Military / National Security News
The United States Government filed a request with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims late yesterday asking the court to dissolve its injunction against the government or United Launch Alliance (ULA) from making payments to Russia because it might violate sanctions imposed by President Obama against Russian Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin.
The court enjoined the Air Force and ULA from making payments to the Russian entity NPO Energomash for RD-180 engines, used for ULA's Atlas V rocket, on April 30. Judge Susan Braden ruled that no such payments could be made until the court received the opinion of the Departments of the Treasury, State and Commerce that such payments did not violate the sanctions against Rogozin, who oversees Russia's space sector. Rogozin was among the first group of Russians sanctioned by President Obama in Executive Order 13661 in March because of Russia's actions in Ukraine.
In yesterday's filing, the government provided letters from each of the three government departments that "collectively, demonstrate that, as of the issuance of those letters, purchases from or payments to NPO Energomash would not directly or indirectly contravene" the sanctions. The government therefore requested that the court dissolve the April 30 injunction and also asked for expedited consideration of the matter. ULA joined in the motion.
The motion is related to a lawsuit SpaceX filed regarding the Air Force's block buy of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle cores from ULA. SpaceX's complaint is that the contract was awarded on a sole source rather than competed basis and it did not seek the judge's injunction against payments to Russia. The lawsuit did discuss the fact that ULA uses Russian engines and that Rogozin oversees the Russian space sector and that he is sanctioned by the U.S. government, leading the judge to issue the injunction.
Today, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) released the "chairman's mark" for the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will be marked up on Wednesday. Also, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it will markup the FY2015 bill that includes NASA and NOAA on Thursday.
The HASC Chairman's mark is the text of the bill (H.R. 4435) that the committee will use as the basis for amendments at Wednesday's markup that begins at 10:00 am ET. Typically these HASC markups are lengthy affairs lasting hours and hours as amendments are offered, debated, adopted, rejected, or withdrawn.
The text of the chairman's mark appears to contain all of the recommendations adopted by the Strategic Forces subcommittee last week, although the $220 million added by the subcommittee for developing a U.S. alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engines is reduced by $23 million. It also --
Generally, the other space programs in the NDAA are funded at their requested levels.
Separately, the House Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2015 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill on Thursday. The CJS subcommittee marked up the bill last week, adding a significant amount of money for NASA. Specifics on how much is in the bill for NOAA's satellite programs were not released last week other than to say that the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series are fully funded.
UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee markup of the FY2015 CJS bill on Thursday has been added (it was announced today, May 5).
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
Activities in Congress will certainly be interesting, but meetings organized by other groups may grab the headlines.
In Congress, the House Armed Services Committee will markup the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Wednesday. Its subcommittees did their own markups last week (the Strategic Forces subcommittee made some interesting space-related recommendations), but generally speaking the real action takes place at full committee markup, often a marathon session lasting hours and hours. Entirely separately, on Friday, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on Space Traffic Management and how to avoid what happened in the fanciful (but entertaining) movie Gravity. They've got a real life (former) astronaut as one of the witnesses -- George Zamka, who is now a top official at the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
In other events, to pick just two:
But those are just samples. A list of what we know about as of Sunday evening (with an update on Monday afternoon) is provided below.
Monday-Friday, May 5-9, 2014
Tuesday, May 6
Wednesday, May 7
Wednesday-Thursday, May 7-8
Thursday, May 8
Friday, May 9
United Launch Alliance (ULA) issued a strongly worded statement today about SpaceX's lawsuit and a judge's ruling yesterday enjoining the government or ULA from buying RD-180 engines from Russia until the court is notified by three government departments that such purchases would not violate U.S. sanctions against Russia.
U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Susan Braden issued the injunction in response to a lawsuit filed Monday by SpaceX protesting a December 2013 contract award from the Air Force to ULA for 36 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) cores. ULA, jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, uses two EELV rockets -- Atlas V and Delta IV -- to launch just about all of the nation's national security satellites as well as spacecraft for NASA. The Atlas V is powered by Russian RD-180 engines.
The injunction prohibits the Air Force or ULA from making payments to Russia's NPO Energomash, which builds the engines, until the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce and State inform the court that the payments do not violate sanctions imposed by the United States against Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who oversees Russia's space sector.
SpaceX is challenging the award of the EELV contract on a sole source basis instead of allowing competition. The lawsuit does not seek an injunction against the purchase of RD-180 engines, but discussed them in the lawsuit and issued a statement today praising the judge's decision.
In response, ULA said it would work with the Department of Justice to resolve the injunction "expeditiously." It called SpaceX's actions "opportunistic" and an attempt to "circumvent the requirements imposed" on others. It also noted that NASA and "numerous other companies" do business with NPO Energomash, other Russian companies and the Russian government. The full text of the ULA statement is:
“ULA is deeply concerned with this ruling and we will work closely with the Department of Justice to resolve the injunction expeditiously. In the meantime, ULA will continue to demonstrate our commitment to our National Security on the launch pad by assuring the safe delivery of the missions we are honored to support.
