Military / National Security News
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 9-14, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
The week starts tonight (Sunday) with the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R). Don't expect the space program to come up at all, but these debates are important elements of the presidential election, the foundation of our democracy. Everyone should be paying attention! This one is a town-hall format at Washington University in St. Louis from 9:00-10:30 pm ET (nationally televised, check local listings).
Tomorrow, October 10, is a Federal holiday (Columbus Day), so government workers, at least, will have a day off to recuperate. This is a holiday that many businesses do NOT observe, however, choosing instead to close on the day after Thanksgiving. So whether you get to sleep in tomorrow or not depends on where you work.
For the space program, this week's big event is the launch of Orbital ATK's re-engined Antares rocket on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Launch schedules are always subject to change, but at the moment it is planned for 9:13 pm ET on Thursday night (two pre-launch briefings will take place the day before). Antares launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA. It is a night launch. Weather permitting, it should be viewable for a good-sized segment of the East Coast. This is the first Antares flight since an October 28, 2014 failure that destroyed that rocket and a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with cargo for ISS. This mission is designated OA-5, for Orbital ATK-5, although it is the sixth operational flight in this series. Orbital ATK names its cargo spacecraft after deceased astronauts. This one is named after Alan Poindexter who died in 2012 from injuries sustained in an accident. He flew on two space shuttle missions (STS-122 as pilot, STS-131 as commander) that delivered modules to the ISS as part of its construction.
Also on Thursday night, Women in Aerospace (WIA) will hold its annual awards dinner in Arlington, VA. Six distinguished women will receive awards -- including a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for Molly Macauley -- and Patti Grace Smith, who passed away earlier this year, will also be recognized.
The annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS 2016) will be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Wednesday and Thursday, with pre- and post-events the prior and following days. The website does not indicate if any of the symposium will be webcast. If we find out that it will be, we'll post the link in our calendar item about this event. Looks really interesting, so hopefully it will be livestrearmed.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, October 9
Monday, October 10
Tuesday, October 11
Wednesday, October 12
Thursday, October 13
Friday, October 14
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 3-7, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
Happy World Space Week! In 1999, the United Nations declared October 4-10 as World Space Week to commemorate the beginning of the Space Age -- October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik -- and the entry into force of the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty (October 10, 1967). Space agencies and other organizations around the world hold events to celebrate the occasion. A list is on the World Space Week website.
Among the various specific space policy events coming up this week, we know of only one that has officially declared itself a World Space Week event, however. That is the International Space University-DC (ISU-DC) U.S. alumni chapter, which is holding its next Space Cafe on Wednesday, October 5, at the The Brixton in Washington, DC. The speaker is Dennis Stone, who is the World Space Week Association President and Project Executive of NASA's Commercial Space Capabilities Office at Johnson Space Center.
There are many other events that could be, though, including one on Tuesday, the 59th anniversary of Sputnik, that might create quite a bang. Blue Origin will conduct a test of its in-flight escape system for the New Shepard reusable rocket, activating it 45 seconds after launch. Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos said the rocket, which has flown four times already, was not designed to withstand the forces it will experience and is not expected to survive the test (though there is a small chance it might). Assuming it does not, he said the impact with the desert floor of the still almost fully fueled rocket "will be most impressive." The test will be webcast beginning at 10:50 am ET.
Rice University's Baker Institute will hold a panel discussion entitled "Lost in Space 2016" tomorrow night (Monday) with a panel of space policy analysts and practitioners. It is a reprise of a panel four years ago at the time of the last presidential election. The panel will be webcast (5:30-7:30 Central/6:30-8:30 pm Eastern) and includes Mark Albrecht, Leroy Chaio, Joan Johnson-Freese, Neal Lane, Michael Lembeck, Eugene Levy, and John Logsdon, with George Abbey as moderator. An impressive line-up.
