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Military / National Security News

Mattis Confirmed as Secretary of Defense - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jan-2017 (Updated: 20-Jan-2017 11:20 PM)

General James Mattis (USMC, Ret.) was confirmed by the Senate today as the new Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  The 98-1 vote took place just hours after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. [UPDATE:  Mattis was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence shortly after the confirmation vote.]

One of Trump's first acts as President was signing legislation that passed Congress last week allowing Mattis to serve as SecDef even though he retired from military service only 3 years ago.  By law, he must have been retired for at least 7 years.  The bill allowed a waiver to that law.   Former President Obama had indicated that he was willing to sign the bill, but Congress waited until today to present it to the new President for signature.   Such a waiver has been granted only once before, in 1950, allowing Army General George C. Marshall to serve as SecDef.

The one vote against the confirmation was cast by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) because of concerns about maintaining the principle of civilian control of the military.  Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) did not vote.   He himself is a Trump Cabinet nominee (for Attorney General).  Senate Democrats had demanded that he recuse himself from voting on the nominations of other Cabinet nominees since it would be a conflict of interest and Politico reported that it would be unprecedented for a sitting Senator to do so.  

Mattis, 66, already has had a distinguished military career capped by serving from 2010-2013 as Commander of Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Northeast Africa and Central Asia.  He was NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (2007-2009) and, concurrently, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (2007-2010).   After his retirement, he served on a number of boards, including General Dynamics, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Mattis's views on space activities are not well known.  He was not asked any questions about national security space programs during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last week.  SASC sent him a 56-page set of questions in advance of the hearing.  The questions and his answers are posted on the SASC website.  Only four specifically concerned space activities.  The questions and answers, verbatim, are as follows:


What do you perceive as the threats to our national security space satellites?

The threat to our satellite capabilities is real and growing. Both China and Russia have developed and tested a variety of anti-satellite weapons that can destroy or disable satellites.

Briefly describe what policy objectives we should be seeking to achieve and the strategy you think is necessary to address these threats.

We must ensure the availability, security, and resiliency of our assets at all times and through all phases of conflict.

Do you support the development of offensive space control capabilities to counter those threats?

Offensive space control capabilities should be considered to ensure survivable and resilient space operations necessary for the execution of war plans. If confirmed, I will examine the feasibility of integrating such considerations into existing national security policy.

The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the use of Russian rocket engines after December 31, 2022. Are you committed to ending our dependence on the use of Russian rocket engines as soon as possible, perhaps even before December 31, 2022?

If confirmed, I will comply with the law, and work in consultation with the Congress to meet or exceed any deadline requirements it imposes.

McCain Proposes Dramatic Spending Boost for Defense, Including Space

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jan-2017 (Updated: 17-Jan-2017 11:23 PM)

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has released a blueprint for a dramatic boost in defense spending.   His plan, Restoring American Power, calls for repealing the law that created sequestration and adding $430 billion for defense spending over 5 years above the amounts proposed by President Obama.  He believes space programs "must be a priority" for some of that additional funding.

McCain's plan covers defense spending at the Department of Defense as well as nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy (DOE).

He casts blame widely for inadequate defense budgets and "abuse" of the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations account.  Republicans and Democrats, the White House and Congress are all at fault for the current situation in his view.  The purpose of his plan is to fix it, beginning with repeal of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) that set budget caps for discretionary spending that he sees as the root of the problem.  Recounting how the BCA caps and the Damoclean sword of sequestration to enforce them came to exist -- after Congress could not agree on another method for reining in the federal deficit -- he states that the "havoc ... wreaked on each of the military services is still being felt to this day." Repealing the BCA and increasing defense spending "must be" the "highest priority for the 115th Congress."

He proposes a $430 billion increase over 5 years above the levels in President Obama's FY2017 budget request (including projections for future years), which he acknowledged was itself $100 billion above the BCA caps. Congress has not completed action on that request.  DOD, DOE and other departments and agencies that are part of discretionary spending are currently funded by a Continuing Resolution through April 28.

