.
As the Obama Administration has been stressing for years, the space domain today is “contested, congested and competitive.” More than 40 countries have space-based assets and more than 1,000 active satellites along with over 21,000 objects of man-made debris are being tracked in orbit. This crowded region is being contested as countries develop technologies that challenge U.S. space capabilities, including China’s highly visible demonstration of an anti-satellite (ASAT) capability in 2007.
According to Harrison, the current threats to MILSATCOM systems can be divided into three groups. The first group includes physical attacks on satellite constellations either by kinetic impactors, like China’s 2007 ASAT test, or directed energy attacks, such as high-powered lasers and microwave systems that can degrade or damage critical satellite components like solar arrays and sensors. Another type of physical attack on MILSATCOM systems might not be directed at the satellites, but at their ground stations causing similar disruption in communications in a less expensive manner.
The second group of threats identified by Harrison is electronic attacks that can jam the capabilities to uplink or downlink data and commands between ground stations and satellites. The third group is cyber-attacks. Harrison said in his report that adversaries could “gain access to a system to monitor the flow of data and discern sensitive operational details, such as location of users and which users are communicating with each other.” Another form of cyber-attack that could be more damaging mentioned in his report was “If an adversary were able to take control of a satellite, for example, it could shut down all communications, move the satellite to a different orbit, or even destroy the satellite by expending its fuel supply or damaging its electronics.” Harrison concludes that the threats of most concern are an adversary gaining control of satellite systems, uplink jamming, and assaults on ground stations.
In order to address the challenges and threats of a more crowded and contested space domain Harrison states in his report that “The United States does not need space capabilities greater than its potential adversaries. Rather the nation needs reliable, resilient space capabilities that enable other weapon systems to be superior to those of an adversary.” To improve the reliability and resilience of U.S. space capabilities he made six recommendations.
The first was to transition the MILSATCOM architecture from a two-tiered (protected and unprotected) to a three-tiered structure. The highest tier, for strategic communications, would be largely unchanged with robust levels of protection from threats. The lowest tier also would remain the same, providing unprotected services for non-essential communications on commercial satellites. What Harrison proposes is a new middle-tier of systems that provide some level of protection to tactical users. He explains in the report that "only 7 percent of the current architecture's capacity is protected, meaning many tactical users are using unprotected systems for mission critical communications." Thus he wants tactical systems that have passive defenses against jamming, detection and interception. This tier could include Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) payloads hosted on other military satellites, for example, he writes.
Other recommendations included:
During the panel session that followed Harrison’s presentation, Greg Edelund, Director of Communication Systems at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, emphasized that there is a synergy between resiliency and affordability. He defined resiliency by addressing the differences between the costs of building defensive systems for MILSATCOM, whether passive systems like satellite hardening or active systems like “shoot-back” systems against kinetic ASAT capabilities, compared to the costs for adversaries to disrupt U.S. systems.
Asymmetric threats occur when adversaries can spend orders of magnitude less to disable or defeat a U.S. system than the U.S. system cost to build, Edelund explained. Furthermore, he asserted that 95 percent of MILSATCOM systems are vulnerable to threats and that ground stations are the most vulnerable. To address asymmetric threats, he proposed moving the battle to space by creating disaggregated MILSATCOM systems consisting of a large number of small satellites in various orbits that are capable of maneuvering and that can be quickly reconstituted. Such an architecture would substantially increase the costs for an adversary to disable or destroy the system.
Justin Keller, Advanced Programs Director of Global Communications Systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, recommended that the United States look at possible threats up until 2030 and then choose the right package to handle the challenges and increase affordability. He disagreed with Harrison’s proposal to consolidate all MILSATCOM programs into the Air Force, stressing the effectiveness of the Navy’s existing MILSATCOM systems and arguing that transferring them into one Service would not be an improvement.
Marc Johansen, Vice President of Satellites & Intelligence Programs at Boeing, supported Harrison’s proposed restructuring of MILSATCOM systems into a three tiered system and mentioned that the Boeing 702 satellite production line is flexible across commercial and government program specifications. He cited the Wideband Global SATCOM commercial-like follow-on vehicles as an example of efficiency. He said they are experiencing 25 percent savings by reducing government involvement and oversight, which translated into about $150 million in savings over three satellites for the Air Force. He added that by transitioning them into a purely commercial acquisition approach by removing the remaining oversight and unique military specifications, the government could achieve 50 percent savings and operate in the lowest proposed tier.