Speaking of the election, Tuesday night (almost certainly NOT in commemoration of Sputnik's 59th anniversary) is the one and only Vice Presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence. Fireworks are not expected, but it should be interesting nonetheless. It is from 9:00-10:30 pm ET and will be nationally telecast (check local listings).
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.
Monday, October 3
Monday-Tuesday, October 3-4
Tuesday, October 4
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 4-5
Tuesday, October 4 - Monday, October 10
Wednesday, October 5
Wednesday-Thursday, October 5-6
Wednesday-Friday, October 5-7
Thursday, October 6
The Senate and House both passed a FY2017 Continuing Resolution (CR) today that will keep the government operating through December 9, 2016. Without it, government agencies would have had to shut down at midnight Friday, September 30, the end of fiscal year 2016. The President is expected to sign the bill.
Government departments and agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded through a set of 12 appropriations bills that provide money one fiscal year at a time. A U.S. fiscal year is October 1 - September 30. If the bills are not passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, their operations must cease other than exceptions for life and safety, for example.
When the 12 regular appropriations bills are not passed in time, Congress typically passes a CR that funds the departments and agencies at their previous year's levels for a set period. In this case, that is through December 9. By then, Congress must either pass another CR or, hopefully, the full year appropriations bills. This CR actually includes the full-year FY2017 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill, leaving 11 of the 12 regular bills to be passed later.
The CR also includes funding to combat the Zika virus domestically and internationally, to respond to flooding in Louisiana and other states, and several other specialized needs.
Details of the legislation, H.R. 5325 as amended, are posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee's website. (Note that previous action on H.R. 5325 is not relevant. That bill, which began as the FY2017 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, simply is being used as the legislative vehicle for the CR. The original text was deleted and this new text was substituted.)
The bill's full title is "Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act."
The President's FY2017 requested funding levels for NASA and NOAA are not so different from their current funding levels that a short-term CR like this one is not expected to make much difference on a day-to-day basis.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 26-30, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
It's quite a week coming up!
For the country: the first of the three presidential debates is tomorrow (Monday) and Congress hopefully will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating after Friday when fiscal year 2016 ends. The House and Senate are still working on the details of their separate versions of the CR, but they have five days left. Typically they leave appropriations deals to the last minute with the expectation that a hard deadline makes people more willing to compromise. The alternative is a government shutdown, which is not an appealing prospect in an election year. Word is the CR will keep the government open through December 9, by which time Congress must pass either another CR or, better yet, the actual FY2017 appropriations measures. Typically Congress combines all 12 regular appropriations bills into a single "omnibus" measure, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly would prefer several smaller "minibuses" dealing with two or three of them at a time. The exception may be the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, which the House wants to include in the CR this week. We'll see if the Senate is willing to go along with that.
For the space policy community: the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico. IAC is the BIG international conference that combines annual meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL). IAC will webcast all the plenary sessions. The one that has generated the most buzz is on Tuesday when Elon Musk will lay out his plans for making humanity a multiplanet species. It's at 1:30 pm local time in Guadalajara, which is on Central Daylight Time. So that's 2:30 pm Eastern.
Two congressional hearings of note are also scheduled for this week, both on Tuesday (most congressional hearings are webcast on the respective committee's website). In the morning, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee asks "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" and four witnesses will give their answers: Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Mark Stokes from the Project 2049 Institute; Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation; and Jim Lewis from CSIS.
That afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hear from three eminent experts on the topic of "National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization." The witnesses are John Hamre, former Deputy Secretary of Defense; Adm. James Ellis, Jr. (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Marty Faga, former Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and former President and CEO of the MITRE Corporation. The great advantage of being "former," of course, is that one can speak freely. Should be especially interesting.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, September 26
Monday-Friday, September 26-30
Tuesday, September 27
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 27-28
Wednesday-Friday, September 28-30
Thursday, September 29
Thursday-Friday, September 29-30
Correction: An earlier edition of this article listed the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA as the location of the National Academies Workshop Planning Committee meeting on September 27-28. It will be held in Washington, DC, not at Beckman. The workshop itself, scheduled for December 5-6, will be held at Beckman.