The additional funds he is proposing are for two broad priorities:  modernization and regaining capacity.  Regarding national security space activities, McCain asserts that DOD "has finally awoken to the reality that we must invest in the next generation of space capabilities....Over the next five years, space must be a priority for additional funding to ensure that the United States maintains its space superiority and has the capabilities and capacity to deter and defend our critical space assets in future conflicts."

He also sees the need for investing in a "space-based sensor architecture" for missile defense as a potential alternative to "costly ground-based radars."   Overall, for missile defense he advocates development of "boost phase defense programs, directed energy, hypervelocity projectiles, high-power microwaves, battle management using learning machines, and space-based capabilities."

The report includes several tables outlining where McCain wants to spend the additional funds he proposes for FY2018-2022.  The figures are increases above President Obama's FY2017 request, but the breakdown does not follow the format of that request so it is not possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons. The extract below from a table on page 28 of the report shows the proposed increases for space (as well as cyber and missile defense).

Extract from table on page 28 of SASC Chairman John McCain's January 2017 report "Restoring American Power."  That report does not say so, but the figures likely are shown in thousands, where "$500,000" represents $500 million, for example, which is commonly done in budget charts of this nature.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 16-20, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2017 (Updated: 15-Jan-2017 12:05 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 16-20, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.   The Senate will be in session most of the week; the House will be in session only on Friday.

During the Week

The workweek begins on Monday with a federal holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and ends on Friday with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.  Friday is not a federal holiday, but government offices and many businesses in the Washington, DC area will be closed.  Word of warning if you're coming to DC for any reason this week: the security folks are going to start closing roads on WEDNESDAY in preparation for Friday's inaugural activities.  Federal workers in DC are being encouraged by the Office of Personnel Management to telework Wednesday and Thursday because it's going to be very difficult to get around town those days, never mind Friday or Saturday (when protests will continue, including the Women's March on Washington). 

Trump will be sworn in at noon on Friday (January 20) and at that point President Obama's political appointees lose their jobs unless they've been specifically asked to stay on.  At NASA, Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman are leaving, and Robert Lightfoot, the top NASA civil servant, will become Acting Administrator.   (Lightfoot will be speaking at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD on Tuesday.)   Another Obama political appointee, Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski, has been ask to stay for a while, however.  We're trying to get information from NOAA on who will be in charge there at 12:01 pm ET. 

No announcements have been made by the Trump transition team as to who they plan to put in place permanently at NASA or NOAA, although there are widespread rumors that Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is a top candidate for NASA Administrator.  He has been very active legislatively in DOD, NOAA, and FAA space issues (he chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee), but not much with NASA.  He is an advocate of creating a legal and regulatory environment that facilitates the emergence of new commercial space activities, expanding the role of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to include non-military space situational awareness and authorizing in-space activities (not just launch and reentry), and promoting public private partnerships.  He spearheaded the creation of the commercial weather data pilot programs at NOAA and DOD, but stresses they are in addition to, not instead of, the government's own weather satellites.  His is not the only name circulating as potential Administrator, and he also has been mentioned as a candidate for Secretary of the Air Force, however, so this is not a sure bet.  Stay tuned.

At DOD, Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Ash Carter and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James (and presumably the other service secretaries) are leaving.  Trump has announced plans to nominate Gen. James Mattis (USMC, Ret.), 66, as SecDef and the Senate Armed Services Committee has already held his nomination hearing.  Space activities did not come up during the open hearing.  The committee gave him a set of written questions in advance and four were about space, but were not very newsworthy (they are posted on the committee's website).  The Senate and House passed legislation last week allowing him to serve as SecDef even though he retired only 3 years ago and the law requires a 7-year separation.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill, clearing the way for Mattis to be confirmed as soon as Trump takes office.  Literally.  Confirmation votes are expected in the Senate Friday afternoon. 