Len Schiavone, Director of Technology for Integrated Communications Systems at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, elaborated on the difference between tactical and strategic mission communications. Tactical mission communications must be protected against jamming, interception and detectability while strategic mission communications must be able to survive through nuclear blasts as well as have more stringent information security than tactical missions. He agreed that satellite constellations be disaggregated and proposed that tactical mission communications be built with large capacities for data transfer at a more economic price. Those satellites would then be supported by lower capacity strategic mission communications which require a more expensive defensive package.
Editor's Note: SpacePolicyOnline.com welcomes Raymon Furth as a new correspondent. Furth is an astronomy student at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is currently serving in an internship position in Washington, DC supporting the Assistant Vice President of Research and Federal Relations with the University of Colorado Office of Government Relations. Read more about him on our "About Us" page. (Note: We have clarified Furth's internship title.)
The following events may be of interest during the week. The House and Senate will be in session part of the week.
During the Week
It's crunch time in Washington as FY2013 comes to an end next Monday and there is no law in place to fund the government thereafter. The House was scheduled to be in recess this week, but the House Republican leadership changed its mind and ordered the House to return on Wednesday. The Senate will be in session beginning Monday, but no votes are scheduled until Tuesday when it will take up the FY2014 Continuing Resolution (CR) that the House passed on Friday. It would fund the government through mid-December, but deny any funds for implementing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Senate is expected to reject that bill and pass a "clean" CR that only funds the government. What happens after that is anyone's guess. The House Republican leadership and many Republican Senators do not want a government shutdown, but there are enough House Republicans who are happy to shut down the government temporarily in order to make political points about their views on Obamacare that the end game is far from clear. It's a high stakes political battle.
With many in the space community over in Beijing for the International Astronautical Congress -- the annual conference of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and International Institute of Space Law (IISL) -- there are relatively few space policy events coming up, but those we know of are listed below.
Monday-Friday, September 23-27
Tuesday, September 24
Wednesday, September 25
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in session this week.
During the Week
With two-and-a-half weeks to go until the beginning of the new fiscal year, there is still no sign of an agreement on keeping the government operating after September 30. The dispute at this point is primarily among Republicans in the House. Some, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) appear determined to avoid a shutdown for fear it will hurt Republican chances to retain control of the House in next year's elections. Others are less concerned about next year's elections than about other high profile issues like Obamacare and want to tie any agreement on federal funding overall to defunding that program. The sides seems pretty far apart at the moment, but anything can happen between now and Friday when Cantor has scheduled a vote on a Continuing Resolution (CR) subject to a rule being granted. The House is scheduled to be in recess next week, but Cantor has hinted that if agreement on a CR is not reached by the end of this week, he may keep the House in session.
Apart from that high stakes political drama, in the space business many eyes will be focused on Orbital Sciences Corporation's launch of its Antares rocket sending the Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The launch is currently scheduled for 10:50 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on Wednesday, September 18, but launch dates can always slip. Stay tuned to SpacePolicyOnline.com for updates.
Lots of other interesting meetings and congressional hearings on tap as well, as detailed below.
Monday, September 16
Tuesday, September 17
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 17-18
Wednesday, September 18
Thursday, September 19
Friday, September 20
Elon Musk tweeted this morning that SpaceX's launch of the Falcon 9 v1.1 from Vandenberg Air Force Base will be delayed until the end of September.
Musk, founder and Chief Technology Officer of SpaceX, tweeted that the company will do another static fire test and "AF needs to test ICBMs, so probable launch Sept 29/30."
The launch had been tentatively set for today, September 15, but anomalies were detected during a static fire test on Thursday, necessitating the second test.
This will be the first flight of this version of the Falcon 9 and SpaceX's first launch from Vandenberg.
SpaceX is getting ready for the first launch of its new version of the Falcon 9, the Falcon 9 v1.1, carrying a Canadian scientific satellite and five smaller satellites. SpaceX is being cautious about announcing a launch date, and until moments ago indicators were that it would be on Sunday. One of the customers announced about 4:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), however, that the launch has been postponed to an unspecified "later date."