SpaceX is still studying 3,000 channels of engineering data to determine the root cause of the September 1 on-pad fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 communications satellite. A preliminary review has determined it was a breach of a second stage helium system, but why it happened still is unknown. The company nevertheless said it anticipates returning to flight as early as November.
The "anomaly" took place during a routine pre-launch test two days prior to when the launch was scheduled.
In a statement on its website, the company says a "large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated."
The only Falcon 9 launch failure to date, on June 28, 2015, was also caused by a problem in the second stage. In that case, SpaceX was launching its seventh Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, CRS-7, for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its Dragon spacecraft. Dragon and the cargo were destroyed.
Although that failure and the September 1 anomaly involved the second stage, SpaceX says that "we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."
The Amos-6 satellite that was lost is a commercial satellite owned by Israel's Spacecom, so this was a commercial launch for a commercial customer. The FAA regulates commercial space launches like this one and under its rules the launch service provider, not the government, is in charge of the investigation. However, the launch service provider, SpaceX in this case, may invite whoever it wants to participate in the investigation.
SpaceX said the Accident Investigation Team includes SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts. NASA and the Air Force are SpaceX customers, and Space X leases launch pads from both agencies.
This anomaly took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's (CCAFS) Launch Complex 40 (LC-40). SpaceX says that "substantial areas of the pad systems were affected," but others were not, including the Falcon Support Building and a new liquid oxygen tank farm.
CCAFS is adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and SpaceX also leases NASA/KSC's Launch Complex-39A for launches of both Falcon 9 and the larger Falcon Heavy. SpaceX had planned the first test flight of Falcon Heavy from LC-39A this year. The statement did not indicate whether plans to resume flights in November assumed use of LC-40 or LC-39A.
SpaceX also leases an Air Force pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA for launches to polar orbits and is building its own launch site near Brownsville, TX.
Aerojet Rocketdyne's Jim Simpson made the case for the new AR1 rocket engine yesterday explaining that its conservative design and low cost will meet mission assurance and affordability objectives desired by potential customers, It is on schedule to be ready for certification by 2019 at a cost of $824 million -- $536 million from the government plus $288 million from the company and its industry partners.
Simpson, Aerojet Rocketdyne's Senior Vice President for Strategy and Business Development, spoke to a media roundtable yesterday that was held in conjunction with the Air Force Association's Air, Space, Cyber Conference. Joining him was Steve Cook, Vice President for Corporate Development at Dynetics, a partner in the AR1 program.
The impetus for developing the AR1 is eliminating U.S. dependence on Russia's RD-180 engines that power the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Atlas V is the workhorse for launching national security satellites and is also used for NASA and commercial spacecraft.
ULA agrees on the need to replace the RD-180, although there has been a long debate in Congress over the timing for doing so. Originally Congress mandated that a new U.S.-built engine be ready by 2019 and prohibited ULA from acquiring RD-180s for use beyond that time. Agreement was recently reached, however, allowing the company to purchase RD-180s through 2022.
Nevertheless, 2019 remains the goal for developing a new engine to allow time for it to be tested and certified as part of a launch system that would be ready by the time RD-180-powered Atlas Vs are no longer available.
ULA plans to replace the Atlas V system with an entirely new rocket, Vulcan, by then. It announced a partnership two years ago with Blue Origin to use its BE- 4 engine, which is now in development and also intended to be ready by 2019. BE-4 uses an innovative propellant -- liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (methane) – instead of LOX/kerosene.
Aerojet Rocketdyne came forward with the AR1 as an alternative to BE-4. ULA currently plans to choose between BE-4 and AR1 next spring.
Simpson acknowledged that BE-4 is the baseline engine for Vulcan, but he and Cook highlighted what they see as AR1’s advantages starting with the fact that it uses traditional LOX/kerosene and staged combustion and therefore has less risk than BE-4. They pointed to the engine’s conservative design and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s long track record in rocket engine design, development and production as offering the mission assurance vital to national security satellites in particular. Simpson added that Atlas Vs fitted with AR1s can use existing Atlas V launch pads, reducing costs as well.
Creating a low cost engine is part of the company’s plan, with a goal of $20-25 million for a pair of AR1s. The use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) is one route to lower cost. A 40,000-pound-thrust 3-D printed pre-burner was tested this week, Simpson said, and other components are under consideration, though specifics were not offered. He said the new incremental-build approach to development will further lower costs. Each element is built and tested and the system evolves gradually, instead of the test-fail-fix approach where full scale engines are built for testing.
If ULA retires Atlas V as planned and chooses BE-4 for Vulcan, AR1 still could be used for other customers, Cook stressed. Among them is NASA, which is currently working on the first two versions of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will be able to launch 70 metric tons (MT) and 105 MT respectively. A 130-MT version is planned for some time in the 2020s and AR1 could be used for that configuration, replacing the solid rocket strap-ons in the current design.
Cook managed the Ares rocket program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center before joining Dynetics in 2009. Ares was part of the Constellation program, which was cancelled the next year and subsequently replaced by SLS.
Cook explained that NASA and the Air Force each put $21 million into the development of advanced liquid boosters beginning in 2012 and although the effort – Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction (ABEDRR) -- was not directly related to AR1, it contributed to risk reduction for liquid propellant engines broadly.
Simpson said the Air Force has committed to spending $115 million for the first phase of AR1 development and a total of $536 million overall. Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners have already committed $77 million to date with a total of $288 million assuming the project goes forward. He added that if the funding profile changes, so could the cost and schedule.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 19-25, 2016 (through next Sunday) and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
On Friday, Resources for the Future (RFF) will hold a memorial service for Molly Macauley at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., from 3:30-5:30 pm ET. All of Molly's friends and colleagues are welcome to attend, but RFF would appreciate an RSVP so they know how many people to expect. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Molly, a renowned space economist and integral part of the space policy community for three decades, spent almost all of her career at RFF before her tragic death on July 8.
It will be a busy week before that.
The Senate plans to bring a Continuing Resolution (CR) to the floor tomorrow (Monday) for a cloture vote. If it gets 60 votes, the Senate can proceed to debate, and, hopefully, pass it. Word is that it will keep the government funded through December 9. The bill reportedly has controversial policy provisions ("poison pills") that could delay its approval, but rumors are that once it passes, the Senate will adjourn until after the elections instead of remaining in session through the end of the month. That would put the House in the position of either agreeing to the Senate bill or allowing the government to shut down on October 1, which would not play well in the upcoming elections. A budget deal was crafted last fall by then-House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Obama that set the spending limit for FY2017. The draft CR reportedly sticks to that agreement, but very conservative House Republicans disapproved of the deal and are not happy at the prospect of passing a CR that adheres to it (because it spends too much on non-defense programs), so there is indeed a chance that a government shutdown could occur. We think it is only a very small chance in an election year, but as we've said many times, trying to predict what Congress will do is risky.
The Air Force Association is holding its Air, Space, Cyber conference at National Harbor, MD (outside Washington, DC) Monday-Wednesday. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James kicks it off tomorrow morning. There is no indication on the conference's website as to which sessions might be livestreamed, but James tweeted an invitation yesterday for everyone to listen to her talk, so presumably hers will be, at least. Hopefully AFA will make iivestreaming information available soon. [UPDATE: the link to watch James, from 10:20-11:15 am ET, is http://www.afa.org/airspacecyber/streaming. Two other sessions Monday afternoon also will be livestreamed as noted at that site. The list of livestreamed sessions for the rest of the conference are not posted yet.]
While that's underway, on Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Gen. John Hyten to become Commander of U.S. Strategic Command. He currently is Commander of Air Force Space Command. He seems to be well liked and respected on the Hill, so apart from the usual Senate challenges on getting any nomination approved (usually for reasons completely unrelated to the nominee), it should go smoothly.
On the civil space side, it's Mars, Mars, Mars this week. Explore Mars holds a seminar on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning on "Humans to Mars: Why, How, and When." On Wednesday afternoon, Lou Friedman, former executive director of the Planetary Society, will discuss his new book "Human Spaceflight From Mars to the Stars" at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. From Thursday-Sunday, the Mars Society holds its annual conference at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
The Senate Commerce Committee will markup its "NASA Transition Authorization Act" on Wednesday that, among other things, seeks to protect NASA's human spaceflight program -- which is aimed at sending humans to Mars in the 2030s -- from any major changes as the result of the upcoming presidential transition. Congress directed NASA to build a new, big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and a crew spacecraft to go with it (Orion) in the last NASA authorization act that became law (in 2010). It has diligently ensured that the Obama Administration (through NASA) implements those programs, often providing more funding than the President requested. They want to make sure a new President doesn't disrupt that effort the way President Obama did when he came into office and cancelled President Bush's Constellation program. The NASA authorization bill is one of several bills the committee will markup that day, including the STEM education-related INSPIRE Women bill that the House passed earlier this year.
SLS is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and its Director, Todd May, will address the Space Transportation Association on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Also speaking to STA on Thursday is the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Naoki Okumura.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for other events we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Wednesday, September 19-21
Tuesday, September 20
Tuesday-Friday, September 20-23
Wednesday, September 21
Wednesday-Thursday, September 21-22
Wednesday-Friday, September 21-23
Thursday, September 22
Thursday-Saturday, September 22-24
Thursday-Sunday, September 22-25
Friday, September 23
With growing concern about the vulnerability of U.S. national security space systems, resiliency is the watchword and the military services are looking for alternatives in case space systems are unavailable. The Navy, for example, has resumed teaching celestial navigation in case the Global Positioning System (GPS) is rendered unusable.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) at a hearing on Thursday that celestial navigation is "back in the curriculum at the Naval Academy and other places" in order to minimize the Navy's vulnerability to electronic systems like GPS: "We gotta stay in the channel, ma'am." He added that the Navy also is working with its industrial partners on "other ways to get precision navigation and timing into our systems" that are "independent of GPS and potentially more precise" not only for navigation, but weapons systems performance.
(Richardson did not elaborate on the extent of the training, however. Alan Littlell wrote in Ocean Navigator on December 31, 2015 that the course for third-year students at the Naval Academy is only a three-hour segment of a broader course on advanced navigation and does not teach the "core workload of celestial navigators: sextant sight reductions on sun, moon, stars and planets." Indeed, the Naval Academy's course descriptions for all its navigation classes do not mention celestial navigation.)
Richardson and the other three military chiefs testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) about long-term military budget challenges. Joining him were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller.
Goldfein noted in his opening statement that to maintain its technological edge, the Air Force is "laser focused" on five areas, one of which is "preparing for a war that could extend into space." The others are "fighter, tanker, and bomber recapitalization, nuclear modernization .... increasing our capability and capacity in the cyber domain, and leveraging and improving multi-domain and coalition friendly command and control..."
Apart from that, little of the hearing touched on the needs of national security space specifically.
Senators Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), the top Democrat on the committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), both mentioned threats to space systems among their concerns in their opening statements, but the bulk of the hearing was on the impact on the military if sequestration returns. Under the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, if Congress appropriates more money than allowed by budget caps set in that law, across-the-board cuts are implemented to bring the funding in line with the caps.
That happened once, in FY2013, and the results were so draconian for defense and non-defense agencies that Congress and the White House have relaxed the caps each year since. However, the law remains in place and the budget caps, and sequestration, are back in play for FY2018 and beyond. The purpose of the hearing was to illuminate the damage that would be done to the military if funding is held to those caps.
Few expect that to happen, though, and when asked if they are preparing budget requests that are in line with the BCA limits, each of the military chiefs explicitly or implicitly said no.
Note: This article was updated with the quotes from Ocean Navigator and information about the course listings at the Naval Academy.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 12-16, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
From Long Beach, California to Vienna, Austria, it's a busy week in space policy.
Starting in Long Beach, AIAA holds its Space 2016 conference Tuesday-Thursday. Many sessions will be livestreamed and others will be posted later. The agenda on the livestream site tells you which is which. Note that all the times are Pacific Daylight Time, so add three for Eastern Daylight Time. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, DOD's Winston Beauchamp, and DFJ's Steve Jurvetson formally kick things off on Tuesday at 8:00 am PDT/11:00 am EDT. There are many very interesting plenary and "Forum 360" presentations throughout the conference, as well as the Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship on Thursday evening (6:30-7:30 pm PT/9:30-10:30 pm ET). The Brill Lectureship is awarded every two years by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering. This year's honoree is Wanda Austin, President and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, who will speak on Engineering Leadership. It will be livestreamed.
Just south of Long Beach, in Irvine, the National Academies Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences (CAPS) is meeting on Wednesday-Thursday. It will be available by WebEx and telecon. Among the topics are updates on robotic Mars exploration, the Europa mission, efforts to ensure a reliable supply of plutonium-238 (needed to power spacecraft that travel too far from the Sun or will land somewhere that make solar power infeasible), and NASA's astrobiology program.
Jumping 3,000 miles to the East, astrobiology will also be a topic in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress's Kluge Center on Thursday. The day-long symposium will discuss "The Emergence of Life: On the Earth, in the Lab, and Elsewhere." It will be filmed and the video posted later on the Kluge Center's website and YouTube.
Many other events are on tap in the Washington area. We'll highlight just two here. First. the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) will meet via telecon to discuss draft legislation proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to allow the FAA to perform an enhanced version of its current payload review process to authorize companies to conduct certain operations in Earth orbit, on the Moon and elsewhere in compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. The FAA did that for Moon Express recently, but it was an ad hoc process. The legislation apparently would codify that or a similar arrangement. Anyone may listen in on the telecon.
Second, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on Thursday morning on long term military budget challenges. It's a broad topic and the witnesses are the service chiefs so it is difficult to anticipate the extent to which national security space issues will arise, but it would not be surprising. Most SASC hearings are webcast.
The House and Senate are in session this week and still discussing what to do about the FY2017 budget. They need to pass something by September 30 (probably a Continuing Resolution that lasts until mid-December, but we know the peril of trying to guess what Congress will do) and what to do about the rest of the fiscal year. Typically they end up passing one huge "omnibus" appropriations bill incorporating all 12 regular appropriations bills, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly prefers several smaller "minibus" bills combining two or three at a time. As a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, he is well versed in budget matters, but there are critical top-level issues to resolve starting with the total amount of money that Congress should approve. The House and Senate reached agreement last fall on the total for FY2017, but very conservative Republicans did not vote in favor of it and want to more tightly constrain the amount for non-defense activities.
Moving even further East, the European Space Agency is sponsoring a "Space for Inspiration" conference at the London Science Museum on Wednesday-Thursday. It will be webcast on ESA's website. ESA Director General Jan Woerner heads an impressive set of government, industry, academic and non-profit speakers from Europe, Japan, and the United States, including several current and former astronauts.
A bit further East, Euroconsult will hold its annual World Satellite Business Week in Paris Monday-Friday. The website does not indicate if any of the sessions will be webcast. The "week" includes the 20th Summit for Satellite Financing, the 13th Symposium on Satcom Market Forecasts, the 8th Summit on Earth Observation Business, and SMARTPlane 2016.
Vienna, Austria is the last stop on this week's space policy journey. The European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) will hold a two-day (Thursday-Friday) symposium on Space for Sustainable Development.