The Senate will continue confirmation hearings this week.  Among them are the hearing for Wilbur Ross Jr. to be Secretary of Commerce.  The 79-year old billionaire is an investor, company turn-around specialist, and former banker.  What views he may hold on NOAA or its satellite activities are unknown.  Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held the nomination hearing for Elaine Chao, 63, to be Secretary of Transportation and it was clear she was not yet up to speed on that department's space-related responsibilities.   Which is hardly surprising in either case.  Both Commerce and Transportation have very broad portfolios. Space is a minor part of what they do.

By the end of the week, Mattis, Ross and Chao are likely to be confirmed by the Senate for their new positions. Though some of Trump's nominee-designates are controversial, these three do not seem to be among them.  Chao has experience in leading federal agencies already, having served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush.  Mattis has a long and distinguished military career and was most recently Commander of U.S. Central Command, so clearly has strong leadership skills, but has not run a federal agency.  Rumors are that Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is being asked to stay for a few months to ease the transition.  Ross has led businesses, but has no prior government experience (which is not uncommon for Cabinet-level positions).  It is interesting to note that outgoing Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker recommended in her "exit memo" that the Commerce Department be "streamlined" into a "Department of Business" as President Obama proposed in 2012, with NOAA and other parts of Commerce transferred elsewhere (NOAA would have gone to the Department of the Interior).  With his business focus, one wonders if Ross might advocate for the same thing.

Frank Kendall, the outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, will give his final speech in that position on Tuesday at CSIS where he will talk about (and sign) his new book "Getting Defense Acquisition Right."  Will be interesting to hear what he says about acquisition of space systems, which is expected to be a major topic in Congress this year.  The event will be webcast.

On Wednesday, NASA and NOAA will release the latest annual data on global temperatures and discuss the most important climate trends of 2016.  That will be done via a media teleconference call.  Anyone may listen and see the associated graphics on the NASA Live website (formerly NASA News Audio).

European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner will hold his annual press breakfast at ESA HQ in Paris on Wednesday morning.  It's a bit early in the United States (3:00-5:00 am Eastern), but ESA often posts the webcast for later viewing on its website.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for ones we hear about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, January 16

  • U.S. Federal Holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

Tuesday, January 17

Wednesday, January 18

Wednesday-Friday, January 18-20

Friday, January 20

Satellite Export Controls Get Another Update, JWST No Longer Under ITAR

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2017 (Updated: 11-Jan-2017 11:38 PM)

The Departments of Commerce and State announced more changes to the regulations that govern satellite exports yesterday. The new rules affect a range of activities from commercial remote sensing satellites to human spacecraft to the James Webb Space Telescope and become effective on January 15, 2017.

After more than a decade of battling stringent export controls that many in the satellite industry claimed hampered U.S. efforts to compete on the global stage, a substantial victory was won in 2014 when many commercial satellite items were moved from the State Department's U.S. Munitions List (USML) and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List (CCL) of dual-use technologies governed by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Still, there were remaining matters to be settled, several of which were addressed in yesterday's announcement.  A summary published by NOAA's Office of Space Commerce includes the following:

  • increases the aperture thresholds for control of remote sensing satellites and components;
  • eliminates controls based on whether a spacecraft supports human habitation, but such spacecraft may be controlled by other criteria;
  • redefines several controls based on technical capabilities rather than end use of the spacecraft;
  • removes and replaces confusing criteria concerning integrated propulsion and attitude control;
  • adds thresholds for controls on electric propulsion systems; and
  • clarifies various ambiguities.

A quick glance at the new rules as published in the Federal Register (the Office of Space Commerce website has links) provides additional details:

  • The aperture limits for commercial electro-optical remote sensing satellites will be raised from 0.35m to 0.50m, which is still short of the 1.1m requested by some of the commenters; and
  • ITAR controls on electric propulsion systems are for those that provide greater than 300 milli-Newtons of thrust and a specific impulse greater than 1,500 sec, or operate at an input power of more than 15kW.

Another interesting decision is that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is being moved to the CCL.  "A determination was made ... that this specific telescope ... did not warrant being subject to the ITAR."   The change includes parts, components, accessories and attachments that are specially designed for use in or for JWST.   JWST is NASA's next major space telescope.  In many ways it is a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope and is scheduled for launch on a European Ariane rocket in 2018.

Texas Remains Powerful Space Influence as House Appropriations, Senate Commerce Announce Subcommittee Chairs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2017 (Updated: 11-Jan-2017 12:16 AM)

The House Appropriations Committee announced the members who will chair its 12 subcommittees today.   At the same time, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced the Republican members and chairs of its six subcommittees.  There is no change for NASA and NOAA, but the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will get a new chairwoman -- Kay Granger of Texas.  She joins fellow Texans in chairing key space-related committees and subcommittees.

Appropriations committees determine how much money federal departments and agencies get and how they must spend it.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each have 12 subcommittees that oversee all of the government's "discretionary spending" -- the funding Congress debates each year, as compared with "mandatory" spending such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the national debt, which is set by other means.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) is the new House Appropriations Committee chairman, replacing Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) who hit a 6-year term limit imposed by House rules and had to relinquish the job.  Rogers had indicated interest in chairing the defense appropriations subcommittee, which oversees about half of all discretionary spending, but that went to Rep. Kay Granger of Texas instead.  She is beginning her 11th term in Congress.  Frelinghuysen chaired the defense subcommittee in the last Congress and Granger was his vice-chairwoman.  She represents a district that includes Fort Worth and is a champion of Lockheed Martin's F-35 program.  F-35s are assembled at a plant in Fort Worth.  President-elect Donald Trump has been critical of the F-35's cost.  Granger's views on national security space programs is unclear.  (Rogers will chair the State-Foreign Operations subcommittee.)

Rep. John Culberson, also of Texas, will continue to chair the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that oversees NASA and NOAA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). He is a planetary science enthusiast, particularly of a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa because he believes life will be discovered there.  In a November 30, 2016 interview with Science, he expressed skepticism about the value of OSTP or a revived National Space Council, and support for earth science research, though he was coy about whether that should be a NASA responsibility.

The Senate Commerce Committee is an authorization committee that oversees NASA and NOAA.  Authorization committees set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not have any money to spend.  Only appropriators have money, but they are supposed to be guided by the recommendations of authorization committees, which are expected to have more detailed knowledge of an agency's activities.

NASA is overseen by the Science, Space and Competitiveness Subcommittee, which will continue to be chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.  Cruz was busy running for President in the last Congress and held few hearings on space, but in those that he did, he expressed support for space exploration -- with earth science to be reassigned to other agencies -- and commercial space.   Other Republican members of the subcommittee are from Utah (Mike Lee), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Kansas (Jerry Moran), Alaska (Dan Sullivan), Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), and West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito). 

NOAA is the responsibility of the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.  It will be chaired by Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Other members are from Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), Mississippi (Roger Wicker), Oklahoma (Jim Inhofe), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Utah (Mike Lee), and Indiana (Todd Young). 

In the House, Rep. Lamar Smith, another Texan, will continue to chair the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.  It oversees NASA, NOAA, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and NOAA and its Office of Space Commerce. The top Democrat on the committee, Eddie Bernie Johnson, also is from Texas, as is the Republican chairman of the Space Subcommittee, Brian Babin. 

Updated with clarification that Rep. Rogers will chair the House Appropriations State-Foreign Ops subcommittee.  Also, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida will continue to chair the Transportation-HUD subcommittee, which funds the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and Rep. Ken Calvert of California will continue to chair the Interior-Environment subcommittee, which funds the U.S. Geological Survey (which operates the Landsat satellites).

What's Happening in Space Policy January 8-14, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2017 (Updated: 09-Jan-2017 09:52 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 8-14, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

The BIG space event this week will be the return to flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.   Recently postponed from tomorrow (Monday) to Saturday, it will place 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites into orbit.  The FAA approved the launch license on Friday, but Monday's launch slipped to Saturday because of inclement weather forecast at the launch site -- Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.   SpaceX is recovering from a September 1, 2016 incident that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the AMOS-6 communications satellite during preparations for a static fire test two days before the scheduled launch. The static fire test for this launch was successfully accomplished on Thursday.

Here in Washington, the Senate will begin confirmation hearings for individuals President-elect Trump plans to nominate for Cabinet-level positions once he is President (on January 20).  Three have space responsibilities:  Secretary of Defense nominee-designate Gen. James Mattis (Ret.), Secretary of Commerce nominee-designate Wilbur J. Ross, Jr., and Secretary of Transportation nominee-designate Elaine Chao.  NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.  The FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation are part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).   Senate Democrats are objecting to some of the hearings because the non-partisan Office of Government Ethics has not had time to vet all of the nominees-designate for conflicts of interest yet.  Accusations are flying back and forth between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, all of which may be fascinating politically, but not really relevant to the space program, so we will leave it at that.  The Chao hearing is on Wednesday; the Mattis and Ross hearings are on Thursday.

Elsewhere in the country, AIAA will hold its annual SciTech forum, including the Aerospace Sciences meeting, in Grapevine, TX.  The AIAA website does not indicate which, if any, sessions will be livestreamed, but AIAA does webcast plenary and other special sessions at some of its conferences.  If we learn about a link to watch, we will add it to our calendar entry for this event.  There certainly are a lot of very interesting sessions on the agenda. UPDATE:  AIAA is livestreaming here.

The Earth Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Science Committee will meet at Kennedy Space Center, FL on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Many earth scientists are nervous about the future of NASA's earth science program in a Trump Administration.  That's because former Congressman Bob Walker, who was a space adviser to Trump during the campaign and continues to play an advisory role on the transition team, believes NASA's "earth-centric" programs should be transferred to other government agencies so NASA can focus on exploration. It is a view shared by key congressional Republicans who oversee NASA.  With Republicans in charge of the House, Senate and White House, and the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski who effectively defended NASA's program, the likelihood has increased.  It would be surprising if the NAC subcommittee has any better inkling of what the incoming Trump Administration plans to do, but anyone can listen in to the meeting to find out.  NASA Earth Science Division Director Mike Freilich is on the agenda Tuesday morning.  (Note that the remote participation option is audio only.)

NASA's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) also meets this week. That one is in Arizona from Wednesday-Friday.  Presumably they will be cheering NASA's announcement last week of the selection of two asteroid missions (Psyche and Lucy) as the next two Discovery missions, while ruing the non-selection of a third -- NEOCam (though it will get another year of funding).  They also may discuss last week's release of the White House's National NEO Preparedness Strategy.  The White House said a companion "action plan" would soon follow.  Perhaps there will be some news on that.  The meeting will be available remotely through Adobe Connect.  Note that all times on the agenda are in Mountain Standard Time. NASA Planetary Division Director Jim Green will speak on Wednesday at 9:10 am Mountain Time (11:10 am Eastern).  Michele Gates and Dan Mazanek will provide an update on the Asteroid Redirect Mission at 4:10 pm MT (6:10 pm Eastern) on Wednesday.

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 later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday-Thursday, January 8-12

Monday-Friday, January 9-13

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 10-11

Wednesday, January 11

Wednesday-Friday, January 11-13

Thursday, January 12

Friday, January 13

Saturday, January 14

Obama Administration Assesses Its Space Achievements in "Exit Memos"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Jan-2017 (Updated: 05-Jan-2017 09:13 PM)

President Obama directed all of his Cabinet-level appointees to prepare "exit memos" on progress made during his Administration and what needs to come next.   NASA is not a cabinet-level agency so did not have a chance to weigh in, but the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did, listing a number of accomplishments at NASA and other government science and technology organizations.  The Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Commerce (NOAA's parent) also included space activities in their wrap-ups.

OSTP's memo, by OSTP Director and presidential science adviser John Holdren and U.S. Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Megan Smith, lists "fostering a burgeoning private space sector and increased capabilities for our journey to Mars" tenth on the list of top 10 Obama Administration accomplishments in science and technology. (The CTO is part of OSTP.)  Later it identifies achievements in 5 categories of "frontiers" building on the White House Frontiers Conference held in October 2016.  One is "Interplanetary Frontiers."

In sum, OSTP heralds the following space-related Obama Administration achievements:

  • extending the International Space Space (ISS) to 2024, commercial cargo, and progress on commercial crew;
  • supporting the Journey to Mars and a robust U.S. commercial space market, including continued development of advanced space technology for life support and solar electric propulsion, collaboration with industry to develop deep space habitats, and initiating efforts to allow the private sector to add their own modules to ISS;
  • advancing space science through NASA, NSF and the Department of Energy (DOE), with shout-outs to the Kepler Space Observatory, the Curiosity Mars rover, the New Horizons mission to Pluto, Juno, and the James Webb Space Telescope (plus NSF's ground-based Atacama Large Millimeter Array and the NSF/DOE Large Synoptic Survey Telescope);
  • enhancing prediction of and preparedness for space hazards, notably Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and space weather; and
  • harnessing the small satellite revolution.

The OSTP memo then lists 10 actions needed for the future to address science and technology challenges.  None are specific to space, but more general.  First and foremost is investment in fundamental research.  STEM education, supporting innovative entrepreneurs, and continuing international cooperation and engagement are also on the list.

The exit memo from Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter also touches on space activities. One paragraph restates DOD's warning that space is no longer a sanctuary and "we must be prepared for the possibility of a conflict that extends into space." It states that the Obama Administration has spent $22 billion "to defend and improve the resiliency of our assets in space and put potential adversary space systems at risk, helping ensure the advantages of space are available for U.S. forces in the future."  The memo implores the incoming Administration to ensure that reconnaissance, GPS, and secure communications can be provided and "ensure and defend these capabilities against aggressive and comprehensive space programs of others."

The DOD memo also stresses the need to "ensure America pioneers and dominates the technological frontiers related to military superiority" noting that it is no longer just a matter of bigger or better weapons, but the "additional variable of speed" -- who can "out-innovate faster than everyone else."

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker noted the recent launch of the first next-generation geostationary weather satellite, GOES-R/GOES-16 and the upcoming launch of the first next-generation polar orbiting weather satellite, JPSS-1, in her exit memo.  She said that the launch of JPSS-1 must be a priority to ensure there will be no gaps in satellite coverage.  (That launch recently slipped from March 2017 to the fourth quarter of FY2017.)

Interestingly, Pritzker concluded by saying she is convinced taxpayers would be better served by a "streamlined 'Department of Business,' similar to the President's 2012 government reorganization proposal."  Under that proposal, NOAA would have moved from the Department of Commerce to the Department of the Interior.

All of the exit memos are accessible from the White House website, which will change on January 20 when Donald Trump assumes office, of course, so where these will be available electronically thereafter is unknown.

White House Releases National NEO Preparedness Strategy

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Jan-2017 (Updated: 03-Jan-2017 03:07 PM)

The Obama White House today released a National Near Earth Object Preparedness Strategy to improve the country's preparedness to deal with the potential hazards of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) -- asteroids and comets. The report says a companion action plan is forthcoming.

The report was prepared by an interagency working group under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which is part of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).   It was co-chaired by OSTP's Fred Kennedy and NASA's Lindley Johnson.  Johnson is NASA's Planetary Defense Officer and in charge of NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO).  

The Detecting and Mitigating the Impacts of Earth-Bound Near-Earth Objects (DAMIEN) working group included representatives of the White House (OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget); Director of National Intelligence (DNI); NASA; National Science Foundation (NSF); Department of State; DOD (including DARPA and Air Force Strategic Command); Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, part of the Department of Homeland Security); National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore Lab (both part of the Department of Energy); U.S. Geological Survey (USGS, part of the Department of Interior); Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, part of Department of Transportation); and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both part of the Department of Commerce.

The meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in 2013 offered a stark reminder of what can happen when an asteroid reaches Earth (asteroids are rocks in space; when they enter and descend through Earth's atmosphere they are meteors; surviving pieces are meteorites).  History is filled with much more dramatic examples, such as the asteroid impact that many believe led to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago or the more recent (1908) Tunguska event.  

In the 1990s, Congress directed NASA to locate and track the largest (1 kilometer or more in diameter), and therefore most potentially hazardous, NEOs.  Subsequent congressional direction lowered the threshold to 140 meters or larger.  NASA's NEO program got a boost after Chelyabinsk and President Obama's decision to send humans to an asteroid as part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission. 

NASA's creation of PDCO and designation of Johnson as Planetary Defense Officer, plus ongoing discussions at the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), are more signals of the increasing seriousness with which NEO impacts are being considered even though they are "low probability, high-consequence" hazards.

The DAMIEN strategy outlines objectives for enhancing U.S. preparedness in hazard and threat assessment, decision-making, and response.  It defines seven strategic goals for federal research, development, deployment, operations, coordination and engagement.  

One of the most critical factors is how long Earthlings would have to prepare for a potential impact -- a day, a year, a decade, many decades?  The options for response depend on that timing.  Not surprisingly, therefore, the first of the seven goals is to enhance detection, tracking and characterization capabilities.  The second is to develop methods to deflect or disrupt a NEO's path. The others are improving modeling, predictions and information integration; developing emergency procedures; establishing impact response and recovery procedures; leveraging and supporting international cooperation; and establishing coordination and communications protocols and thresholds for taking action.

The report promises a forthcoming action plan to implement the strategy and achieve those goals, followed by three-year updates.  It adds, however, that full implementation requires a global network of governments, U.S. government agencies, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, including academia, the media, non-profits and industry.  "These partnerships between the United States and the international community, industry and academia will form the backbone of preparations for any threat of a NEO impact event."

What's Happening in Space Policy January 1-6, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jan-2017 (Updated: 01-Jan-2017 01:33 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 1-6, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2017 and, on Tuesday, to the 115th Congress.  Under the Constitution, a new session of Congress begins on January 3 of each year.  The second session of the 114th Congress officially will end and the first session of the 115th Congress will begin at 12:00 pm ET that day.

The House will meet at 11:00 am on Tuesday for legislative business to end the 114th Congress (to adjourn "sine die" -- without a day for that Congress to reconvene) and then will meet at noon to convene the 115th Congress.  They will begin with a recorded quorum call followed by the election of the Speaker of the House (Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to win that vote) and swearing in of the other members.  The House will be composed of 241 Republicans (a net loss of six seats) and 194 Democrats (a net gain of six seats).  Several pieces of legislation are scheduled for floor action this coming week, but none related to the space program judging by their titles. They can't be officially introduced and assigned bill numbers until the 115th Congress convenes, but the House Majority Leader's website lists their titles. 

The Senate will meet on Tuesday in pro forma session at 11:55 am ET to close the 114th Congress.  The Senate website doesn't say so, but presumably it also will convene for the 115th Congress at noon and swear in its members.  The Senate will be composed of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who remained an Independent throughout his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Angus King of Maine). That is a net loss of two seats for Republicans and a net gain of two seats for Democrats. The two Independents caucus with the Democrats so it is essentially a 52-48 split.

The only hearing on either side of the Hill that we've seen posted is on foreign cyber threats to the United States.  That's before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday at 9:30 am ET.  Not really space-related, but certainly of broad interest.  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre III, and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command/Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Services Adm. Michael Rogers are the witnesses.

On Friday, the House and Senate will meet in joint session at 1:00 pm ET to count the Electoral College votes officially, bringing the 2016 presidential election to an end.  On December 19, the electors cast their votes.  Donald Trump received 306, Hillary Clinton 232, making Trump the winner.  Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.9 million, but in the U.S. system, it is the Electoral College vote that determines the outcome.  Trump will be sworn in at noon ET on January 20.  Barack Obama remains President until then.

Outside the Beltway, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will hold its winter meeting in Grapevine, TX.   This is where the world's astronomers and astrophysicists get together and discuss recent discoveries and future plans.  Always fascinating, but usually one has to be there to learn about it in real time. The sessions and press conferences are not publicly webcast.  Only a few are webcast for the media (a special password is required; instructions for obtaining it are on the conference's website).  However, some archived webcasts are made available later.

NASA will hold a press conference at Johnson Space Center on Wednesday to discuss two upcoming spacewalks -- the first is on Friday -- to upgrade the International Space Station's electrical power system.  NASA TV will cover the press conference and the spacewalk.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Tuesday, January 3

  • 115th Congress convenes

Tuesday-Saturday, January 3-7

Wednesday, January 4

Friday, January 6

What's Happening in Space Policy December 11-31, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Dec-2016 (Updated: 11-Dec-2016 12:22 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for December 11-31, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess for the rest of the year.

During the Weeks

Congress has completed its legislative business for the year.  Officially the 114th Congress ends at noon on January 3, 2017 when the 115th Congress begins, but no more legislative activity is scheduled between now and then.

With the holidays looming, few other space policy events are scheduled for the rest of the year, so this edition of “What’s Happening” covers through the end of 2016.

This coming week still has a few important events, most notably, perhaps, the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in San Francisco.   It begins on Monday, but today (Sunday), an associated public lecture is scheduled (it will be livestreamed) about how Mars landing sites are selected.  In this case, it is the Mars 2020 landing site.  The lecture is at noon Pacific Time (3:00 pm ET) and features a NASA astrobiologist (Michael Meyer), a CalTech geologist (Bethany Ehlmann), and a high school student (Alex Longo).

AGU will livestream 75 of its more than 1800 scientific sessions during the week-long meeting and NASA TV will broadcast several press conferences and other events in which the agency is engaged.  Unfortunately, Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting on the status of the National Academies’ Decadal Survey on Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) isn’t on either list.

Speaking of Earth science, on Monday morning, weather permitting (and the forecast isn’t very good), NASA will launch a constellation of eight microsatellites using Orbital ATK’s air-launched Pegasus rocket.  The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) will measure ocean surface winds in and near the eyes of hurricanes to improve hurricane intensity forecasts.  NASA TV will cover the launch.

The Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will meet Tuesday-Wednesday at the Academies’ Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  Sessions on the first day are closed, but almost all day on Wednesday is open and will be available by WebEx.

On a completely different topic, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance will hold a briefing on Capitol Hill on developing a space-based sensor layer for missile defense on Wednesday. Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, Director of Space Programs for the Air Force Acquisitions Office, and Richard Matlock, Program Executive for Advanced Technology at the Missile Defense Agency, are the speakers.

After that, the calendar is empty till the New Year begins.  Unless some new events emerge, we will not publish a “What’s Happening” article until January 1.  We wish all of you a happy and restful holiday season.  (And we’ll still be here posting news stories as needed.)

The events we know about through December 31 are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for additional meetings we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday, December 11

Monday, December 12

Monday-Friday, December 12-16

  • AGU Fall Meeting, Moscone Center, San Francisco (some sessions and press conferences will be livestreamed by AGU or NASA)

Tuesday, December 13

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 13-14

Wednesday, December 14