Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address:

Military / National Security News

ULA Traces Atlas V Anomaly to Malfunctioning RD-180 Valve

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Apr-2016 (Updated: 29-Apr-2016 06:25 PM)

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that the anomaly on its Atlas V rocket during the launch of Orbital ATK's OA-6 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) was due to a malfunctioning valve.  The Atlas V first stage under performed, but the Centaur upper stage was able to compensate and OA-6 reached the ISS successfully.

During the March 22 launch, the Atlas V first stage shut down six seconds early.  The Centaur upper stage rescued the mission by firing 60 seconds longer than planned, placing Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft into its proper orbit nonetheless.  Cygnus reached the ISS on schedule.

ULA quickly determined the problem was in the RD-180 engine's fuel system and decided to postpone the next scheduled Atlas V launch until it understood and remedied the problem.  The Navy's fifth Multi-User Objective System (MUOS-5) communications satellite was scheduled for launch on May 5.  That date slipped to May 12 and then indefinitely.

Today, ULA issued a statement that the RD-180's Mixture Ratio Control Valve assembly had caused a reduction in fuel flow during launch and all RD-180 engines are now being inspected.   It did not announce a new launch date for MUOS-5, saying only that the launch will be in "early summer."   The company asserted that all its Atlas V launches planned for 2016 "are expected to be successfully executed by the end of the year."   That includes NASA's robotic asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx, scheduled for September.

Russia's RD-180 engines are currently the topic of considerable controversy.  Following Russia's actions in Ukraine, Congress and the Administration became determined to end U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines to launch U.S. national security satellites.   Efforts are underway to develop a U.S.-built engine to replace it, but there are disputes about the timing of transitioning from the RD-180 powered Atlas V rockets to something new.

The full text of the emailed ULA statement is as follows:

Centennial, Colo., (April 29, 2016) -- ULA successfully delivered the OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft to its precise orbit as planned on March 22. During the launch, the system experienced a premature first stage shutdown. Atlas is a robust system. The Centaur upper stage compensated for the first stage anomaly, delivering Cygnus to a precise orbit, well within the required accuracy. The ULA engineering team has reviewed the data and has determined an anomaly with the RD-180 Mixture Ratio Control Valve (MRCV) assembly caused a reduction in fuel flow during the boost phase of the flight. In addition to analysis and testing, all RD-180 engines are being inspected.

Last Friday, in preparation for the MUOS-5 launch, the Atlas V completed the Launch Vehicle on Stand (LVOS) operation, erecting the Atlas V into the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. LVOS will allow configuration of the vehicle to support RD-180 engine inspections and confirm all engine components are ready for launch. The Atlas V MUOS-5 launch is targeted for early summer; a new launch date has not been secured on the Eastern Range. The impact to the remainder of the Atlas V manifest is in review with new launch dates being coordinated with our customers. All missions manifested for 2016 are expected to be successfully executed by the end of the year, including OSIRIS-REx, which will remain in early September to support its critical science window.


HASC Sides With Air Force, ULA on RD-180 Rocket Engines

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Apr-2016 (Updated: 28-Apr-2016 10:57 PM)

In the wee hours overnight, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved an amendment regarding the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) use of Russian RD-180 engines for its Atlas V rocket.  The Atlas V launches many national security satellites.  Its Russian engines have been a source of contention since Russia annexed Crimea two years ago. The amendment favors ULA and the Air Force versus ULA's competitor, SpaceX.  The committee also adopted an amendment allowing government funds to be spent on a new launch vehicle, not just a new engine.

HASC marked up the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) beginning at 10:00 am ET on April 27 and ending more than 16 hours later at 2:34 am ET today (April 28).  The very last topic considered just prior to a series of postponed roll call votes was the RD-180 controversy.  HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said it was because negotiations had been underway throughout that time to determine if a compromise could be reached.  Apparently it could not.

The fundamental debate has not changed over the past two years.  There is broad agreement in Congress, the Administration, and industry that the United States should not be dependent on Russian RD-180 rocket engines to launch U.S. national security satellites and that a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 should be built.  The debate is over the timing of the transition from RD-180 powered Atlas  V rockets to a rocket using a U.S.-built engine.

ULA has been a monopoly provider of national security launches using its Atlas V and Delta IV rockets since its creation in 2006.  ULA is a 50-50 joint venture between Boeing (Delta IV) and Lockheed Martin (Atlas V).  In 2015, SpaceX was certified to launch national security satellites in competition with ULA.  Yesterday it was formally awarded its first contract for launch of an Air Force GPS satellite.   SpaceX's $82.7 million price reportedly was 40 percent less than what ULA has been charging for GPS launches.

