Military / National Security News
A coalition of 13 U.S. space industry organizations released a white paper on March 4 to help presidential and other political candidates understand the need for ensuring U.S. leadership in space. The paper does not advocate for any particular program, but more broadly explains why the United States should be a leader, the challenges it faces, and what actions politicians could take.
Led by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Space Foundation, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), the organizations argue that government and private sector investments in space represent a $330 billion global industry and enable a broad range of capabilities critical to national security, communications networks, and understanding Earth. However, a list of challenges threaten U.S. leadership, including unpredictable funding; foreign competition; a congested, contested and competitive space environment, and workforce trends. The paper lists 10 actions that are needed, ranging from committing to predictable budgets and repealing the 2011 Budget Control Act (which requires sequestration if budgets exceed specified limits) to restoring a U.S. ability to launch astronauts into space to strengthening the U.S. industrial base to committing to a national security space program that maintains U.S. dominance in space.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Space Foundation CEO Elliot Pulham said the goal of the white paper is to ensure there is "an appreciation for the great importance of space" by the presidential candidates and other politicians. The purpose is "not to have space become a presidential issue," Pulham stressed, adding that "we would be happy if no one on the campaign trail says something stupid about space." Instead, they should understand that as a candidate for the highest office in the land that they should embrace the space program because it is "quintessentially American." AIAA Executive Director Sandy Magnus agreed that the goal was to create a strong consensus in the industry "such that [space] becomes a non-issue," a way to "take it off the table, but stress its importance." Eric Stallmer, President of CSF, added that they want to avoid space becoming a local jobs issue: "We have to think nationally, not locally."
Pulham said they had been able to present the paper to all but one of the presidential campaigns and it was received "with gratitude and interest."
The other 10 organizations involved in writing the white paper are: Aerospace Industries Association, Aerospace States Association, American Astronautical Society, Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, Colorado Space Coalition, Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, Satellite Industry Association, Silicon Valley Space Business Roundtable, Space Angels Network, and Space Florida.
The white paper is posted on the websites of many of those organizations.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 7-11, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week; the House is in recess.
During the Week
It's another busy week as three conferences take place at the same time, all in the D.C.-area. One, AIAA's DEFENSE 2016, is classified SECRET/U.S. ONLY so that limits participation and is broadly focused, not just about space. The other two are open to anyone who can afford the registration fee: the American Astronautical Society's annual Goddard Memorial Symposium in Greenbelt, MD and, around the Beltway, SATELLITE 2016, in National Harbor, MD. Great sessions at both conferences will make it difficult choose where to be. Without traffic, the distance between the two is about 25 minutes, so conceivably one could go back and forth, though in reality the "without traffic" hours in the D.C.-area are severely limited.
Up on the Hill, House members are taking the week off from legislative duties to check in with their constituents back home. The Senate is in session, though, and on Thursday the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will hold its hearing on NASA's FY2017 budget request. As usual, the Obama Administration decided to request far less funding for programs that are congressional priorities -- like the Space Launch System, which is near and dear to subcommittee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), so one can well imagine how the hearing will go. Not to mention that the Obama Administration is using the "gimmick" explained in our fact sheet on NASA's budget request. The White House and NASA say the request is for $19.025 billion, which is $260 million less than what Congress provided for FY2016, but be sure to read the fine print. In actuality, the request for appropriations is $18.262 billion, about $1 billion less than FY2016. The White House and NASA display the request as $19.025 billion by adding in $664 million they expect Congress to transfer to the discretionary portion of the federal budget (that funds NASA and other agencies) from the mandatory portion (that funds Medicare and Social Security, e.g.). Then they add another $100 million for aeronautics from a $10-dollar-a-barrel tax the White House wants to levy on oil companies for a 21st Century Clean Transportation System initiative. If you haven't heard about this already, you can learn more from our fact sheet, but, safe to say, the hearing will be lively.
If all that doesn't keep you busy enough, the NASA Advisory Council's Science committee is meeting at the end of the week, preceded by a meeting of its planetary science subcommittee.
