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Military / National Security News

Orbital Sciences to Use Russian RD-181 for Antares

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Dec-2014 (Updated: 17-Dec-2014 10:54 PM)

Orbital Sciences Corporation confirmed via Twitter a story published by Aviation Week & Space Technology that it has chosen a different Russian engine, RD-181, for its Antares rocket.  The last Antares launch, powered by Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26), exploded 15 seconds after liftoff on October 28.

Orbital confirmed after the launch failure that it would use a different engine for future Antares rockets, but as recently as last week, Orbital Chairman, President and CEO David Thompson declined to publicly identify the engine despite rumors that it would be Russian.

Aviation Week's Frank Morring posted a story yesterday quoting Orbital's vice president for space launch strategic development Mark Pieczynski as saying the RD-181, built by Energomash, "is about as close as you could possibly get to replacing the current twin AJ-26 engines in Antares, so it minimizes the redesign of the core."  The first set of RD-181s is expected in the summer of 2015, Morring reported, with a second set arriving in the fall.

Orbital has announced plans for recovering from the October 28 launch failure, which destroyed the Cygnus spacecraft that was carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Orbital's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.  The contract requires Orbital to deliver 20 tons of cargo to ISS by the end of 2016.  To fulfill the contract, Orbital will use another company's rocket for at least one launch of Cygnus while getting the reconfigured Antares ready for launch in 2016.  That other company is the United Launch Alliance (ULA).  Orbital is buying one ULA Atlas V launch, with an option for one more.

In tweets yesterday and today, Orbital (@OrbitalSciences) said that the RD-181 is the "only propulsion system that enables us to complete cargo commitments to @NASA under #CRS contract by end of 2016."  It also disputed reports on some media outlets that the value of its order for the engines is $1 billion.  "Total possible value (including options) of #RD181 order significantly below the $1 billion being reported by some media outlets."

One of those media outlets is Russia's Sputnik News, formerly RIA Novosti.  It reported today that the order is for 60 RD-181 engines, citing another Russian newspaper, Izvestiya.  According to that account, an official from Russia's space agency Roscosmos said there is a firm contract for 20 engines with a commitment to deliver a total of 60.  A subsequent story from Sputnik News quotes Orbital's Barron Beneski as saying the $1 billion figure is incorrect and "The full value if all the options were exercised would be significantly less." 

Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting the purchase of a different Russian engine, the RD-180, for use in ULA's Atlas V rocket.  Atlas V is used for many U.S. national security spacecraft and U.S. dependence on Russia for those engines became a significant issue after Russia's actions in Ukraine.  The final version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibits the Secretary of Defense from awarding or renewing a contract to procure rocket engines designed or manufactured in Russia for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  Atlas V and Delta IV are the two EELVs, so the language does not affect Antares. 

Morring quotes Orbital's Ron Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of the company's Launch Systems Group, as saying the company "coordinated with all relevant congressional staffs" and notes that the ISS program itself is dependent on cooperation with Russia.  ISS is an international partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries.  NASA has been dependent on Russia to launch crews to the ISS since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.

What's Happening In Space Policy December 15-31, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2014 (Updated: 14-Dec-2014 06:03 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the rest of 2014 as the holidays approach.  This edition covers December 15-31, 2014.   The Senate will be in session tomorrow, at least, but the expectation is that the 113th Congress will come to a close very soon.

During the Week

The Senate is scheduled to be in session tomorrow for what may be the last day of the 113th Congress, though even at this late date it is difficult to say that with any certainty.   After a tumultuous few days, the House and Senate have passed and sent to the President the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 -- the "CRomnibus" -- which funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies through the end of FY2015 (September 30, 2015).  Only the Department of Homeland Security is funded under another Continuing Resolution (CR), through February 27, 2015, because of the immigration debate.   We've published many stories about the debate, the angst, the uncertainty, etc. and will not reiterate it here (type "cromnibus" into our search box and you should be able to retrieve them).  Suffice it to say that it was a very nice holiday gift for NASA -- a $549 million increase above the President's request, or $363 million more than FY2014.  The question will be whether Congress will sustain that level of funding in future years.  A one-year plus-up is nice, but it's the long haul that counts.   NOAA's satellite programs also did well.  We'll publish an article summarizing the DOD space program provisions shortly.

Outside the beltway, the highlight of this week certainly will be the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.   AGU is webcasting many of its press conferences and those related to NASA are listed below and on our calendar on the right menu.   Among them -- findings from MAVEN, Curiosity, and Rosetta are on tap for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, and a look forward at New Horizons' arrival at Pluto next year is on Thursday.

And, if all goes well, SpaceX will launch its fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.  Three pre-launch briefings are scheduled for Thursday.   Arrival at the ISS will be on Sunday if the launch goes on Friday.  NASA TV will cover it all.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below. wishes all of you Happy Holidays and a fantastic New Year!

Monday-Friday, December 15-19

Monday, December 15

  • AGU Press Conferences on NASA Topics (webcast)
    • 9:00 am PST (12:00 noon EST), Early Results from MAVEN
    • 10:30 am PST (1:30 pm EST), X-rays and Gamma Rays in Thunderstorms
    • 1:30 pm PST (4:30 pm EST), Greenland's Melt Dynamics

Tuesday, December 16

Wednesday, December 17

  • AGU Press Conferences on NASA Topics (webcast)
    • 8:00 am PST (11:00 am EST), Rosetta Comet Science Results
    • 11:30 am PST (2:30 pm EST), Arctic Heating:  15 Years of Sea Ice Loss -- and Absorbed Solar Radiation Gains
    • 2:30 pm PST (5:30 pm EST), After the Pulse Flow: Greening the Colorado River Delta

Thursday, December 18

Friday, December 19

Sunday, December 21

  • SpX-5 Arrival at ISS (if launched on Friday), grapple approximately 6:00 am EST (NASA TV coverage begins 4:15 am EST)

Senate Passes Cromnibus Assuring FY2015 Funds for NASA, NOAA, DOD - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Dec-2014 (Updated: 14-Dec-2014 02:16 PM)

Update:  Links to the text of the bill and joint explanatory statements for CJS (NASA and NOAA) and Defense have been added.

The Senate just passed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, colloquially called the "cromnibus."  It funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies -- except the Department of Homeland Security -- through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015).

Demonstrating once again that it is always darkest before the dawn, the 56-40 vote came after a 24-hour period when it looked like the Senate was in for a long debate about the bill.   Senate Democratic and Republican leaders had hoped to spend the weekend at home and come back and vote on the bill Monday, but Tea Party Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) objected late last night and consequently the Senate was in session today.  

Throughout much of the day, many worried that the Senate could not even pass a new Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until Wednesday (otherwise funding would have expired tonight).  That CR finally passed this afternoon, but it was unclear when a vote on the cromnibus would take place.

Cruz and Lee did force a vote on the constitutionality of President Obama's immigration executive order "though it was badly defeated by bipartisan opposition, 22-74" according to Politico.   Politico goes on to point out that the Cruz-Lee delay opened an opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring a number of President Obama's long-delayed nominations to the floor for a vote and now "there's little Republicans can do to stop him."

From the standpoint of funding the government, at least, it was good news.   The cromnibus -- a combination of a CR to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 27, 2015 and the rest of the government through the end of the fiscal year  -- includes a significant increase for NASA and strong support for NOAA's satellite programs.  DHS is funded only by a shorter-term CR as a signal of Republican disapproval of the President's immigration executive order.  Immigration is part of DHS's portfolio.

The text of the bill was written as a Senate amendment to a House-passed bill on an unrelated topic (H.R. 83).   The joint explanatory statement (formerly a conference report) is separated into "divisions" for each of the regular appropriations bills.  Division B is Commerce-Justice-Science (including NASA and NOAA); Division C is Defense.

Senate Agrees to CR Through Wednesday, Still Debating Cromnibus

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Dec-2014 (Updated: 13-Dec-2014 05:21 PM)

This afternoon the Senate agreed to the second short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open through Wednesday, December 17, after a morning of high stakes drama where the words "government shutdown" were once again heard.  If this second CR did not pass, government funding would have expired at midnight.

The Senate is trying to complete work on FY2015 funding and a few other measures before bringing the 113th Congress to a close.   One way or another, this Congress will end and the new 114th Congress -- with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate -- will convene in early January.

The FY2015 funding bill, called a "cromnibus" because it combines a CR (through February 27, 2015) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and a full-year (through September 30, 2015) omnibus appropriations for the rest of the government is very controversial because of policy provisions ("riders") that were added by House and Senate negotiators in order to reach a compromise.  The bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday and is now struggling to win the support of enough Senators to secure passage there.

Tea Party Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) are seen as the leaders in opposing the cromnibus because it does not send a strong enough message to the President about Republican dissatisfaction with the President's executive order on immigration.  Cruz is viewed as the architect of last year's 16-day government shutdown, which many establishment Republicans opposed and have vowed to prevent from occurring again.  Several were quoted today questioning the Cruz-Lee strategy today.  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), Utah's senior senator, told reporters "I don't see any end game that can be won, other than irritating people."  Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said it was "not in keeping with our Republican commitment to return to normal order and to show the people of this country that we can govern responsibly."

Tea Party Republicans are not the only ones unhappy with the cromnibus.  Liberal Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are equally unhappy with a provision that changes the Dodd-Frank financial regulations and members of both parties object to modifications to the campaign finance law.

Cromnibus Meets Resistance in Senate, House Passes Another Short-Term CR

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Dec-2014 (Updated: 12-Dec-2014 11:24 PM)

Hope that the Senate could expeditiously pass the FY2015 "cromnibus" appropriations bill faded today and the House passed another short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that would keep the government operating through Wednesday, December 17 if needed.  The two-day CR agreed to yesterday expires tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight.

Objections to the cromnibus -- a mix of a CR for the Department of Homeland Security and a full-year omnibus appropriations for everyone else -- in the Senate parallel those in the House.  Conservative Republicans want to send a stronger message to President Obama about their disapproval of his executive order on immigration, liberal Democrats are angry at a provision that would change financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law, and some in each party dislike language that would change campaign finance laws.

In the Senate, a single Senator can block action.  A small example of that just occurred when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to recess the Senate until Monday afternoon to continue consideration of the bill, but Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) objected.  Lee argued that the Senate should not take the weekend off when these issues require debate.  Reid's motion to recess until Monday required unanimous consent, so Lee's objection was all that was needed to reject that plan.  Reid apparently expected the objection and had another resolution in hand to have the Senate return to work tomorrow instead.  There was no objection to that motion.

It is still possible that the cromnibus could pass the Senate tomorrow and the new CR would not be needed, but that seems unlikely at this point.   It is more likely that the Senate will pass the new CR tomorrow instead of the cromnibus and -- hopefully -- complete work by next Wednesday. The key is that there seems to be no talk of a government shutdown and Congress can pass CRs of any duration as required. 

In addition to the cromnibus, the Senate is still expected to act on at least two other bills -- extension of tax breaks and reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) -- as well as a number of presidential nominations.  The Hill newspaper reports, in fact, that it is the presidential nominations that are the real sticking point.

Today, the Senate did pass the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), clearing it for the President.

House Narrowly Passes FY2015 Funding Bill and Two-Day CR

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Dec-2014 (Updated: 11-Dec-2014 11:33 PM)

The House approved the FY2015 "cromnibus" spending package tonight by a vote of 219-206.  The Senate still must act on the measure so the House also passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) to extend government funding for two more days, through midnight Saturday.  The Senate quickly passed the two-day CR, averting a government shutdown tonight.

The cromnibus is a mix of a CR and an omnibus appropriations bill.  A CR provides funding for a short period of time at the previous year's level.  An omnibus consolidates several regular full-year appropriations bills into a single legislative package.  This bill combines full year appropriations for departments and agencies in 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (including NASA, NOAA and DOD) with a short term CR for the 12th (the Department of Homeland Security-DHS).  Funding DHS only through February 27, 2015, is intended to signal Republican dissatisfaction with President Obama's executive order on immigration.  Immigration is part of DHS.

The battle over the cromnibus was intense and at times its passage seemed in jeopardy.  The final vote was 219-206.   Voting in favor were 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats.  Voting against were 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats.  Five members from each party did not vote.

The rancor was over provisions agreed to by House and Senate negotiators endeavoring to reach a compromise.  The end result clearly does not please everyone.  Conservative Republicans reportedly want a stronger reaction against the President's immigration executive order, liberal Democrats and some Republicans object to a provision weakening the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, and liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans object to changes to the campaign finance law. 

The White House supported passage, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the House was being "blackmailed" into voting for it.

The battle now moves to the Senate.  With passage of the new two-day CR, it has until midnight Saturday to act.

The bill contains a significant budget boost for NASA -- an increase of $549 million above the President's request for a total of $18.010 billion.  NOAA's satellite programs also fare well.

Vote Expected to Be Close in House Tomorrow on FY2015 CRomnibus

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Dec-2014 (Updated: 10-Dec-2014 11:18 PM)

The House is expected to vote tomorrow (Thursday) on the FY2015 appropriations bill dubbed the "CRomnibus."  It combines an omnibus appropriations providing full-year funding for agencies covered by 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (including NASA, NOAA and DOD) and a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the 12th (the Department of Homeland Security).  The vote is expected to be close because of dissatisfaction on both sides of the aisle with policy provisions ("riders") that were added during negotiations.  Congress must pass this bill or some other funding measure before midnight tomorrow to avoid a government shutdown.

Objections to the CRomnibus reportedly range from conservative Republicans who feel it does not send a strong enough message to the President protesting his executive order on immigration to liberal Democrats and some Republicans who object to changes in the Dodd-Frank financial services regulations to liberal Democrats who object to changes in campaign finance laws.  (The Department of Homeland Security includes immigration.  The proposal to provide it only with a CR and not a full-year appropriation like everyone else is to signal Republican ire at the Obama immigration executive order, but some Republicans want to go further.)

Although appropriations bills are not supposed to include policy provisions, only funding, they often do.  That is especially true at the end of a Congress where members are trying one last time to get favored legislation passed and the only bill likely to clear Congress and be signed by the President is an appropriations bill.  

It is still possible that no agreement on funding will be reached and the government will shut down at midnight tomorrow, but that still is considered very unlikely.  If the CRomnibus does not pass the House tomorrow, House Speaker John Boehner reportedly plans to bring a three-month CR for the entire government to the floor for a vote, pushing funding decisions over into the Republican-controlled 114th Congress.  If the CRomnibus does pass the House, a very short term CR may be needed to give the Senate time to act, but that presumably would be only for a couple of days.

None of the concerns appear to be directed at provisions regarding NASA, NOAA or DOD.

We'll provide updates as they are available.

Agreement on Final FY2015 Appropriations Hits Snag

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Dec-2014 (Updated: 09-Dec-2014 10:38 AM)

Efforts by congressional leaders to pass a new FY2015 appropriations bill by midnight Thursday to avoid a government shutdown hit a snag last night.  Although it is certainly possible still to complete action by Thursday, it would require agreement not only on outstanding policy issues, but skipping over some procedural steps.

The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires at midnight on Thursday, December 11.  Congress needs to pass some type of appropriations bill -- another CR or full-year appropriations or a combination of both -- before then or there will be another shutdown as there was last year.   (It is common to refer to a "government shutdown" although some parts of government do continue operating, including programs and services funded by fees rather than appropriations and those involving safety of life and property.)

A new FY2015 appropriations bill combining funding for departments and agencies covered by 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015) and the 12th for a shorter period of time was expected to be introduced by midnight last night (Monday).   The one bill that would not be funded through the end of the fiscal year is for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes immigration.   As a signal of Republican disapproval of President Obama's executive order on immigration, DHS would be funded by a CR until January when Republicans will control both the House and Senate and will have more power to shape the congressional response to the President's executive order.  This combination is sometimes referred to as a "cromnibus" -- a mix of a CR and an omnibus spending measure. 

Ordinarily, bills must be made publicly available to Members of the House at least three days prior to a vote and since the vote is needed Thursday, the three day clock is already ticking.

However, disagreements over reauthorizing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) and modifying financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law are still being worked according to media reports.  In addition, some Republicans are opposed to funding any agencies to the end of the fiscal year.  They want a short term CR for everyone until they control both the House and Senate.

No information has been made public about how any of those departments and agencies have fared in negotiations to date.  NASA would receive a significant increase compared to the President's request if the final bill resembles what passed the House and was approved the Senate Appropriations Committee this year.  NOAA satellite programs also generally fared well.  

The goal has been for this 113th Congress to adjourn on Thursday, but an extension is quite possible.  At least four scenarios could play out:

  • The cromnibus could be introduced today and pass the House on Thursday without the standard three-day waiting period, and Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could reach agreement to waive certain procedural steps, pass it, and get the bill on the President's desk for signature before midnight on Thursday.
  • The cromnibus could be introduced today and a very short-term (from a day to a week) CR could be passed to give everyone time to read whatever bill emerges from the ongoing negotiations, with the expectation that it will pass on Friday or early next week.
  • A short-term (till January) CR could pass to leave the decisions to the new Republican-controlled Congress, which is scheduled to convene on January 6.
  • No bill could pass and there could be another government shutdown.

Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have made clear that they do not want another shutdown, so that seems the least likely outcome.

What's Happening in Space Policy December 8-12, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Dec-2014 (Updated: 07-Dec-2014 08:52 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of December 8-12, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

This well could be the final week of the 113th Congress.  If it can pass an appropriations bill to fund the government after December 11, when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires, and the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), this Congress will close up shop.  The new 114th Congress, with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, is expected to convene on January 6, 2015.

If all goes according to the plans of House and Senate leadership, this week Congress will pass a "cromnibus." That's a combination of a CR and an omnibus appropriations bill.  The idea is that Congress will pass an omnibus appropriations bill combining 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (including Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science) to fund most government agencies through September 30, 2015.   The exception is funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes immigration.   As a protest against President Obama's immigration executive order, DHS would be funded only by a CR for a short period of time, probably through some time in January when Republicans control both the House and Senate and they have more power to engage the Obama White House.  A cromnibus could be good news for DOD, NASA and NOAA, providing money for the rest of FY2015.  NASA, in particular, could get a significant increase compared to President Obama's request if the end result follows what the House passed in May and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved in June.

Some Tea Party Republicans want their leaders to take a stronger stance against the President's immigration executive order, but at the moment it appears that House and Senate Republican leaders are more concerned about avoiding a government shutdown than scoring political points on immigration.  They seem content to wait three weeks until they control the Senate as well as the House to fight that battle.

Also, the Senate is expected to pass the compromise version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House last week.  It has a number of national security space provisions, including prohibiting the purchase of Russian RD-180 rocket engines after the current contract expires unless certain conditions are met.

Also coming up this week is the 9th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law on Wednesday.  This year's theme is "Non-Traditional Commercial Space Activities: Legal and Poiicy Challenges, Opportunities and Ways Forward."   

That's the same day the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the status of NASA's Orion and Space Launch System programs.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday evening are listed below.

Monday, December 8

Tuesday, December 9

Wednesday, December 10

Wednesday-Thursday, December 10-11

Thursday, December 11

Thursday-Friday, December 11-12

House Passes Final FY2015 NDAA, Including RD-180 Cutoff, Money for New Engine

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2014 (Updated: 04-Dec-2014 09:25 PM)

The House passed the compromise National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2015 today by a vote of 300-119.  The Senate is expected to the pass the bill next week.  It includes restrictions on the future use of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine for the Atlas V rocket and authorizes $220 million to begin development of a U.S. alternative.

The House passed its version of the bill on May 22 and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved a version on June 2.  The bill never made it to the floor of the Senate for a vote, however.  Instead, House and Senate members negotiated the final version (H.R. 3979) behind closed doors over the past several months.

The bill authorizes $585 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD) -- $521 billion in base spending plus $64 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. for the war in Afghanistan).

The bill has an entire subtitle devoted to a broad range of concerns about national security space programs (Subtitle A of Title XVI), including several provisions about space launch. Among them is a restriction on the use of Russian RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) Atlas V rocket.  ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV are Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).

Section 1608 prohibits the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) from awarding or renewing a contract under the EELV program if it carries out space launch activities using rocket engines designed or manufactured in Russia.  The language does provide waiver authority if needed for national security or if launch services could not be obtained at a fair and reasonable price otherwise.