ULA did not bid against SpaceX for that launch, publicly arguing that, among other things, it was precluded from doing so because of the restrictions on how many RD-180 engines it could obtain. (Statements made later by a ULA official called that account into question, however, spurring a DOD Inspector General investigation into whether there were contracting improprieties. The investigation is ongoing.)

ULA officials have also indicated that it is difficult for them to compete against SpaceX on price.  The company is working to reduce costs by building a new rocket, Vulcan, which will use an American-built engine from either Blue Origin or Aerojet Rocketdyne.  The question is when Vulcan will be available.  Congress set 2019 as the date by which a new engine must be ready, and there is agreement that is achievable, but the Air Force and ULA argue that it will take 2-3 more years before a launch vehicle using the new engine is certified to launch expensive national security satellites.  They want to buy up to 18 more RD-180 engines to ensure the Atlas V is available until Vulcan is certified.  Previous NDAAs limited that number to nine, however.

U.S. space transportation policy requires that two separate launch vehicle families be available to launch national security satellites in case there is an accident that grounds one of them.  SpaceX advocates argue that its Falcon 9 is one and ULA's Delta IV is the other, and both will be available in 2019 and beyond, so Atlas V is not needed to fulfill the policy.  Others worry that if SpaceX's rocket fails, all national security satellites would have to be launched on the very expensive Delta IV.  Air Force Secretary James estimates the potential pricetag as $1.5 - $5 billion.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), is the most prominent voice in holding the line at only nine more engines.  That position has the support of some HASC members, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who district is near SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

Air Force and ULA supporters, including HASC's Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), insist that 18 more are required. His district is close to ULA's headquarters in Centennial, CO. Coffman's amendment to raise the number from nine to 18 was adopted by HASC by voice vote.

Hunter intended to offer an amendment to keep the number at nine, but said that it had been ruled out of order.  He insisted that there was no need to commit to 18 now and "line Putin's pockets," referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.  "We can get away with with nine or 10 now," he argued, and return to the issue in future years rather than giving Russia "$540 million in direct payments to Russian military modernization." Coffman insisted that the figure of 18 came from the Air Force so that is the requirement.

A long debate ensued about whether the amendment was for 18 or "up to" 18 engines.  A verbal understanding seemed to be reached that "up to 18" was intended, although the amendment says "a total of eighteen." Thornberry pointed out that this is an authorization bill and how many are purchased ultimately is determined by appropriations.  (In fact, the RD-180 issue splits Senate authorizers and appropriators.)

The origin of the 18 number is complicated.  Until last summer, the Air Force and ULA said 14 more RD-180s were needed based on a "block buy" contract that was awarded by the Air Force to ULA in 2013.  The block buy was for 36 launches, 29 of which were Atlas Vs powered by Russia's RD-180s.  At the time of Russia's incursion into Ukraine in 2014, 15 were purchased, leaving 14, of which 5 were under contract.  That left nine.  Congress agreed ULA could continue to procure those.  Last summer, however, William LaPlante, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition), wrote a letter to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) asserting that  "up to 18" were needed.  Air Force officials, including Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, now use 18, or  "about 18," as the requirement. LaPlante's letter did not explain how the number was derived, saying only it is "a reasonable starting point to mitigate risk associated with assured access to space and to enable competition."  (ULA manufactures its rockets in Shelby's home state of Alabama.  Shelby, a top member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and McCain are battling each other over this issue.)

Another layer of the debate is whether research and development (R&D) funding provided by the government to build a U.S.alternative to the RD-180 can be spent only on a new engine or also on a new launch vehicle to go with it.  HASC has insisted that the money be spent only for a new engine -- that a new launch vehicle is not required.  Others insist that an engine is only part of a launch vehicle and the rest must also be built. 

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on the committee (whose district is near Blue Origin's rocket engine manufacturing facility in Kent, WA), offered an amendment that allows not more than 25 percent of the R&D funding to be spent on a new launch vehicle, upper stage, strap-on motor, or related infrastructure.  The amendment allocates $100 million and specifies where the money comes from, which does not appear to be all from R&D accounts.  In response to questions from committee members, Smith explained there is $294 million in the bill for development of the engine and there was money in prior years for the same purpose, but it was only allowed to be used only for the engine.  Not all of the prior year money was spent.  "This amendment does not add any money to anything.  It takes out of that $294 million some money to also help those same companies that are developing the engine develop a launch vehicle to go with it."  The amendment was adopted by voice vote.

The debate was fractious, especially considering the hour (approximately 2:00 am ET) and the length of time the committee had been debating the bill (since 10:00 am ET the previous day).

Two Pro-NASA House Members Lose Primaries

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Apr-2016 (Updated: 27-Apr-2016 08:11 AM)

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) lost Democratic primary contests yesterday.  Both have been strong NASA supporters holding top Democratic positions on key subcommittees.

Edwards lost to Rep. Chris Van Hollen in a bid to replace Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who is retiring at the end of the year.  In Maryland, politicians can run in only one race, so Edwards and Van Hollen both were precluded from running for their current House seats once they decided to enter the Senate contest.   Edwards once worked for Lockheed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.  She is the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee where she is an enthusiastic NASA supporter, especially of its plans to send humans to Mars.  She makes no secret of her desire to be one of those to make the trip.

Van Hollen's views on the space program -- civil, military or commercial -- are not well known.  Like Edwards, he represents a district close to Washington, DC, but has been in the House much longer (since 2002) and rose through the Democratic ranks into the House leadership.  He will face Republican Kathy Szeliga in November.   In his victory speech, Van Hollen praised Milkulski and her focus on not only big national issues, but "you never forget the people back home."   That attitude has benefitted NASA, NOAA and associated businesses throughout Mikulski's political career, so if Van Hollen emulates it, that could be good news for those interest groups if he wins.  Maryland is a strongly Democratic state so Van Hollen is thought to have the edge, but whether voters choose him or Szeliga, the Senate system is built largely on seniority and any freshman has modest influence compared to a veteran legislator like Mikulski.  She is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA (and chaired them when Democrats controlled the Senate).

Fattah was the top Democrat on the House Appropriations CJS subcommittee, but had to step down from that position last year when he was indicted on federal corruption charges.  He maintains his innocence and is still a member of the House, but gave up his CJS leadership position (now held by Rep. Mike Honda, D-CA).  Although Fattah's Philadelphia district has little connection to the space program, he was a strong supporter of NASA on the CJS subcommittee.  His loss to Dwight Evans was attributed largely to his indictment, along with four others, in connection to his failed 2007 campaign for Mayor of Philadelphia.

NASA has many supporters on Capitol Hill and the loss of three (Mikulski, Edwards and Fattah) hardly spells doom, but it does add a layer of uncertainty to how the agency will fare in future deliberations over government spending priorities.

Russia's New Vostochny Launch Site Ready for Action

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Apr-2016 (Updated: 27-Apr-2016 11:18 PM)

Russia plans its first launch from the new Vostochny (Eastern) launch site on Tuesday evening Eastern Daylight Time (Wednesday morning, Moscow Time) according to Russia's Tass news agency.  A Soyuz 2.1a rocket will place three small satellites into orbit if all goes according to plan.

Russia's interest in building a new launch site in Siberia to replace or at least reduce its use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome dates back to the collapse of the Soviet Union when Kazakhstan gained its independence.  Russia now leases Baikonur from the Kazakh government for $115 million per year with resulting financial and national security ramifications.  Russia has another launch site, Plesetsk, near the Arctic Circle, for launches to high inclination orbits, but Baikonur is used for everything else, including the human spaceflight program.  In terms of utilization, Plesetsk is comparable to Vandenberg Air Force Base and Baikonur to Cape Canaveral and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Initially, Russia planned to build a new launch site at Svobodny (51.4°N, 128.1°E), a former intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) base.  A few space launches did take place from there between 1997 and 2006 using Start-1 rockets (converted SS-25 mobile missiles), but it was closed in early 2007.  Instead, a decision was made later that year to build a new state-of-the-art launch site at Vostochny (51.8°N, 128.3°E), not far away, that would accommodate launches of Russia's new Angara launch vehicles in addition to existing rockets like Soyuz.  Construction started four years later, but was plagued with delays and charges of corruption.   The two Angara tests that have taken place so far were launched from Plesetsk.  Anatoly Zak's provides a comprehensive history of Vostochny and Svobodny

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia's aerospace sector, has taken a strong interest in ensuring that Vostochny is completed and regularly tweets (@DRogozin in English; @Rogozin in Russian) about his visits there.  Yesterday he tweeted a photo of the Soyuz rocket on the pad preparing for this week's launch.

Russia's Tass news agency reported on April 19 that although the Soyuz rocket would be ready for launch as early as April 20, Rogozin had said the state commission set April 27 at 5:01 Moscow Time as the launch time.  (Other press reports also cite a potential earlier launch date, but Rogozin presumably is in the best position to know.)  Tass went on to say that Vostochny is "destined to become the first national facility for civilian space launches, ensuring Russia's full-scale access to outer space and reducing the dependence of the Russian space industry on the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan." 

Tass identifies the three satellites aboard the Soyuz rocket as Aist-2D, Mikhailo Lomonosov, and SamSat-218. describes them as follows:  Aist-2D is a 1,170 pound satellite with a hyperspectral imaging camera, innovative P-band radar, and other instruments to study the environment around the spacecraft; SamSat-218 is a student-built (Samara State Aerospace University) satellite about the size of a shoebox with a mission that is both educational and a technology demonstration; and Mikhailo Lomonosov is a 1,000 pound satellite named after an 18th century Russian scientist and writer and namesake of Lomonosov Moscow State University that will study high energy cosmic rays, gamma ray bursts, and Earth's magnetosphere.


What's Happening in Space Policy April 25-29, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Apr-2016 (Updated: 24-Apr-2016 10:36 AM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of April 25-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

After many years of delays, Russia says that it is finally ready to conduct the first launch from its new Siberian launch site, Vostochny.  The launch is April 27 at 5:01 am Moscow Time, which is April 26 (Tuesday) 10:01 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  (We should note that some press reports cite a potentially earlier launch date, but Russia's official news agency, TASS, reported on April 19 that the launch is set for April 27 at 5:01 Moscow Time, so that is what we use here.)  Russia's Roscosmos space agency/state corporation sometimes webcasts launches.  If we hear of any other live webcasts, we'll add them to our calendar entry.  Anatoly Zak at has comprehensive information about Russia's decision to build a new launch site within Russia's borders to handle many of the launches that now take place at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan became an independent country and Russia must lease the facility from the Kazakh government with financial and national security ramifications.  (Russia also has a launch site near the Arctic Circle at Plesetsk for high inclination launches.)

Here in Washington, Congress will be very busy Wednesday morning marking up the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (House Armed Services Committee) and the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act (Senate Commerce Committee), as well as holding a hearing on DOD's FY2017 budget request (Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee). 

The Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will hold their spring meetings this week.  ASEB meets Monday and Tuesday; SSB Tuesday through Thursday.  The meeting on Tuesday is a joint meeting of both boards.  Unfortunately, we're told there will be no webcast of either Board's meetings, which is a shame because the agendas are chock full of really interesting topics and speakers.  Among them is a panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon on the "Future of Low Earth Orbit - Moving Toward a Commercial Market."

Speaking of commercial space, the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meets this week.  Its various working groups meet on Wednesday and the full committee on Thursday.   The agenda was not posted as of this morning, but COMSTAC meetings are always very interesting.

The President of the French space agency, Jean-Yves Le Gall, will speak to the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) on Friday at the University Club.

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 for events that are announced later.

Monday-Tuesday, April 25-26


Tuesday-Thursday, April 26-28

  • Space Studies Board (National Academy of Sciences), Keck Center, 500 5th Street, NW, Washington, DC (April 26 is joint with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board)

Wednesday, April 27

Wednesday-Thursday, April 27-28

  •  COMSTAC, NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington DC

Thursday-Friday, April 28-29

Friday, April 29

Bipartisan Senate Bill Clarifies Space Weather Responsibilities, Promotes Research - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Apr-2016 (Updated: 29-Apr-2016 05:35 PM)

Three Senators introduced legislation yesterday to clarify federal agency responsibilities for space weather research and forecasting.  Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced S. 2817, which allocates specific roles to NOAA, DOD, NASA, NSF and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  NOAA, for example, is directed to "immediately begin planning" to ensure there is no gap in solar observations.  The bill focuses on policy and does not authorize any funding. [UPDATE:  The Senate Commerce committee announced this afternoon that it will mark up the bill on Wednesday, April 27.] [UPDATE 2: The bill was ordered favorably reported from committee.]

Space weather -- the result of particles emitted by the Sun interacting with Earth's atmosphere and potentially damaging satellites and ground-based infrastructure like the electric grid -- is of growing concern.   A 2008 report from the National Research Council raised awareness of the societal and economic impacts of space weather.  NASA has studied solar and space physics, the underlying science behind space weather, for decades as has the European Space Agency (ESA).  Satellites positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point now give warnings of solar eruptions.  NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, CO issues forecasts and alerts when damaging events are expected.

NASA's veteran Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) were joined by the NOAA-NASA-Air Force Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) last year.  ACE was launched in 1997 and SOHO in 1995.  NASA provided three of SOHO's 12 instruments and operates the spacecraft.  SOHO has a type of telescope called a coronagraph that provides the first indication of an eruption on the Sun.  The particles then fly past ACE and DSCOVR, which collect data about intensity and polarization that in turn allow SWPC to make its forecasts.

Last year in its FY2016 budget request, the White House proposed that NASA be responsible for all non-military satellite earth observations, with NOAA responsible only for weather satellites, including space weather.  NOAA requested $2.5 million to begin planning for the next space weather satellite.  Congress agreed with the assignment of responsibilities, but approved only half the funding.  The FY2017 request is also $2.5 million.

In October 2015, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a National Space Weather Strategy and National Space Weather Action Plan.  They set six strategic goals to reduce the nation's vulnerability to space weather.

Some of the OSTP goals, such as establishing benchmarks for space weather events, are contained in the new legislation. the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act.   The bill would clarify the roles and responsibilities of federal agencies for understanding, predicting and forecasting space weather:

  • NOAA and DOD would provide operational space weather forecasts;
  • NASA and NSF would conduct basic heliophysics research, develop next generation technologies, and transfer findings, data and models to operational forecasters;
  • NOAA would immediately begin planning for back-up solar observations to prevent a single point of failure in the current satellite fleet (SOHO's age is of particular concern);
  • the four agencies would begin planning for next-generation observations and science missions;
  • the agencies would develop space weather benchmarks to characterize the nature, frequency, and intensity of expected space weather events; and
  • the Department of Homeland Security would assess the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to space weather events.

The bill has other provisions to foster greater interagency cooperation, multidisciplinary research, and partnerships with international, commercial and academic organizations.   It also directs NASA to "seek to implement" missions identified in the most recent NRC Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics.

Dan Baker, Director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado-Boulder, chaired that Decadal Survey and praised the legislation in a press release issued by the Senators:  "I believe this legislation will be instrumental in helping the nation achieve the kind of operational space weather system that we've long needed."   The CEO and Executive Director of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Christine McEntee, also supports the bill, saying AGU applauds "the bill's intent to further scientifically informed action towards disaster preparation, mitigation, response, and recovery."

The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which announced on April 21 that it will mark up the bill on April 27 at 10:00 am ET (along with several other bills and pending nominations).   All three sponsors of the legislation are members of the committee and of its Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee.  Peters is the ranking member (top Democrat) on that subcommittee.

Update:  This article was updated at 2:20 pm ET on April 21 to reflect the Senate Commerce Committee's announcement that it will mark up the bill next week.

Mikulski: Number One Goal for NASA Budget -- Do No Harm

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Apr-2016 (Updated: 18-Apr-2016 11:16 PM)

In her 27th and final speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable as a member of Congress, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) today continued her strong advocacy for NASA.  While not providing any specifics about what will happen this week as the Senate Appropriations Committee marks up the FY2017 funding bill that includes NASA and NOAA, she said her first goal is "do no harm."   She predicts the bill will be voted on by the full Senate in two-three weeks, which would be a significant accomplishment.  The Senate has not passed any of the 12 stand-alone appropriations bills in several years.

Mikulski is retiring at the end of this year.  She has served in Congress since 1977, first as a member of the House (1977-1987), and then as a Senator.   A social worker by training, her enthusiasm for NASA, NOAA and other federal government science programs grew over time along with her influence in their progress as she rose through the ranks of the appropriations committee.   She was the first woman chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in the last Congress, when Democrats controlled the Senate.  Today she is the top Democrat on the full committee and the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.

At today's luncheon, she said she was meeting with the current CJS subcommittee chair, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), this afternoon to finalize their recommendations for the FY2017 CJS bill, which will be formally marked up at subcommittee level tomorrow afternoon.  Full committee markup is on Thursday.  She joked that "I've got my shoulders squared, I've got my lipstick on, I've got my agenda" and "we're armed and ready" to fight for three principles:

  • Do no harm -- no sequester, no government shut down;
  • Capitalize existing programs -- including the James Webb Space Telescope and other space science programs -- to  make certain they are adequately funded; and
  • Ensure a balanced program of human exploration, reliable space transportation, and aeronautics.

"We will make sure that we will have the resources we need to keep NASA going ... exactly in the direction that it's going in and I will do everything I can to find targeted funding for the new opportunities and the new possibilities..."

She added that she would also strive to make sure there is adequate funding for NOAA's weather satellites and other activities (like fisheries), as well as the National Science Foundation, which is funded in the same bill.

She insisted that the bill would go to the Senate floor in the next two-three weeks.

Noting that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), wants to add $17 billion more for defense, she said she would not fight that effort, but in return she wants to add $17 billion more for science.

"We need to stand up for the future ... and we need to stand up for science, we need to stand up for discovery, we need to stand up for exploration. It is in our national DNA and...  we need to fund it in a way that is sustainable and reliable and undeniable that when you start a project ... you can carry it all the way through."

She continued that "we need to stand up for our scientists."  Not only do they need to be assured of jobs after getting their degrees, but "scientists should not subpoened to talk to the United States Senate ... shouldn't be badgered in the budget ... and we shouldn't pull the plug on them."

Mikulski stressed that although she is retiring from the Senate, she plans to remain involved in supporting science by "putting my energy into young people."  

"Don't think I'm retiring.  Think of me aboard a rocket ship.  I'm moving to a new launch pad and I'm ready to blast off and I'm going to say --  May the Force Be With You."


What's Happening in Space Policy April 18-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Apr-2016 (Updated: 17-Apr-2016 01:47 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of April 18-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

As expected, Congress did not meet the April 15 deadline to pass a FY2017 budget and there is no indication that it will succeed in doing so any time soon.  Nonetheless, the appropriations process must proceed.  This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the bills that fund the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (Transportation-HUD) and NASA and NOAA (Commerce-Justice-Science).  Subcommittee markups are on Tuesday; full committee on Thursday.  That's just a first step -- there's a long way to go -- but will give an indication of how the Senate, at least, is looking at funding those programs.

One of NASA's most stalwart supporters in the Senate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), is retiring this year.  Tomorrow (Monday) she will give her annual speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable, which may offer a preview of what to expect at the CJS markup.  Mikulski is a very powerful advocate for NASA because of her seniority on the appropriations committee (she chaired the full committee and the CJS subcommittee when Democrats controlled the Senate and is the top Democrat on both panels now).  It will be interesting to see if any senior Democratic appropriator steps up to the plate for NASA next year.  CJS also appropriates money to NOAA and Mikulski supports NOAA, too,  but she is more publicly critical of NOAA's management of the weather satellite programs.

The House Armed Services Committee will begin marking up the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week.  (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation?  Or, for that matter, what a markup is?  Read our "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)   Subcommittee markups are on Wednesday and Thursday.  The Strategic Forces subcommittee oversees most defense space issues.  Its markup is on Thursday at noon.  Full committee markup is next week.

On Tuesday, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on small satellites and the commercial space launch industry.  Witnesses are Elliott Pulham of the Space Foundation, Eric Stallmer of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Jason Andrews from Spaceflight Industries, a Seattle-based company that matches customers who need to put small payloads into orbit with launch service providers and offers associated services (like payload integration).

NASA is having one of its "Destination Station" events here in Washington on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but we haven't heard much about it other than a media advisory from Johnson Space Center.  It reveals that the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. segment of the International Space Station (ISS), the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), is having an "industry day" on Thursday.  Oddly, we could find no mention of it on the CASIS website so we don't have any details other than what is in the media advisory.  The most recent "event" on the CASIS website was for something that took place in February.  Perhaps CASIS will update its website soon. NASA's Destination Station website could use an update as well.  We confess that we were not aware that NASA had a Destination Station series of events until now.  Apparently they have been held in various places across the country since 2011.  NASA has a dedicated website for it that features a list of "where we've been, where we're going," but it ends in July 2015.  According to the website, Destination Station is an ISS "national awareness campaign."  It would be hard to find anyone who disagrees that more effort is needed to make the nation aware of ISS.  The Internet is a great way to do that, but out-of-date content doesn't help the cause.

Friday is Earth Day 2016.  Go out and do something nice for our planet!

Monday, April 18

Tuesday April 19

Wednesday-Thursday, April 20-21

Thursday, April 21

Friday, April 22



Bridenstine Releases American Space Renaissance Act, Welcomes Comment

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Apr-2016 (Updated: 13-Apr-2016 08:05 AM)

As promised, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) released a final draft of his American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) at the Space Symposium today.  It will be officially introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday.   Bridenstine created a website devoted exclusively to the legislation and welcomes input. 

Bridenstine said earlier this year that he does not expect the bill to pass en toto.  Instead, he sees it as a repository of plug-and-play provisions that could be inserted into other pieces of legislation, including this year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Bridenstine serves on both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which authorizes NASA and NOAA activities, and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), which oversees defense programs.

The bill would "permanently secure the United States of America as the preeminent spacefaring nation."

Bridenstine created a website where interested persons can read the bill and a section-by-section analysis, provide input, and sign up for updates.  It is a broad bill encompassing military, civil and commercial space activities.  According to the website, the bill's objectives are to:

  • Project military strength and protect our space based capabilities
  • Provide certainty to encourage commercial space innovation, and
  • Promote stability, accountability, and mission clarity at NASA

Drafting legislation typically takes place behind the scenes, with stakeholders lobbying to get favored provisions in and troublesome provisions out. Bridenstine has welcomed input from everywhere, however, posting an initial draft on his website in March and creating a link for input to this current version on the ASRA website.  In a sense, the bill is a potpourri of provisions that align with Bridenstine's view of the world, which champions a strong defense and promotes commercial activities.

A few (yes, just a few) of the provisions in the 110-page bill would --

National Security Space

  • require the President to develop doctrine for responding to deliberately hostile acts against U.S. government, commercial and allied/partner space assets;
  • codify the roles and responsibilities of the Principal Defense Space Advisor (a position that already exists and is filled by the Secretary of the Air Force, but could be eliminated by a future administration if not codified in law);
  • require the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to leverage hosted payloads to the maximum extent practicable;
  • require a number of actions regarding the space- and ground-based components of military satellite communications systems;
  • require the President to establish a National Executive Committee on Weather similar to the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee;
  • require SecDef to develop and certify standards to facilitate the use of commercial weather data;
  • authorize $10 million for a commercial weather data pilot program (Bridenstine created one for NOAA already);
  • prohibit reliance on foreign partners for cloud characterization, theater weather imagery and space-based weather data;
  • after December 31, 2022, instruct DOD to consider bids from launch providers utilizing domestically-built engines as costing 25 percent less than the list cost of the bid for the purpose of the competitive bidding process;
  • require DOD to establish a venture-class launch services program and authorize $27 million to award not less than four contracts (NASA has a venture-class program for very small satellites already);
  • authorize $4 million to conduct studies on allied launch service providers to serve as backup to launch national security missions;
  • require the Secretary of the Air Force to commercialize Air Force Satellite Control Network operations by January 2018

 Civil Space

  • amend the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act to align NASA's mission with a doctrine of pioneering space;
  • direct NASA to be the first to arrive at space destinations, expand access, and put in place infrastructure to facilitate utilization and development;
  • establish a 5-year term for the NASA Administrator;
  • establish a 21-person NASA Leadership and Advising Commission whose members are chosen by Congress to provide a list of candidates for Administrator and provide Congress with an analysis of NASA's annual budget submission and recommend changes;
  • require all NASA appropriations to be multi-year or no-year;
  • establish a $250 million revolving fund to supplement NASA programs suffering development challenges and support infrastructure upgrades;
  • direct the NASA Inspector General to recommend a mechanism for the automatic removal of the Administrator based on program delays or lack of adherence to long term plans;
  • beginning October 1, 2019, require NASA to determine the maximum probable loss associated with commercially-provided launches, and to require launch service providers to obtain certain levels of insurance;
  • establish landing on Mars as NASA's primary human spaceflight priority;
  • express a sense of Congress that the United States should maintain a continuous presence in low Earth orbit and utilize commercial operations for that purpose;
  • by the end of 2018, require NASA to enter into at least one competitively bid agreement to test the viability of a commercially built habitat;
  • effective January 1, 2023, instruct NASA to consider bids from launch providers utilizing domestically-built engines as costing 25 percent less than the list cost of the bid for the purposes of the competitive bid process

Commercial Space

  • establish the position of Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Commercial Space Transportation and designate this person as the Associate Administrator of FAA/AST;
  • authorize appropriations for FAA/AST for 2017-2021, rising from $43.2 million in FY2017 to $99 million in FY2021 (the FY2016 level is $17.8 million);
  • establish an Office of Spaceports within FAA/AST;
  • establish a Space Awareness Advisory Committee to advise on space situational awareness (SSA);
  • direct the Secretary of Transportation to utilize private sector SSA capabilities to the extent practicable;
  • define Space Traffic Management (STM) and direct that a lead government agency for STM be designated, and regulations to prevent collisions in Earth orbit be promulgated, by September 30, 2020;
  • require the Secretary of State to seek bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements with spacefaring nations to standardize regulations and work through interagency and multilateral processes to develop a unified, global space traffic management architecture;
  • direct the NOAA Administrator to promulgate rules on the treatment of weather data from commercial space-based systems to ensure the United States releases only the minimum amount of proprietary data to remain in compliance with World Meteorological Organization Resolution 40 (WMO 40);
  • require NASA to submit a report on how to leverage industry capabilities for Earth science missions;
  • require the Secretary of Commerce to review the feasibility and benefits of rearranging space-related activities within the Department;
  • make changes to how commercial remote sensing licenses are handled;
  • authorize appropriations for 2017-2021 for commercial weather data buys by NOAA, rising from $15 million in FY2017 to $130 million in FY2021 (NOAA has $3 million in FY2016 to evaluate the feasibility of using commercial data in numerical weather models);
  • express a sense of Congress that the Secretary of Transportation has authorities to determine compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty;
  • establish a loan guarantee program within the Department of Commerce to support a domestic space industrial base for national security;
  • permit the Secretary of Transportation to allow experimental aircraft to be used for commercial compensation for spaceflight training

Editor's Note:  The section-by-section portion of the website is NOT user-friendly.  Here's a hint:  be sure to use the sliding scale at the bottom of the webpage to make the font large enough to read, not the more obvious + sign to which we are all so accustomed.   And be forewarned -- there are a lot of ads.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 11-15, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Apr-2016 (Updated: 10-Apr-2016 10:38 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of April 11-15, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate both are in session this week.

During the Week

The Appropriations Committees on both sides of Capitol Hill will begin marking up the FY2017 appropriations bills this week and adopting the "302(b)" allocations that dictate how much money each of the 12 subcommittees can spend.  Usually that step comes after the House and Senate have passed Budget Resolutions to set the overall amount of money Congress can spend in a given year, but no Budget Resolutions have passed yet and it is not clear that any will.  Congress has ways around the Budget Resolution process (this wouldn't be the first year that Congress could not pass one) and since the budget deal worked out last fall between Congress and the White House covers FY2017, the total spending figures exist already.  Tea Party Republicans do not like them, though, and want a new deal to reduce spending for non-defense programs, which is complicating House action on a Budget Resolution.  Time is marching on, however, and the appropriations committees need to act so they are going to get the markups underway.   Those scheduled for this week do NOT include Commerce-Justice-Science (which includes NASA and NOAA) or the main Defense Appropriations bill, although both will mark up the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill.  (The other bills scheduled for markup at subcommittee or full committee level this week are Energy-Water in both the House and Senate, and the Agriculture bill in the House.)

TOTALLY unrelated to space policy, but perhaps of interest to our readers who are U2 fans, Bono is scheduled to testify to the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations on Tuesday at 2:00 pm ET.   The topic is "causes and consequences of violent extremism and the role of foreign assistance."

Most of the space policy action this week will be in Colorado Springs, CO at the Space Foundation's Space Symposium.  There are many interesting sessions at the conference itself, including the Space Agencies Leaders panel Tuesday morning and Rep. Jim Bridenstine's talk just afterwards where he will release his draft American Space Renaissance Act.  Side events also will be of interest, starting tomorrow (Monday) afternoon when Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance will announce a new partnership at 4:00 pm Mountain Time (6:00 pm Eastern).  That press conference will be webcast.  (There is no indication that any sessions of the conference itself will be webcast.)

If you can't get to Colorado, ASCE is having an interesting conference in Orlando this week on engineering in extreme environments, including space.  A pre-conference 8-hour short course on "Space Mining and Planetary Surface Construction" kicks that conference off tomorrow.

And, of course, Tuesday, April 12, is the 55th anniversary of the launch of the first man in space -- the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin.  "Yuri's Night" events are scheduled around the world to celebrate his April 12, 1961 historic achievement of orbiting the Earth one time.  (Alan Shepard was the first American to reach space, which he did three weeks later on May 5, 1961, but his was a suborbital, not orbital, flight.  The first American to orbit Earth was John Glenn on February 20, 1962.)

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

Monday, April 11

Monday-Thursday, April 11-14

Monday-Friday, April 11-15

Tuesday, April 12

  • Yuri's Night, various times, various locations around the globe

Wednesday, April 13