SpaceX's website makes no mention of the launch (at least we cannot find anything). The FAA granted a safety waiver for the launch last month and identified September as the launch time frame. This is SpaceX's first launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA and the waiver was needed because of weather conditions common off the California coast in September.
Other sources have suggested various dates for the launch, but the most official indications have come from two of the customers and a NASA launch manifest, all of which were showing Sunday, September 15, as the launch date until moments ago. The planned launch time apparently was 12:00 noon Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), or 9:00 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) at the launch site.
The main payload is the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA's) Cascade SmallSat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite to study the space environment and demonstrate telecommunications technology. CSA issued a press release earlier today stating that the launch was scheduled for Sunday at 12:00 noon EDT. Another customer, the University of Colorado-Boulder, already had announced that the launch would be on September 15. Students at UC-Boulder built one of the five smaller satellites that will be launched along with CASSIOPE. The Drag and Atmospheric Neutral Density Explorer (DANDE) satellite will study the Earth's thermosphere. A NASA manifest of launches of interest to the agency also shows September 15 as the launch date, with the time listed as 1600-1800Z, which would be 12:00-2:00 pm EDT, consistent with the CSA announcement.
Meanwhile, however, SpaceX founder and CTO Elon Musk (@elonmusk) tweeted at 2:04 EDT this morning (Friday) that anomalies were detected during a static fire test yesterday and the launch date is "TBD." At about 4:00 pm EDT, CSA tweeted (@csa_asc) and updated its website with the message that the launch "is delayed to a later date."
Jeff Foust reports in his NewSpace Journal blog that SpaceX officials speaking the AIAA's Space 2013 conference over the past few days emphasized that the Falcon 9 v1.1 is "trying a lot of things for the first time" and is "a bit of a nail-biter."
UPDATE 4: September 15, 2013, 10:30 am ET: This will be the last update for this article. Check back at SpacePolicyOnline.com for further information on the launches that have not yet occurred. This morning, Elon Musk tweeted that the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch was being delayed until September 29 or 30.
UPDATE 3: September 14, 2013, 3:30 pm ET: The Antares launch has slipped at least one day, from September 17 to September 18.
UPDATE 2: September 14, 2013, 8:05 am ET: Japan succeeded in launching its new Epsilon rocket at 1:00 am EDT this morning (2:00 pm Japan Standard Time).
UPDATE: September 13, 2013, 4:25 pm ET. As we said, launch dates can always slip, and SpaceX's already has. The Canadian Space Agency, whose CASSIOPE satellite will be aboard the rocket, tweeted and updated its website about 4:00 pm EDT to say the launch has been delayed to a "later date." We've updated the link about the SpaceX launch to a story we just posted about the launch, including the postponement.
ORIGINAL STORY: September 13, 2013. Four especially important space launches are on tap in the next several days beginning overnight tonight Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Japan, the United States and Russia all have a lot riding on the outcome of these events.
First up is Japan's second attempt to launch its new Epsilon rocket. That is scheduled for 12:45 am EDT Saturday (in the wee hours overnight tonight, but officially tomorrow). It will be mid-afternoon local time at the launch site in Ucihnoura, Japan -- 1:45 pm Japan Standard Time. The launch window is open for 45 minutes.
Next up on Sunday, according to the latest rumors, will be SpaceX's first launch of a new version its Falcon 9 rocket, the Falcon 9 v1.1. It also will be the first SpaceX launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. SpaceX has released little information, but a NASA launch manifest currently shows the launch on Sunday, September 15, between 1600-1800 Z (12:00 pm -2:00 pm EDT, or 9:00-11:00 am local time at the launch site). [Other sources also report that this is the launch date and time, but H/T to @Jeff_Foust for pointing out this NASA manifest, which is the most official of those sources.]
On Tuesday, September 17, Orbital Sciences Corporation is planning the first flight of its Antares rocket with a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station. This is Orbital's demonstration launch for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Launch is from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia at 11:16 am EDT.
Last is the return-to-flight of Russia's Proton rocket. The launch date is uncertain. It was to have taken place on Sunday, but has been postponed while engineers check out an anomalous reading detected in the rocket's first stage earlier this week.
Obviously all launch dates and times are subject to change due to weather or technical considerations.
In summary, these four very important launches are expected to take place as follows: