Military / National Security News
In a report for the Atlantic Council, Theresa Hitchens and Joan Johnson-Freese argue that the incoming administration needs to relook at U.S. national security space strategy. Instead of relying on alliterative slogans whose meanings are unclear, a goal-oriented strategy – “proactive prevention” -- is needed to ensure that space remains usable for future generations and conflict in space is avoided.
Hitchens is a senior research scholar at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland and former director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). Johnson-Freese is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College and an expert on China’s space program. The two discussed the paper at an Atlantic Council event on June 17, where Johnson-Freese stressed that the viewpoints are her own, not those of DOD or the Navy.
During the early years of the Obama Administration, two catch phrases became popular: that space is “congested, contested and competitive”(the three Cs) and that the United States must maintain the ability to “deter, defend, and, if necessary, defeat” (the three Ds) efforts to attack U.S. or allied space assets.
While both have coexisted in U.S. space policy throughout the Obama Administration, the early focus was on the three Cs and the need to develop international agreements on how to ensure that space is “sustainable” for use in the future and not ruined, for example, by the growth of space debris.
A Chinese antisatellite (ASAT) test against one of its own satellites that created more than 3,000 pieces of debris in 2007 and a collision between an active U.S. Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian Kosmos satellite in 2009 added considerably to the population of debris in low Earth orbit. Those events catalyzed U.S. efforts to create Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) through the United Nations. In parallel, the European Union drafted a Code of Conduct (CoC) to define what constitutes good behavior in space so that countries could understand what constitutes bad behavior in the eyes of the international space community. The idea was that peer pressure would encourage countries to behave well and not recklessly add to the space debris problem, for example.
Hitchens and Johnson-Freese argue that all that changed in 2013 when China tested an ASAT weapon that reached geostationary orbit (GEO). Until then, all ASAT tests – by the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, and China – threatened only satellites in lower orbits. While those are very important, Hitchens argues that the most critical national security satellites are those in GEO, which until then was thought to be a “sanctuary” where satellites were safe from attack. The 2013 Chinese test changed the threat perception and hardened U.S. attitudes. Attention shifted to the three Ds (deter, defend, defeat). At about the same time, Europe’s Code of Conduct effort essentially fell apart.
Today, Johnson-Freese and Hitchens argue that the United States needs to reassess what its goals are in space and how to achieve them rather than using the “bumper stickers” of the three Cs and three Ds or “scaring people” with recent rhetoric about the need to increase spending for space security by $5 billion and last year’s 60 Minutes segment with Gen. John Hyten and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James discussing “The Battle Above.”
They describe their paper as a starting point for discussion that begins with the premise that the goal is to avoid conflict in space since the United States is heavily dependent on satellites not only for national security purposes, but for everyday life. In fact, they argue that civil government agencies like NASA and NOAA as well as industry must be involved in generating a new national security space strategy – a “holistic” approach – since they are also deeply involved in space activities.
Hitchens and Johnson-Freese propose a “proactive prevention” strategy “aimed squarely at preventing a space conflict, while also preparing to win one if need be.” Their paper is published on the Atlantic Council website.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 20-25, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate is scheduled to continue debate on the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this week, which funds NASA and NOAA It got off to a rocky start last week when a Democratic filibuster over gun control in the wake of the Orlando tragedy held up action for about a day (as its name implies, the bill also funds the Department of Justice), but agreement was reached to allow votes on gun control amendments and debate on the bill resumed. The House schedule for the coming week still was not posted as of Sunday afternoon. The House meets only in pro forma session tomorrow, then will meet for legislative business Tuesday-Friday before taking off a week plus a bit for the July 4 holiday.
On Wednesday, the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee will hold a rare hearing on commercial space transportation. The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is under the jurisdiction of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, but T&I has jurisdiction over the rest of the FAA and some commercial space transportation-related activities are handled by other parts of the FAA. For FY2017, for example, in addition to the $19.8 million for AST, FAA is requesting $2.0 million as part of a $20 million request for Air Traffic Management (ATM) in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) account and $2.953 million for commercial space transportation safety in the Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) account. The ATM funding is for integrating commercial launches into the National Air Space, a growing issue with the rise in the number of orbital and suborbital launches -- and in the case of the Dragon spacecraft, landings -- that require aircraft to avoid certain areas. FAA/AST head George Nield, COMSTAC's Mike Gold and Michael Lopez-Alegria, GAO's Gerald Dillingham, and Taber MacCallum from World View Enterprises are the witnesses. World View Enterprises plans high altitude (stratospheric) balloon flights for tourists and counts Alan Stern and Mark Kelly as members of its executive team.
Speaking of launches, NASA Wallops Flight Facility Director Bill Wrobel will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on Tuesday. Wallops is getting ready for the return to flight of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket, although that has been delayed to August.
Still speaking of launches, China reportedly is getting ready for the first launch of yet another new rocket from a brand new launch site, possibly on Saturday. China had inaugural launches of two new rockets last year, both at the smaller end of the capability scale (Long March 6 and Long March 11) from existing launch sites. The upcoming launch is the first from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. China has not officially announced a launch date, but there are rumors it will be on June 25 (which might be June 24 Eastern Daylight Time depending on the launch time). China has big plans for Wenchang, which will also be the home of the new Long March 5 rocket, expected to achieve its first launch later this year. Long March 7 is a mid-sized rocket (13.5 metric tons to LEO), while Long March 5 will be China's most capable rocket ever at 25 metric tons to LEO. (The largest U.S. rocket is the Delta IV, which can place 28.4 metric tons into LEO.) The newer Long March rockets use more environmentally friendly fuel and are intended eventually to replace the older models (Long March 2, 3 and 4).
Also on Saturday, Politicon 2016 will be starting in Pasadena, CA. The Planetary Society (TPS) has a panel discussion scheduled for 2:00 pm Pacific Daylight Time on "How We Get to Mars." A June 16 tweet from TPS's Director of Advocacy Casey Dreier identifies the panelists as TPS CEO Bill Nye, former Hill staffer Bill Adkins (now President of Adkins Strategies, LLC), and former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (now General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association).
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are shown below. Check back throughout the week for new items added to our Events of Interest list that we learn about later.
Tuesday, June 21
Tuesday-Thursday, June 21-23
Wednesday, June 22
Saturday, June 25
The House passed the FY2017 Defense Appropriations Bill ( H.R. 5293) today by a vote of 282-138. No space-related amendments were adopted so those provisions remain as they were in the House Appropriations Committee's version of the bill. The Obama Administration threatened to veto the bill as reported from committee in part because it cuts funding for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.
The House bill addresses several national security space issues -- from SBIRS to AEHF to weather satellites -- but steers clear of the fractious RD-180 rocket engine controversy in terms of how long they may be used and how many may be purchased (a battle which may finally be over). However, it does require that in future competitions, the award is to be made to the provider that offers the best value -- not necessarily the best price -- to the government. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) argues that it cannot compete with SpaceX on price, but its 100 percent mission success rate is a valuable factor that should count in its bids. (Mission success means that the satellite was placed into the intended orbit, even if problems may have occurred during the launch.)
A separate controversy has arisen this year, however, over how many EELVs the Air Force may buy in FY2017. The request was for $1.501 billion to buy five EELVs, but the House committee decided two were "early to need."
The report accompanying the House bill did not offer a further explanation, but the Senate Appropriations Committee also denied funds for two of the EELVs and made clear why -- exasperation over delays in the new Operational Control Segment (OCX) needed for the newest version of GPS satellites, GPS III. The Senate committee also recommended dramatic changes in the OCX program, but in terms of launches, it concluded there is no point in launching GPS III satellites if the ground system is not ready. The two launches for which funding was denied are for GPS III satellites.
In its report (S. Rept. 114-263), the Senate Appropriations Committee disagreed with the Air Force's plan to launch six GPS III satellites before 2019 because of the OCX delays. OCX is "needed to launch, checkout, and ultimately integrate and operate the GPS III satellites with the legacy GPS architecture" and "will not be ready for many years. ... The committee sees no justification for launching so many satellites without a system in place to operate them."
As for OCX itself, the Senate committee recommended termination of OCX Blocks 1-2 (a reduction of $259.8 million) and add $30 million for "operational M-code risk mitigation for OCS," a net reduction of $229.8 million. OCS is the Operational Control System, the existing ground system for GPS satellites.
The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978 and the system was declared operational in 1993. GPS signals are ubiquitous around the globe for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT). A constellation of 24 GPS satellites is needed for global three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) coverage and the satellites have been upgraded several times over the years, moving through block changes with various designations. The Air Force currently has 31 operational satellites that use several versions of the GPS II series. The newest version is GPS IIF and the last of those satellites was launched in February. GPS III satellites were supposed to begin launching in 2014, but the date has slipped repeatedly. The first currently is scheduled for May 2017. Lockheed Martin is building the first eight GPS III satellites and that effort also has been beset by delays.
Because of the delays in OCX, the Air Force is working on an interim solution so that the various GPS II satellites and the new GPS III version can work as an integrated system. The Senate committee concluded, however, that the interim solution will not enable all of the capabilities of all the versions, especially the Military code (M-code), "a key warfighting need." It said the OCX program "remains in jeopardy," with a current cost estimate of $2.3 billion, 160 percent above its original estimate of $886 million. Although DOD put forward a plan with another 2-year delay, "the contractor and the Air Force believed that a more than 4-year additional delay was likely necessary."
Consequently, the Senate committee wants the Air Force and the contractor, Raytheon, to ensure the interim solution -- enhancing OCS -- works and added $30 million to enable M-Code broadcast capabilities. It wants OCX Block 0 completed, but called for terminating funding for OCX Blocks 1 and 2.
The House bill fully funds OCX and no comment about it was made in the committee's report. The schedule for Senate consideration of its version of the defense appropriations bill has not been announced.
The Obama Administration's Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the House bill said it would eliminate three, not two, EELV launch service procurements as the committee intended, and introduce cost and schedule risk for national security satellites.
Witnesses Argue Government Has Ethical Obligation for Lifetime Astronaut Medical Care--And Needs Data, Too
Three current and former astronauts, NASA's Chief Medical Officer and a medical ethicist told a congressional committee today that the U.S. Government has an ethical obligation to provide lifetime medical care to people who fly into space as part of a NASA program. In addition, the data NASA could obtain by following individuals after they leave the astronaut corps would be invaluable in determining how to protect the health of current and future astronauts.
Three men who have made multiple journeys into space provided the astronaut viewpoint: Chris Cassidy, current head of the NASA astronaut office at Johnson Space Center (JSC); Michael Lopez-Alegria, who until recently held the U.S. record for the longest continuous spaceflight (215 days) and still holds the record for the most spacewalks (10), currently President of the U.S. chapter of the Association of Space Explorers; and Scott Kelly, who just broke Lopez-Alegria's continuous spaceflight record by remaining in space for 340 days. Lopez-Alegria and Kelly are both retired from NASA now. All three are current or retired military officers as well.
Military personnel have lifetime medical coverage under the TRICARE program through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and civilian government retirees may have coverage through the Department of Labor's Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). NASA also has a voluntary Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health (LSAH) program for former astronauts.
Collectively they do not cover all former astronauts (such as those who leave NASA's astronaut corps before retirement or payload specialists who were never government employees) nor do they systematically collect data about former astronauts as they access medical care. The LSAH program is voluntary and only about 60 percent of former astronauts take advantage of it. It provides health status evaluations and former astronauts must travel to JSC to take part. If a medical condition is uncovered, NASA currently is authorized just to encourage the former astronaut to follow up with his or her personal health care provider, not to provide diagnosis or treatment.
The hearing before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on June 15 focused on two questions the situation presents: what obligation does the federal government have to individuals who fly into space on behalf of the government and society at large, and what data are not being collected that could inform the government as it designs spacecraft and missions to take astronauts further into space for longer periods of time.
The three astronauts, NASA Chief Medical Officer Richard Williams, and Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy Jeffrey Kahn, were in agreement that the government has an ethical obligation to provide lifetime medical care for astronauts who fly as part of a government program and that NASA also needs the long term data on the health effects of spaceflight to inform current and future programs.
Kahn chaired a 2014 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study on Ethics Principles and Guidelines for Health Standards for Long Duration and Exploration Spaceflights. His committee identified six principles, two of which he said were relevant to this discussion: fairness and fidelity (or reciprocity). Fairness "requires that equals be treated equally" -- that there needs to be a risk-benefit balance between those who take the risks of spaceflight (astronauts) and those who benefit (society). Fidelity "recognizes that individual sacrifices made for the benefit of society may give rise to societal duties in return" -- those who consent to take long term health risks for society's benefit (astronauts) are entitled to "society's commitment to minimize any harms that emerge, whenever they emerge."
Other government and non-government employees similarly engage in activities that risk their health -- the military and the nuclear industry among many others -- but Kahn said his committee tried to find occupational parallels and concluded that astronauts are in a "unique category."
Williams discussed legislation that has been drafted to provide NASA with the authority to perform not only the evaluations currently conducted through the LSAH program, but also diagnosis and treatment for former astronauts. There are 280 living former astronauts, Williams said, and the cost of monitoring and diagnosis would be about $800,000 a year. Costs for treatment are difficult to estimate, but he anticipates there would be on average only one or two cases of significant illness every 1-2 years that would be expensive (on the order of $500,000) to treat.
Lopez-Alegria, who made four spaceflights, the longest of which was 215 days, and Kelly, who made a 159-day spaceflight in addition to his record-setting 340-day mission, both discussed some of the health effects they have experienced. Lopez-Alegria said he suffers from changes in his eyesight -- Microgravity Ocular Syndrome -- a recently discovered medical condition for astronauts who make long-duration spaceflights that is not yet understood. He said about 60 percent of long duration flyers are afflicted with this condition. His written statement provides a brief, but comprehensive summary of health effects experienced by astronauts more broadly and asserts that statistically, astronauts who fly to and from the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz spacecraft and remain for 6 months "have a threat of mortality comparable to those of U.S. infantry combatants on D-Day and New York City firefighters on 9/11."
Kelly said that he was "pleasantly surprised" that initial data on his bone and muscle mass show little difference between his two missions, but other data, including that from the "Twins Study" with his twin brother Mark Kelly, will not be available for some time. He stressed that although his bone and muscle mass might not have changed much based on flight duration, he felt quite different returning from the 340-day mission. One difference was his skin was extremely sensitive after almost a year without coming into contact with clothing or anything else. After returning to Earth he developed a hive-like rash on "every surface of my skin that came into contact with ordinary surfaces on Earth ... like sitting or lying in bed." He also experienced flu-like symptoms and swollen legs. Although NASA focuses attention on the high risk launch and reentry phases of spaceflight, Kelly stressed, "much less attention is given to other risks astronauts face which are much more insidious, but potentially just as fatal." He cited exposure to high levels of radiation and carbon dioxide as well as the microgravity environment that causes loss of bone and muscle, vision impairment and effects on the immune system.
Lopez-Alegria polled the U.S. members of the Association of Space Explorers -- members must have made at least one orbit of the Earth -- and reported there was "unanimity" that NASA needs to be able to provide advanced monitoring, diagnosis and treatment for former astronauts. His focus, however, is on the need to gather data to inform future policies and procedures for managing health risk in space. It is "unforgivable" to not obtain these data from the only population -- current and former astronauts -- that can provide it.
Williams summarized what is in the proposed legislation, but the text was not released. He said it would give NASA the authority to provide lifetime medical monitoring and diagnosis for former astronauts for medical conditions that NASA determines are associated with human spaceflight. It would apply to all former NASA astronauts regardless if they later fly into space with private companies, for example.
The draft legislation would not, however, apply to "space tourists" who make the journey into space of their own accord and not as part of a NASA program. Lopez-Alegria, who previously served as President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a trade group that advocates for private human spaceflight, said he supports the "democratization" of space where many more people will have an opportunity to make spaceflights. Getting health data from them on a voluntary basis would be beneficial, but he does not believe the government has an ethical responsibility to them as it does for those taking part in spaceflights paid for by tax dollars on behalf of the country.
Although the draft legislation applies only to medical conditions "deemed by NASA to be associated with human spaceflight," Kahn said his committee considered the question of "causality" and determined it was "impossible to answer" and "not compelling" in determining whether lifetime medical care is provided. That is especially true since new information is obtained all the time and it may take years before the relationship between spaceflight and a particular medical condition is understood.
Kahn's 2014 IOM study is only the most recent on this topic. The first, Safe Passage, was issued in 2001 and led to language in the 2005 NASA Authorization Act that directed NASA to consider a lifetime health care program for astronauts. The House-passed 2015 NASA Authorization Act (H.R. 810) would require NASA to respond to the 2014 IOM recommendations. That bill has not been taken up in the Senate, however. The draft legislation discussed today could be included in a revised version of that bill. Despite the short legislative schedule remaining for the year, there continue to be rumors that an attempt will be made to get a NASA authorization act passed before Congress adjourns.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) brokered an agreement among Senators who have been at sharp odds over how to transition U.S. rocket launches away from reliance on Russian RD-180 engines to a new American-made engine. The Nelson amendment passed the Senate this morning by voice vote as part of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA itself then passed the Senate by a vote of 85-13.
In brief, the compromise sets December 31, 2022 as the end date for awarding contracts to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for Atlas V launches of national security satellites that would use RD-180 engines. It also limits to 18 the number of RD-180s that can be used between the date that the FY2017 NDAA is signed into law (enacted) and that end date.
Sen. Nelson's office provided SpacePolicyOnline.com with a copy of the amendment as passed.
The amendment that passed originated as one written by Nelson and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), that was then modified by one from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and has been the strongest voice for limiting the number of RD-180s to half that approved by this compromise and for a 2019 cut-off date.
The issue has pitted McCain and SASC against Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) of the Senate Appropriations Committee, creating a schism between the Senate committees that authorize DOD activities (SASC) and pay for them (Appropriations).
Durbin praised Nelson for being the "bridge over troubled waters" who was able to find a compromise between the starkly different positions.
The Nelson amendment also settles a related issue. The version of the FY2017 NDAA that emerged from SASC (S. 2943, S. Rept. 114- 255) would have prevented the Air Force from awarding launch contracts to bidders that use rocket engines from Russia, basically making ULA's Atlas V ineligible for future contracts. The defense appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S. 3000, S. Rept. 114-263) conversely said that awards could be made to any certified provider regardless of the rocket engine's country of origin. The compromise states that contracts may be awarded to any certified launch service provider, but Russian engines may be used only for launches in the phase 1(a) and phase 2 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) procurements. Phase 2 runs through 2022. (The Government Accountability Office has a useful report that explains the EELV procurement strategy and its different phases.)
The amendment does not specify RD-180s, but instead bounds the use of Russian rocket engines generally for national security launches. ULA is currently the only company that offers national security launch services using rockets powered by Russian engines, but the language would apply to any company offering such services. Orbital ATK, for example, uses Russian RD-181 engines for its Antares rocket, which launches cargo spacecraft for NASA to the International Space Station. If it were to bid for EELV launches, it presumably would be subject to these limits.
Also, although the cut-off date of December 31, 2022 is for awarding contracts, the limit on the number of engines -- 18 -- refers to how many may be "used" between the date the law is enacted and that date.
The House passed its version of the NDAA last month. It permits 18 engines and allows any certified provider to win launch contracts. The two chambers must reach agreement on the NDAA overall, but while there are still some differences on this issue, it appears to be close to resolution.
Note: This article has been updated and clarified to say that December 31, 2022 is the date through which contracts may be awarded regardless of the rocket engine's country of origin, rather than the date by which they must be used.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 13-18, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate will resume consideration of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday, with the hope that it can be completed quickly. The Senate agreed to close debate on the bill on Friday and complete all debate by 11:00 am ET on Tuesday. It then will vote on germane amendments and passage of the bill. Debate over a Nelson-Gardner amendment regarding Russian RD-180 engines took up a good part of Friday, but no vote was taken. They want to set December 31, 2022 as the end date for using RD-180s, whereas Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain insists on 2019, which was set in law by a previous NDAA. The Nelson-Gardner amendment also does not mention how many engines may be procured, while McCain insists on only nine more. The RD-180 debate has been covered extensively by SpacePolicyOnline.com already and will not be repeated here.
Senate leadership wants to finish NDAA and move on to the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which funds NASA and NOAA among other agencies.
The House plans to take up the FY2017 Defense Appropriations bill this week. The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday to decide which amendments may be offered. Assuming they agree, the bill will move to floor debate promptly. The House has passed two of the 12 regular appropriations bills so far (Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch), while a third (Energy-Water) was defeated. The Senate has passed three (Energy-Water, and a single bill that combined MilCon-VA and Transportation-HUD).
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday afternoon on "Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing and Treating Former Astronauts." This issue of lifetime health care for astronauts has been percolating for years. It concerns what ethical obligations the government has to provide medical care to astronauts once they leave the corps as well as the useful medical information NASA could gain from following them as the years pass. The issue was raised as long ago as 2001 in the Safe Passage report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM, now the National Academy of Medicine). A 2014 IOM report raised the same issues as did an October 2015 report from the NASA Inspector General. The 2005 NASA authorization act directed NASA to consider the need for establishing a lifetime health care program for NASA astronauts. NASA determined that it needs specific legislative authority to do so and has proposed legislation since then, but it has not been enacted. The House-passed 2015 NASA authorization act (H.R. 810) directs NASA to respond to the IOM recommendations, but the Senate has not acted on that bill. Wednesday's hearing will bring attention to the issue (and there are those who believe that a NASA authorization bill could still get passed by the end of the year). Scott Kelly, who just returned from a U.S. record-setting 340-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Michael Lopez-Alegria, who previously held the record for the longest continuous U.S. human spaceflight and is now President of the Association of Space Explorers, and Chris Cassidy, head of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center, are among the witnesses. The list also includes Secretary of Labor Tom Perez; the chairman of the 2014 IOM study, Jeffrey Kahn; and NASA Chief Medical Officer Richard Williams. The House SS&T committee typically webcasts its hearings.
On a totally different subject, Joan Johnson-Freese and Theresa Hitchens will discuss a paper they recently co-authored for the Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council on Toward a New National Security Space Strategy on Friday. Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College and author of several books on national security space and China's space program. Hitchens is currently a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland after serving as head of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). Mike Gruss from Space News will also participate in the discussion. (We've inquired as to whether it will be webcast. If we find out, we'll post the information on our Events of Interest list.)
It will be busy up in space this week, too. On Tuesday, Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft will depart from the ISS. Five hours later, a fire will erupt inside the spacecraft as part of an experiment called SAFFIRE to observe how fires evolve in microgravity. The robotic spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry, so it is a good candidate for such research. Miles O'Brien had an excellent segment about the experiment on the PBS NewsHour last week.
Then on Saturday, three crew members (NASA's Tim Kopra, ESA's Tim Peake, and Roscosmos' Yuri Malenchenko) will return home. NASA TV provides live coverage as usual. Landing is at 5:12 am Eastern Daylight Time.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week to see what's been added to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday-Friday, June 12-17
Monday, June 13
Tuesday, June 14
Wednesday, June 15
Thursday, June 16
Friday, June 17
Saturday, June 18
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 6-10, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The House and Senate return to work this week. Time is getting short. The House will meet this week and the next two weeks, then take a week off for the July 4 holiday, and meet for the first two weeks of July. Then it recesses for 7 weeks for the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions (Republican, July 18-21 in Cleveland; Democratic July 25-28 in Philadelphia) and its usual August summer break. The Senate has a similar schedule, though it is taking a shorter July 4 recess. When they return in September, they will have only three weeks to finish work on appropriations bills to keep the government open past September 30.
The Appropriations Committees in each chamber are making solid progress in reporting out the 12 regular appropriations bills, but getting them passed on the floor is a challenge. The House thought it had agreement on the Energy and Water Bill before the Memorial Day break, for example, but politics intervened and the bill was defeated. The Senate passed the Transportation-HUD bill, which funds the FAA's space office, but there is no word on when the defense bill or the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill will be taken up.
The defense authorization bill, however, is moving along. (Not sure of the difference between an appropriation and an authorization? See our What's a Markup? fact sheet.) The House already passed the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Senate will take up its version tomorrow (Monday).
Only one space-related hearing is on tap this week, and it's not really a "space" hearing in the traditional sense. The Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on private sector weather forecasting on Wednesday. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has an intense interest in commercial weather satellite data and Sandy MacDonald from SPIRE Global is on the witness list. That is one of the companies hoping to sell GPS Radio Occultation data to NOAA. NOAA chose radio occultation data for its commercial weather data pilot program. Bridenstine inserted language in NOAA's FY2016 appropriations bill requiring NOAA to establish the pilot program and now has included similar language in the House version of the NDAA to direct DOD to set up a parallel project. His goal is to have more small weather satellites instead of a few "Battlestar Galaticas" that are vulnerable to failures and enemy attack (he supports NOAA's JPSS and GOES programs, too, but doesn't want to be totally reliant on them).
Many briefings, meetings and conferences are taking place off the Hill this week. It's difficult to choose just one or two to highlight so be sure to look through the entire list below. The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Tuesday briefing on initial results from its LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave mission should be interesting. It's taking place in Spain and will be webcast, though the time is rather early (5:30 am) on the U.S. East Coast, never mind for those of you further West.
The American Bar Association's Space Law conference all day Wednesday also looks really good, including a keynote from Bridenstine before he has to rush off to chair that hearing. The conference has five panels on the American Space Renaissance Act, legal and policy issues of "active debris removal" (e.g. who decides which space objects are "debris" or not and who has the right to move or destroy them), intentional jamming of satellite transmissions, hosted payloads, and one with the intriguing title "Who is On Your Space Vehicle?" Michael Dodge (University of North Dakota), Laura Montgomery (FAA), Margaret Roberts (NASA), and Caryn Schenewerk (SpaceX) will discuss that last topic. NASA General Counsel Samara Thomson-King is the luncheon speaker.
Those are just samples of the interesting events this week. The list below contains all the ones we know about as of Sunday morning. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, June 6
Monday-Tuesday, June 6-7
Tuesday, June 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, June 7-9
Wednesday, June 8
Wednesday, June 8 - Friday, June 17
Thursday, June 9
Friday, June 10
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 30 - June 4, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
During the Week
Tomorrow (Monday) is Memorial Day in the United States, where we honor the men and women who have died in the service of our country. Federal offices will be closed and the House and Senate have taken the week off from legislative business to check in with their constituents back home. It is the unofficial start of summer and a lot of people are off on vacation -- but not everyone!
The Secure World Foundation (SWF) has an interesting panel discussion on Tuesday about national security space strategy that (unfortunately) is at exactly the same time as a meeting of NASA's Applied Sciences Advisory Committee (i.e. applied earth sciences). The NASA advisory committee meeting was rescheduled from April and will be held by telecon. If you're interested in both, but there's only one of you, SWF usually records its seminars and posts the audio on its website soon after the meeting. The speaker line-up is terrific: Joan Johnson-Freese from the Naval War College, Todd Harrison from CSIS, Peter Hays from GWU, John Sheldon from ThorGroup, and Brian Weeden and Victoria Samson from SWF.
Another NASA advisory committee -- the Planetary Protection Subcommittee of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council -- meets in person at NASA HQ on Wednesday and Thursday. There is nothing specifically on the agenda about the new NASA-SpaceX agreement on Red Dragon, which includes NASA providing "consultation and advice" to SpaceX on planetary protection, but perhaps it will come up anyway.
The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) 2016 runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, CO, while back in Washington, the National Air and Space Museum hosts "Space Day" on Saturday with family oriented activities.
Elsewhere in the world, the fourth European Space Solutions conference on "Bringing Space to Earth" is taking place at The Hague all week, the ILA Berlin Air Show is Wednesday-Saturday, and the second Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) conference is Wednesday-Friday in Nice, France.
Those and other activities we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for new events that are added later to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, May 29 - Friday, June 24 (four weeks)
Monday-Friday, May 30-June 3
Tuesday, May 31
Wednesday-Thursday, June 1-2
Wednesday-Friday, June 1-3
Wednesday-Saturday, June 1-4
Thursday-Saturday, June 2-4
Saturday, June 4
The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today. Few details have been released, but in at least one area -- Russian RD-180 rocket engines -- the schism between Senate appropriators and authorizers seems destined to continue. The full appropriations committee will mark up the bill on Thursday. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 26.]
Senate appropriators and authorizers clashed last year over the number of Russian RD-180 rocket engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) may obtain for its Atlas V rockets for launching national security satellites. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), limited the number to an additional nine. The Senate Appropriations Committee essentially lifted that limit in the FY2016 appropriations act at the urging of two of its most senior members -- Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). ULA builds its rockets in Alabama. It is a 50-50 joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, IL.