The language also exempts engines that were ordered under the block buy contract that the Air Force signed with ULA in December 2013 or under any contract signed before February 1, 2014 where the engines were fully paid for by the contractor or covered by a legally binding commitment that the contractor pay for them.

U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines to launch many U.S. national security satellites became a significant issue this spring after Russia annexed Crimea, beginning a downward spiral in U.S.-Russian geopolitical relationships.  ULA and the Air Force insist that it is "business as usual" with the Russian company that builds the engines, but they have also acknowledged that it is time for the U.S. to build its own new liquid rocket engine.  ULA President Tory Bruno recently framed it as a business decision, not a geopolitical one, however.

The bill also requires the SecDef to develop a new U.S. liquid rocket engine (actually a propulsion system) by 2019.  The bill authorizes $220 million in FY2015, while noting that it “is not an authorization of funds for development of a new launch vehicle.”  (It is important to note that authorization bills only recommend funding levels, they do not actually provide any money.  Only appropriations bills give agencies money to spend.  Congress has not completed action on any of the FY2015 appropriations bills yet.)

In response to a query about its reaction to the language in the bill, ULA said by email that “any effort to cut-off the RD-180 before a new reliable engine is available would result in billions of increased costs to the U.S. taxpayer and will leave the nation with a huge gap in national security capabilities.”   ULA announced a partnership with Blue Origin in September to build a U.S. alternative to the RD-180.

The bill also –

  • Requires the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) to notify Congress of any change in the EELV acquisition plan and schedule.
  • Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report to Congress by June 1, 2015 on the advisability of the SecDef requiring new entrants (like SpaceX) to “establish or maintain business systems that comply” with DOD’s “data requirements and cost accounting standards … including certified cost or price date.”
  • Directs the SecAF to use competitive procedures in awarding the contract for the 5th Operationally Responsive Space launch and ensure DOD’s competitive space launch opportunity policies are followed.
  • Increases by one in FY2015 and another one in FY2015-2017, the number of rocket cores for which space launch providers certified under the EELV program may submit proposals.

To mention just a few of the other issues addressed in the bill, it restricts spending to 50 percent of the authorized amount for several programs -- Weather Satellite Follow-on System, Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) Space Data Exploitation, hosted payload and SBIRS wide field of view testbed, and protected tactical demonstration and protected military satellite communications testbed – until certain certifications or reports are provided to Congress.

It also prohibits use of funds authorized in the bill to store one of DOD’s existing weather satellites (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program –DMSP) until DOD certifies that it plans to launch the satellite and storing it is the most cost effective approach to meeting DOD requirements.  That issue pertains to the last DMSP satellite, DMSP-20, which the Air Force appears ambivalent about launching, but the storage costs are high.  It has been in storage for many years already.  The DMSPs were supposed to be replaced by National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS).  DOD has been trying to decide the future of its weather satellite program since NPOESS was cancelled in 2010.  It launched DMSP-19 earlier this year, but its plans for DMSP-20 are unsettled.

The bill also requires –

  • the SecDef to request a study by the Defense Science Board of the effectiveness of the ground and space sensor system architecture for space situational awareness.
  • the SecAF to brief Congress on requirements and investments needed to modernize DOD space launch facilities.
  • the SecDef to report to Congress assessing the ability of the United States to deter and defeat any adversary’s act of aggression in outer space.
  • the SecDef to report to Congress on whether its satellite communications organizational structure is efficient and effective and assess the merits of designating the Commander of Air Force Space Command’s Missile Systems Center as the single acquisition agent for wideband satellite communications.

The text of the bill and the joint explanatory statement are posted on the websites of the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Editor's Note:  H.R. 3979 initially was a bill regarding volunteer firefighters and emergency responders that passed the House and Senate earlier this year.  It then became a bill on emergency unemployment compensation.  The text of the compromise version of the NDAA was inserted into that bill (replacing what was there), a procedure referred to as using it as a "legislative vehicle" for passing something else.  The goal is to speed legislative action by amending a bill that has already passed both chambers.  It is not uncommon.