Meanwhile, we'll be keeping an ear out for any news on SpaceX's investigation of the on-pad explosion on September 1. Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that it is the "most difficult and complex failure" the company has encountered.
Also, Chinese media report that the launch date for China's second space station, Tiangong-2 is in the September 15-20 time period. It will launch on a Long March 2F from Jiuquan. The first launch of China's new heavy lift Long March 5 from the new Wenchang launch site on Hainan Island is also coming up soon.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Wednesday, September 12-14
Monday-Friday, September 12-16
Tuesday, September 13
Tuesday-Thursday, September 13-15
Wednesday, September 14
Wednesday-Thursday, September 14-15
Thursday, September 15
Friday, September 16
Saturday, September 17
Note: this article was updated on September 12.
A new report to Congress from the Department of Transportation (DOT) concludes that it is feasible for a civil agency like DOT to take over responsibility from DOD for providing space situational awareness (SSA) data to commercial and foreign entities (CFEs). Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has been advocating for such a change to enable DOD to focus its SSA efforts on meeting military requirements while someone else, like DOT, handles non-military users.
Bridenstine was the chief House sponsor of the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA). Sec. 110 of that Act required DOT to study the feasibility of processing and releasing safety-related SSA data and information "to any entity consistent with national security interests and public safety obligations of the United States." Today's report satisfies that statutory obligation.
The report, written by DOT with concurrence from the Department of Defense (DOD) and in consultation with NASA, the Departments of Commerce and State, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Director of National Intelligence, summarizes past and present SSA arrangements, including the current "SSA Sharing Strategy." That strategy, adopted in 2014, established three categories of SSA information users: the public, SSA Sharing Agreement Holders (commercial, government, and intergovernmental satellite owners and operators that have signed a formal sharing agreement with U.S. Strategic Command), and U.S. national security partners.
Today, DOD's Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC, part of U.S. Strategic Command) continuously collects data about the location of the18,000 objects in Earth orbit. The report says that only 7 percent of those objects are operational satellites. The rest are debris -- everything from intact, but non-functional, satellites to expended rocket stages to paint chips to remnants of damaged or destroyed spacecraft.
Global concerns about the debris created by in-space events were sparked by the 2009 accidental collision of an active U.S. Iridium communications satellite with a defunct Russian communications satellite and China's 2007 intentional destruction of one of its own satellites as an antisatellite test. Both created a lot of debris and with more and more satellites being launched, especially hundreds of tiny "cubesats," SSA is increasingly vital to a growing number of users of the space environment. JSPoC calculates "conjunction analyses" to warn satellite owners/operators if objects pose a collision risk and issues alerts.
A civil agency like DOT, through the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), could assume responsibility for releasing safety-related SSA data on tracked space objects to non-military users under certain conditions, today's report concludes. The conditions include:
Bridenstine welcomed the report in a statement provided to SpacePolicyOnline.com:
"This report shows that this Administration, including the Department of Defense, agrees with what I have been advocating for a long time: that FAA/AST is an appropriate agency to maintain space situational awareness and provide information and services to civil, commercial, and foreign actors. This will empower STRATCOM and JFCC Space to focus on fighting and winning wars, while a civil agency does routine conjunction analysis and reporting. I look forward to working with the DOD, FAA, and Congressional stakeholders to begin implementing such a framework.”
Bridenstine is also the primary sponsor of pending legislation, the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA), which would go even further and take the first steps towards designating a civilian agency, like FAA, to be responsible for Space Traffic Management (STM) under which a satellite owner/operator could be compelled to take action to avoid a collision. Currently, JSPoC issues conjunction analyses, but it is up to the satellite operator to decide what to do, if indeed the satellite is capable of moving. ASRA is very broad and Bridenstine makes clear he does not expect it to pass in its entirety. Instead, it is a repository of provisions that could be incorporated into other legislation over time.