McCain vehemently opposes the appropriations action and SASC's FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- which is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor this week -- would repeal that section of the law. (McCain and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, introduced stand-alone bills in January to repeal that provision, but there has been no action on them.)
The ongoing argument over the number of engines has overshadowed related issues. One is highlighted in the Senate Appropriations Committee's brief summary of the bill approved at subcommittee level today.
"Space Launch/RD-180 Engines – The Committee recommendation includes a general provision, as requested by the Administration, which requires all competitive launch procurements to be available to all certified launch providers regardless of the country of origin of the launch vehicle rocket engine."
That appears to push back on language in McCain's NDAA that prohibits the Secretary of Defense from certifying any entity to bid for the award or renewal of a contract for space launch services if that entity would use a rocket engine designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation. If enacted, that would preclude ULA from bidding for national security launches using the Atlas V since its engines are built in Russia. ULA operates two launch vehicles -- the Atlas V and Delta IV. SpaceX is the only other certified provider for national security launches and ULA argues that its Delta IV is not cost competitive with SpaceX, so Atlas V is its only option in such competitions. SASC's NDAA addresses that issue by allowing half of the money allocated for developing a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 to be used to offset increased launch costs (presumably for using the pricey Delta IV).
The appropriations subcommittee also approved $396.6 million, $100 million above the request, to develop a U.S. alternative to the RD-180. The markup was short and sweet. It lasted only about 30 minutes and the topic of rocket engines did not arise. Full committee markup on Thursday begins at 10:30 am ET. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 26.]
(Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See SpacePolicyOnline.com's "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 23-27, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
YES! It is, indeed, another busy week. Not to worry -- Memorial Day is coming up next week and Congress, at least, will take a breather. Wanting to get as much done as possible in this first half of the year (before the elections overwhelm everything else), the House and Senate have another full plate.
On the floor, the Senate will debate its version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the House will take up the FY2017 Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA). The IAA is on Tuesday's suspension calendar, indicating that it is expected to pass with minimal debate. The unclassified bill and report require three space-related briefings or reports (on JICSPoC, on actions taken in response to the December 2015 National Research Council report on space defense and protection, and improving U.S.-Japan space cooperation) all of which also are required by the House version of the NDAA.
In committee, the full House Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science bill (NASA and NOAA) and the Transportation-HUD bill (FAA space office) on Tuesday morning. At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will be marking up the FY2017 defense bill, with full committee markup on Thursday.
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union are holding a lunchtime briefing in one of the Senate meeting rooms (385 Russell) on Wednesday about a really important, but not widely known, issue that could affect utilization of NOAA's new GOES-R weather satellites. The first in the GOES-R series will be launched this fall. The space-to-ground frequency band for GOES-R is being threatened In the ever growing battle between space- and terrestrial-based services over spectrum allocations. The demand for spectrum to satisfy our insatiable desire for mobile broadband services is coming up against our need for critical weather forecasts. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to make the 1675-1680 MHz band available for sale. That band is used for transmitting data from the GOES satellites and for other earth science purposes. AMS has a fact sheet explaining the issue and three experts at the Wednesday briefing (including Scott Pace from GWU's Space Policy Institute) will go into it in more detail. Note than an RSVP is required (lunch will be served).
Of the many other events coming up, one may especially pique the interest of folks who will be in D.C. on Tuesday. New America, which describes itself as "a nonprofit civic enterprise: an intellectual venture capital fund, think tank, technology laboratory, public forum, and media platform," is having an event "over drinks" from 5:30-7:00 pm ET, on "What Can D.C. Learn from Sci-Fi?" Science fiction author Charles Stross will be interviewed by two "tech policy experts (and science fiction fans)" from New America and the American Civil Liberties Union. One topic is "why the idea of space colonization is unrealistic." New voices in the world of space policy are always welcome, so this should be enlivening.
NASA will expand the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that is attached to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday morning. NASA TV coverage begins at 5:30 am ET and there will be a media teleconference at 10:00 am ET with NASA's Jason Crusan and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow. BEAM was delivered to ISS on the SpaceX-8 cargo mission and transferred to a docking port on the Tranquillity module last month.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list that are announced later.
Monday, May 23
Tuesday, May 24
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 24-25
Tuesday-Thursday, May 24-26
Wednesday, May 25
Thursday, May 26