And all of this will be topped off Friday night with the annual "space prom" -- the National Space Club's Goddard Memorial Dinner -- with about 2,000 VIPs from all sectors of the aerospace community dressed to the hilt.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for additional events that we learn about as the week progresses and are added to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, March 7
Monday-Thursday, March 7-10
Tuesday, March 8
Tuesday-Thursday, March 8-10
Wednesday, March 9
Wednesday-Thursday, March 9-10
Thursday, March 10
Thursday-Friday, March 10-11
Friday, March 11
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) today, SASC chairman John McCain (R-Arizona) and Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Deborah Lee James engaged in a feisty exchange over Russian RD-180 rocket engines. The two disagree on how many RD-180s the United Launch Alliance (ULA) should be able to obtain for launching national security satellites. Today's exchange focused on whether ULA should be prohibited from buying any because a restructuring of the Russian aerospace sector places the engines under the purview of two Russians who are sanctioned by the United States.
McCain challenged James's knowledge of the new Russian space governance structure, repeatedly asking if she knew that two "cronies" of Russian President Vladimir Putin are now on the board that oversees the new Roscosmos state corporation. In his view, they financially benefit from the sales of RD-180s because the company that manufactures them, Energomash, is now part of the Roscosmos state corporation.
Roscosmos was a government agency separate from the Russian aerospace industry, but was recently restructured into a state corporation with the same name that merges both sectors. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister who oversees the aerospace sector, and Sergei Chemezov, both were sanctioned by the United States after Russia's actions in Ukraine. McCain asserts both serve on the new Roscosmos Board of Directors. McCain argues that sales of RD-180 engines provide financial gain to those two individuals and therefore the sales should be stopped. The U.S. Treasury Department is in charge of implementing sanctions and DOD acquisition chief Frank Kendall reportedly said last week that it has made a preliminary determination that the RD-180 sales do not violate them.
In his opening statement today, McCain said the Treasury Department's determination reflects "a level of hypocrisy" that will "make it harder to convince our European allies to renew their own sanctions on Russia this summer."
The FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) limits to 9 the additional RD-180 engines ULA may obtain beyond 15 that were purchased as part of a 2013 Air Force-ULA block buy contract for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) services. ULA's two EELVs, the Atlas V and Delta IV, launch virtually all U.S. national security satellites. The block buy was for 36 launches, 29 of which were Atlas Vs, which are powered by Russia's RD-180s. At the time of Russia's incursion into Ukraine, 15 were purchased, leaving 14, of which 5 were under contract. The Air Force and ULA have steadfastly insisted that all 14 are needed despite efforts to build a new U.S. engine to replace the RD-180s. McCain insists that only 9 are needed (the 5 under contact plus 4 more), hence the language in the NDAA. In recent months, the Air Force and ULA have been saying that 18 (not 14) more are required.
At today's hearing, McCain repeatedly challenged James over whether or not she knew that Roscosmos now is overseen by individuals who are sanctioned.
James insisted she does not know who makes money from RD-180 sales and the Treasury Department determined that purchasing them does not violate the sanctions. In her opening statement, she said the sooner an RD-180 prohibition comes into effect, the more disruptive it will be and the more it will cost -- $1.5 to $5 billion -- and none of those costs are included in the Air Force's FY2017 budget request.
McCain sternly asked if she knew Roscosmos is the parent of the company (Energomash) that manufactures RD-180s. She replied she had not studied the matter in detail but "if you say so, I believe you." McCain angrily honed in on whether or not she knew that the new Roscosmos, with Rogozin and Chemezov on its board, is the parent company. James frostily rejoined "prior to you telling me this today, that individual aspect, no. But I accept your word and I know it now." She insisted that the Treasury Department does not have Roscosmos on the sanctions list.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) focused on the opportunity costs to the Air Force of ending use of RD-180s soon: "You really can't make foolish decisions and incur more costs than is reasonably necessary...." ULA builds the Atlas V and Delta IV in Alabama.
James's estimate of the potential cost of ending use of RD-180s sooner rather than later reflects a potential need to shift satellites to the much more expensive Delta IV. SpaceX also recently was certified to launch national security satellites with its Falcon 9 rocket, but Falcon 9 is not capable of launching the heaviest national security satellites. The Air Force has announced four rocket propulsion awards for the development a new U.S.-built rocket engine to replace the RD-180, but it will take some time for them to be ready and integrated into a launch vehicle. The Air Force, ULA and Congress agree on the need to transition from the RD-180s to a U.S. alternative. The debate is over the timing.
James told SASC member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) that assured access to space is the Air Force's top concern. She argued for more flexibility over when RD-180s no longer will be allowed. Nelson said he worries that there will be a gap between when RD-180s are prohibited, meaning Atlas V rockets are no longer available, and when new launch vehicles with new engines are ready. The result would be that the expensive Delta IV Heavy rockets will be required to launch the majority of national security satellites, costing a lot of money. James agreed.
ULA President Tory Bruno estimates the cost of a Delta IV launch at $400-600 million versus $140-164 million on average for an Atlas V.
The RD-180 issue splits congressional defense authorizers, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, who want to limit RD-180s, and appropriators, the House and Senate appropriations committees, who want flexibility.
At a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing yesterday, James faced a much more friendly audience that agreed that flexibility is needed as to when the use of RD-180s should end. Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) complimented James on the award of four contracts to build new rocket propulsion systems. He and subcommittee chairman Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) quizzed James on whether SpaceX could launch more national security satellites. She said there are eight types of launches and SpaceX can launch four. Calvert and Frelinghuysen focused on the need for assured access to space and James stressed that having a new U.S. engine ready by 2019, as required by law, is one thing, but it will not be integrated into a new launch vehicle and certified by that time, hence the need for flexibility on the availability of RD-180s.
Today's SASC hearing ended on a combative note. In its final moments, McCain challenged James on her earlier statement that terminating use of RD-180s could cost between $1.5 billion and $5 billion. He cited a letter he received from James that day "after several months" of waiting saying that the cost would be "in excess of $1.45 billion," but now she was saying up to $5 billion. She rejoined that it is matter of what assumptions are made. McCain had the last word: "I am to disregard, really, the letter you sent to me that I've been waiting several months for. Maybe that helps explains some of the difficulties that we have."
The Air Force awarded the last two of four contracts to develop new rocket propulsion systems today. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) is partnered with Blue Origin on one of the awards and with Aerojet Rocketdyne on the other. The Air Force announced the other two awards last month.
The Air Force is using "Other Transaction Authority" to enter into public-private partnerships with companies to develop new rocket engines. The first two awards went to Orbital ATK and SpaceX in January, with initial government investments of $46.9 million for Orbital ATK and $33.6 million for SpaceX.
The government's goal is to have at least two competitive U.S. launch vehicles, using American-built engines, to launch national security satellites beginning in 2019. The catalysts for this effort were a congressional decision to end use of Russian RD-180 engines, which power the Atlas V, because of Russia's actions in Ukraine, and more broadly a desire to lower launch costs through competition. ULA has been essentially a monopoly provider of national security launch services with its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets since it was formed in 2006 as a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The debate over RD-180s and the timing of the transition to an all-American rocket is much debated and has been reported extensively on this website.
ULA initially chose Blue Origin as its engine partner to build an American-only alternative to the Atlas V. Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, is developing a new type of engine that uses liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (methane). Designated BE-4, Blue Origin is funding the engine development program itself. Two BE-4s would replace one RD-180, although other engineering modifications are needed. It is not a simple swap. The contract announced today will pay for integrating the engine into the new Vulcan rocket and for ULA to develop a new Advanced Cyrogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) upper stage. The initial government investment for this contract is $46.6 million -- $45.8 million for the integration effort and $0.8 million for ACES. Neither ULA nor the Air Force announced the total potential government investment, only the initial investment.
ULA subsequently decided to partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne as a "backup" in case Blue Origin's engine did not work out. Aerojet Rocketdyne is developing the AR1 engine that will use traditional liquid oxygen and kerosene. The other contract announced today is for that effort. Aerojet Rocketdyne said in a press release that the total agreement is valued at $804 million, with the Air Force potentially investing $536 million and Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners $268 million. The initial government investment is $115.3 million, with Aerojet Rocketdyne and ULA contributing another $57.7 million.
Aerojet Rocketdyne President and CEO Eileen Drake said the AR1 has the least technical risk and work is expected to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2019. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the leading advocate for replacing Russian RD-180s with an American-made engine, put 2019 in legislation as the date by which the new engine must be ready. Drake said the AR1 will be available for use on the Atlas V, Vulcan, and "other launch vehicles in development."
ULA President Tory Bruno said that ULA is "fully committed to transitioning as quickly and affordably as possible to a domestic engine" and Aerojet Rocketdyne "is moving us toward one of two viable options with the excellent progress on the AR1 engine development."
In a separate press release about the Blue Origin contract, Bruno said ULA continues to work with both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne "to pursue two options for a next-generation American engine and that is why we are teaming with two of the world's leading propulsion companies."
Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force's Program Executive Officer for Space said these "innovative public-private partnerships" are key to assuring access to space and addressing "the urgent need to transition away from strategic foreign reliance."
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 29 - March 4, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
It's another busy week -- on the Hill, off the Hill, and off the planet.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly is finishing up his last days on the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the "year in space" mission (it's not quite a year, actually, but about 340 days). He and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been on ISS since March 27, 2015 (Eastern Time) to further studies of human physiological and psychological adaptation to spaceflight in preparation for even longer trips to destinations like Mars. Theirs is not the longest duration mission -- four Russian cosmonauts spent 365 days or more continuously on the Soviet/Russian space station Mir in the 1980s and 1990s -- but is the most recent and Kelly is the first American on such a long mission. (The record for total consecutive days in space is held by cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov who spent 438 days aboard the Mir space station in 1994-1995. Sergei Avdeyev spent 380 days on Mir in 1998-1999. Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov spent 365 days together on Mir in 1987-1988. In all cases, other crews came and went during those missions.)
Kelly and Kornienko are scheduled to land in the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft along with cosmonaut Sergei Volkov (who arrived at ISS in September) very late Tuesday night -- 11:27 ET. Kelly will embark on his trip home to Houston very soon thereafter, arriving late Wednesday night (11:45 pm ET) where he will be greeted by Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden and other White House and NASA dignitaries. On Friday, he will participate in a press briefing from Johnson Space Center at 2:00 pm ET, preceded at 1:00 by a briefing by two NASA scientists and his identical twin brother, Mark. The two brothers have been part of a Twins Study during the mission. NASA TV will cover it all.
It may be hard to top that in terms of news value, but there is much more going on, including quite a few congressional hearings on military and civil space programs. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III will appear before the House Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday and the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta will testify to the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee on Wednesday, though it is not clear how much focus will be on the $19.8 million request for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
Perhaps of most interest to readers of this website is a House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee hearing on Thursday on NASA's new "Ocean Worlds" program. Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the subcommittee, is an enthusiast for sending a probe to Jupiter's moon Europa, which is thought to have an ocean under its icy crust. It is not the only solar system body thought to have an ocean and Culberson directed NASA to initiate a program to explore these "ocean worlds" in his report on last year's appropriations bill. He has invited Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Cornell's Jonathan Lunine to testify about the program. JPL is a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) operated by the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), so some people consider it a NASA field center while others point out it is a contractor and not "government" in the same sense as the rest of NASA. Thus one can say that the hearing has a NASA witness or not as one chooses, but it is interesting to see just this one part of NASA's program singled out for a hearing, reflecting the chairman's intense interest. Culberson says often that he is convinced that evidence of life will be discovered on Europa and hence he believes this is one of NASA's top priorities. Elachi is retiring this summer, by the way, after 15 years at the helm of JPL (part of a 45 year career there). He will move over to CalTech as professor emeritus to continue his research. His successor has not been announced.
Meanwhile, there are meetings of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), several NASA advisory committees, National Academy of Sciences (NAS) committees, the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, an ISU-DC space cafe, an Orbital-ATK investors teleconference, and an announcement by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden about NASA's new plans for X-planes. Whew! Get out your running shoes.
The many events of interest this week that we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for additional events that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Oh, and happy Leap Year! We certainly need that extra day.
Sunday-Wednesday, February 28-March 2
Monday, February 29
Tuesday, March 1
Tuesday-Wednesday, March 1-2
Wednesday, March 2
Wednesday-Thursday, March 2-3
Wednesday-Friday, March 2-4
Thursday, March 3
Friday, March 4
Editor's Note: NASA has countdown clocks on its website for the 1-year mission showing elapsed time and remaining time. At this moment (February 29, 5:50 pm) it shows that the mission duration for the two men will be 340 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes and 2 seconds, not "just under 342 days" as we calculated yesterday. The text has been changed accordingly.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) is planning a multipronged approach to getting government space agencies to adopt commercial solutions. He will introduce a comprehensive bill -- the American Space Renaissance Act -- later this year, but does not expect it to pass en toto. Instead, he sees it as a repository of "plug and play" provisions that will be inserted into other pieces of legislation, especially this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Speaking at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) breakfast meeting on Friday, Bridenstine laid out his plans "to promote policies that will permanently make America the predominant spacefaring nation." A draft of the American Space Renaissance Act will be released at the Space Foundation's Space Symposium in April and Bridenstine is seeking feedback from interested parties.
He listed a number themes that will be included in the draft legislation: fostering, encouraging and incentivizing industry to innovate and thrive in the United States; expanding launch options and producing more satellites in the United States; having a robust space travel infrastructure; being the home of world-changing plans like point-to-point suborbital flight, lunar habitats and asteroid mining; and getting the government to purchase services instead of owning satellites.
The bill is intended to serve as a "conversation piece as well as a repository for the best ideas that we can plug and play into different pieces of legislation," he said.
Bridenstine serves on both the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, where he chairs the Subcommittee on Environment, and the House Armed Services Committee, where he is a member of the subcommittee on Strategic Forces. That provides him a broader view of space issues than most Members of Congress. The second-term Congressman said his constituents (in the Tulsa area) have little interest in space programs because they do not recognize the role that space plays in their everyday lives, but he is convinced of its importance.
He is particularly passionate about the nation's weather satellites. His goal is for forecasts to become so accurate that there will be zero deaths from tornadoes, a frequent occurrence in Oklahoma. He has been a strong critic of NOAA's management of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series because of their high cost and schedule delays, but more broadly worries that NOAA builds "Battlestar Gallaticas" that are vulnerable to a range of threats -- from launch failures, to system failures, to attacks from enemies -- and sees commercial weather companies and their constellations of small satellites as part of the solution.
The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act directed NOAA to initiate a commercial weather data pilot program to purchase, evaluate and calibrate commercial weather data and assess its viability for inclusion in NOAA's numerical weather models. The idea originated in the Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act (H.R. 1561) that passed the House last year, which Bridenstine co-sponsored. It would authorize $9 million for this effort. The Senate has not acted on that bill yet, but the weather data pilot program was included in NOAA's portion of the FY2016 appropriations bill, with $3 million allocated. A Bridenstine aide said on Friday that a report from NOAA on its implementation of the pilot program was due on February 16, but has not yet been received. NOAA is requesting $5 million for FY2017.
Bridenstine said he plans to try and include a similar provision for DOD in this year's NDAA. DOD is still struggling to shape its weather satellite strategy following the 2010 cancellation of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). It has had a few false starts and Bridenstine clearly sees commercial data as part of the solution.
He also will try to include language in the NDAA to begin a transition of responsibility for providing space situational awareness (SSA) data and conjunction analyses (to warn of potential collisions) to commercial entities and foreign governments. Today, DOD's Joint Space Operations Center (JPSoC) provides SSA data to everyone, but Bridenstine reiterated Friday what he has said in the past that it is a distraction for JSPoC, which should be focused on its DOD mission of "fighting and winning wars." He wants to create a commercialized Conjunction Analysis and Warning Center that fuses unclassified DOD data with data from international partners and commercial operators. The Center would be subject to oversight by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).
Bridenstine insisted that he is a conservative Republican who typically does not favor government regulation, but it is necessary in some cases. Commercial space is one of them because "the lack of appropriate regulation is regulation itself." His goal is to find a "sweet spot" to "maximize regulatory certainty and minimize regulatory interference - a de minumus approach."
As for his Conjunction Analysis and Warning Center that he wants included in the NDAA, he stressed that he is not proposing any new regulatory authority. "Zero. My objective is to gradually build the capacity of a civilian agency" to do SSA. Eventually, he thinks a government agency -- specifically FAA/AST -- should be in charge of Space Traffic Management, but he is not proposing that right now. He also restated his intent for FAA/AST to be designated as the government agency in charge of implementing a requirement in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that governments authorize and continually supervise the actions of their non-governmental entities, like companies. FAA/AST regulates commercial launches and reentries, NOAA regulates commercial remote sensing satellites, and the Federal Communications Commission regulates commercial communications satellites, but no agency has been appointed to regulate activities such as asteroid mining or commercial activities on the lunar surface. He thinks FAA/AST should expand its role to do so.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 22-26, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
Now that the President has submitted his FY2017 budget request and Congress is back from its week-long break, congressional hearings on the budget and related topics begin in earnest.
This week, subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC-D) will hold hearings on the status of U.S. strategic forces (HASC), the FY2017 DOD budget for science and technology (HASC), and the entire DOD budget request (HAC-D).
Subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee will hold hearings on the budgets for the Department of Commerce (which includes NOAA) and Department of Transportation (which includes the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation). It is unlikely that space activities will come up at those hearings, but we list them here for completeness. Specific hearings on NOAA and the FAA are likely to be scheduled in the coming weeks.
As for NASA, although it is not about the FY2017 budget request per se, the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) committee will hold a hearing on the Space Leadership Preservation Act (H.R. 2093). That bill is sponsored by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA. Similar legislation in the previous two Congresses was sponsored by Frank Wolf, who chaired the CJS subcommittee until he retired. House SS&T held a hearing on one of those bills (H.R. 823 from the 113th Congress) on February 27, 2013, almost exactly three years ago. Culberson reintroduced the legislation last April. House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and four others (two Republicans, two Democrats) are co-sponsors. There are some differences among the three versions of the bill, but essentially the goal is for NASA to be run by a Board of Directors similar to the National Science Board that oversees the National Science Foundation and to make the position of NASA Administrator a 10-year appointment, similar to the Director of the FBI. The sponsors of the legislation assert these steps would make NASA less political.
House SS&T will hold a hearing on the discovery of gravitational waves on Wednesday. The discovery was made using terrestrial instruments -- LIGO -- but spacecraft have been launched (Europe's LISA Pathfinder) or are planned to investigate that phenomenon, so space-based astrophysics may come up.
Off the Hill, on Thursday, two groups are holding events looking at the FY2017 budget request -- both at the same time, unfortunately. The Air Force Association and FiscalTrak will hold a symposium focused on the request for national security space at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, VA. In another part of Arlington, called Pentagon City because of its proximity to the Pentagon, Women in Aerospace will hold a broader "senior leaders" discussion with representatives of NOAA, DOD, the Senate Appropriations Committee, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Both of those, again unfortunately, are at the same time as the House SS&T hearing on the Space Leadership Preservation Act and the HAC-D hearing with Secretary of Defense Carter on the DOD budget. So #needclones is the hashtag of the week, especially for your SpacePolicyOnline.com editor since I will be moderating a panel at the WIA event. The good news is that congressional committees usually webcast their hearings so those should be available for later viewing.
It's a busy week. Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for any others that are announced later and added to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Thursday, February 22-25
Tuesday, February 23
Wednesday, February 24
Thursday, February 25
NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) took a step forward on Wednesday with approval from NASA's Program Management Council. WFIRST will be the next large (flagship) space telescope after the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and will search for exoplanets and aid in understanding dark energy and dark matter.
WFIRST was the top priority for a flagship space telescope in the 2010 National Research Council (NRC) astrophysics Decadal Survey New Worlds New Horizons. Cost overruns and schedule delays on JWST meant that WFIRST has had to wait much longer than expected to move forward. Funding for JWST had to pass its peak before a funding wedge to initiate WFIRST opened up. JWST, scheduled for launch in 2018, is finally past that phase.
WFIRST has been through many changes since the NWNH Decadal Survey largely because the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which builds and operates the nation's spy satellites, transferred to NASA a 2.4 meter space-qualified telescope that it no longer needed. The NRO hardware is called Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets (AFTA) and the project is now often referred to as WFIRST/AFTA.
NASA asked the NRC to review the design changes associated with using the NRO hardware. The 2014 NRC report expressed concern about the cost implications, especially if a coronagraph was added to the mission. NASA decided to add a coronagraph anyway because it will enhance the scientific capability of the spacecraft. The coronagraph will block the light of a star, enabling precise measurements of what is around the star, such as planets and their atmospheres. WFIRST is expected to detect thousands of new exoplanets. Launch is anticipated in the mid-2020s.
Scientists use the terms dark energy and dark matter to refer to the approximately 96 percent of the universe that we do not yet understand. Scientists concluded in the 1990s that we understand only four percent of what is in the universe, with dark energy comprising approximately 72 percent and dark matter about 24 percent. Dark energy is an unknown force that is pushing the universe apart at a greater rate than expected. Dark matter is "invisible material that makes up most of the matter in the universe," according to NASA.
Like JWST, WFIRST is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center are participating in the project.
NASA's Program Management Council evaluates the content, cost, risk management and performance of the agency's programs and projects. It decided to move forward with WFIRST yesterday.
UPDATE, March 3, 2016: Sen. Shelby won the primary.
ORIGINAL STORY, February 16, 2016: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is facing four Republican opponents in Alabama's March 1 Senate primary. The 81-year-old five-term Republican is expected to win, but in this anti-establishment political season, there are no sure bets.
In the space policy community, Shelby is best known for his unwavering support of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), managed by Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, and his clash with Sen. John McCain over the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas V launch vehicle. ULA builds its rockets in Decatur, AL. McCain wants to limit the number of RD-180s ULA can obtain, while Shelby wants considerable flexibility.
The McCain-Shelby fireworks erupted publicly in December when Shelby, a powerful member of the Senate Appropriations Committee working with one of the committee's top Democrats, Dick Durbin (D-IL), undermined McCain's efforts to limit to nine the additional number of RD-180s that ULA could obtain for national security launches. The appropriations committee essentially lifted that limit. McCain pulled no punches in lambasting the two for putting constituent interests ahead of national interests. ULA is jointly owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Boeing is headquartered in Durbin's state of Illinois.
The antagonism continued last week with McCain and Durbin publishing dueling commentaries in the Wall Street Journal (McCain's as an op-ed on Monday, Durbin's as a letter to the editor on Thursday), and McCain (or his designee) live-tweeting rejoinders to Shelby's conversation with Air Force witnesses about RD-180s at a hearing on Wednesday. The Air Force agrees with ULA on the need for the flexibility the appropriations act provides. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said on Wednesday that 18 are needed; last year the number was 14. McCain's FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act allows only nine.
Shelby is among the highest ranking Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee and chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee that funds NASA. He is a steadfast supporter of SLS and widely viewed as the architect of the increased budgets SLS has received compared to the President's request. For the current fiscal year (FY2016), for example, Congress appropriated $2 billion for SLS, compared with the President's request of $1.356 billion.
Alabama holds its Republican and Democratic primaries on March 1 along with a number of other states in what is billed as "Super Tuesday." While most of the attention will be focused on the presidential races, they are not the only ones of consequence.
Shelby is facing four Republican primary opponents. National Journal (NJ) reports that Shelby and the Republican party nationally, which is fighting to retain control of the Senate, are taking the race very seriously despite internal polls that show Shelby leading. He needs a majority of votes to avoid a runoff and with the anti-establishment tenor of the presidential races, nothing can be taken for granted. NJ quotes Republican consultant Brad Todd as saying that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz may "motivate a group of not your normal Alabama Republican primary voters" and Shelby and other incumbents need to be prepared for "having an electorate you weren't counting on."
Shelby's opponents are Jonathan McConnell, 33, a Marine veteran; John Martin, 59, a former Army Ranger; Marcus Bowman, 42, a former legislative analyst and research consultant; and Shadrack McGill, 40, a former Alabama state senator.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 15-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
During the Week
Monday (February 15) is a U.S. federal holiday, President's Day, marking the birthdays of two of our most famous Presidents -- Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22). Federal offices will be closed on Monday and Congress is taking the entire week off from inside-the-Beltway debates to check in with their constituents back home.
Consequently it is a relatively quiet week space policy-wise, which should give us all time to digest the President's FY2017 budget request. The NASA request is particularly complicated as explained in our new fact sheet. We also have a fact sheet on NOAA's request for satellites.
One intriguing meeting this week is of the Ad Hoc Task Force on Big Data of the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Science Committee. The meeting, all day Tuesday, was announced in the Federal Register, which is a requirement for all advisory committee meetings governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). We couldn't find anything about the upcoming meeting or the task force itself on the websites of NAC or its Science Committee, however, other than a broken link to a presentation by Elaine Denning at the November 2015 Science Committee meeting and a functioning link to a July 2015 presentation by Dr. Erin Smith, the task force's executive secretary. That includes the two-page Terms of Reference for the task force, signed by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in January 2015. The Federal Register notice provides only a general list of agenda items, but overall it looks like quite an interesting set of issues. The meeting is available by WebEx and telecon.
The AIAA's National Capital Section luncheon on Wednesday is also notable this week. Winston Beauchamp is the speaker. He is Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space and Director, Principal DoD Space Advisor Staff. The Principal DoD Space Advisor (PDSA) position was created in October 2015, broadening the responsibilities of what previously was called the "Executive Agent for Space" (EA4S). Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James was the EA4S and now is the PDSA. DOD said at the time that the new position would "strengthen the leadership of the space enterprise by sharpening authorities and responsibilities, and unifying diffused and competing voices within the department." Hopefully Beauchamp will provide a glimpse into how things are going so far.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below. Check back throughout the week to see additions to our Events of Interest list that are announced in the coming days.
Tuesday, February 16
Wednesday, February 17