“SpaceX’s attempt to disrupt a national security launch contract so long after the award ignores the potential implications to our National Security and our nation's ability to put Americans on board the International Space Station. Just like ULA, NASA and numerous other companies lawfully conduct business with the same Russian company, other Russia state-owned industries, and Russian Federation agencies. This opportunistic action by SpaceX appears to be an attempt to circumvent the requirements imposed on those who seek to meet the challenging launch needs of the nation and to avoid having to follow the rules, regulations and standards expected of a company entrusted to support our nation's most sensitive missions.”
A U.S. Federal Claims Court judge issued an injunction last night that prohibits the Air Force or United Launch Alliance (ULA) from purchasing RD-180 engines from Russia until the Department of Treasury, Department of Commerce and Department of State determine that it does not violate U.S. sanctions. The ruling was made in response to a lawsuit filed eariier this week by SpaceX over the Air Force's block buy of rockets from ULA although this was not one of the remedies SpaceX sought.
The three page injunction issued by Judge Susan Braden on April 30 cites Executive Order 13661, which places Russian Deputy Prime MInister Dmitry Rogozin on the list of individuals sanctioned because of Russia's actions in Ukraine, and April 28 restrictions on exports announced by the Departments of State and Commerce. Rogozin is in charge of Russia's space sector.
Consequently, Judge Braden ruled that the public interest and national defense and security concerns that underlie E.O. 13661 "warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction" that prohibits the Air Force and ULA from making "any purchase from or payment of money to NPO Energomash or any entity ... that is subject to control of Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin" until the court receives an opinion from the Departments of Treasury, State and Commerce that they do not "directly or indirectly contravene" the Executive Order. She added that the injunction does not apply to purchase orders already placed or money already paid to NPO Energomash.
SpaceX agreed with the action: "The U.S. Court of Federal Claims took a prudent step toward understanding whether United Launch Alliance’s current sole-source contract violates U.S. sanctions by sending taxpayer money to Russia for the RD-180 engine. That question – as well as others relating to the risks posed by dependence on Russian-made engines and the need to open competition for the Air Force space launch program – are timely and appropriate."
SpaceX filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on Monday seeking an injunction against the Air Force proceeding with its block buy of 36 launch vehicle cores from the ULA because the contract was awarded on a sole source basis rather than competed.
UPDATE, April 30, 2014: The subcommittee adopted the draft in less than 10 minutes today. Amendments were deferred until full committee markup next week (May 7). Two subcommittee Democrats rued the fact that important issues were not being debated at subcommittee level by the members most knowledgeable about them, but it was apparent a deal had been struck to defer discussion and action to the full committee.
ORIGINAL STORY, April 29, 2014: The Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will markup its section of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday, April 30. A draft of the subcommittee's portion of the bill provides $220 million to DOD to begin development of a U.S.-built liquid rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180 engines used for the Atlas V rocket.
Tensions over Russia's actions in Ukraine have added visibility to the extent to which the U.S. space program relies on Russia. From crew transportation to and from the International Space Station (ISS) to engines for the Atlas V rocket, which is used to launch national security satellites as well as spacecraft for NASA, the increasing dependence of U.S. space activities on its Cold War competitor but more recent partner has gone largely unnoticed in Congress. Lockheed Martin, which builds the Atlas V, insists that it has a two-year supply of RD-180 engines in stock as a buffer against any change in the geopolitical relationship, but the deteriorating situation is providing impetus to decision makers to make funding available to develop a new U.S. liquid rocket engine.
The subcommittee draft also explicitly supports DOD's December 2013 block buy of rocket cores from the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the Altas V and Delta IV rockets -- jointly called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs). SpaceX, which is trying to compete against ULA for government launches, filed suit against the Air Force yesterday on the basis that the contract should have been awarded competitively rather than on a sole source basis. The subcommittee draft does direct the Air Force to provide "opportunities" for competition by certified launch providers, but clearly supports the block buy. SpaceX is going through the certification process now.
Other space-related provisions in the draft bill include:
Subcommittee markup is at noon EDT on April 30.
Statements attributed to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin appear to be the first public linkage between tensions over Ukraine and the future of U.S. astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). U.S. officials have repeatedly insisted that the ISS would not be affected by the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations. This appears to be the first public statement by a Russian official.
Russia's Interfax news agency reportedly quoted Rogozin as saying that "Sanctions are always a boomerang which come back and painfully hit those who launched them." He also reportedly said that if the aim of new sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration yesterday are intended "to deliver a blow to Russia's rocket-building sector, then by default they would be exposing their astronauts on the ISS." The Obama Administration announced restrictions on exports to Russia yesterday for items on the U.S. Munitions List -- which includes commercial satellites -- if they might aid Russia's military. Details were not provided.
Rogozin's comments were in Russian and English translations were reported by a number of western news outlets, some of which also cited remarks along the same lines on Rogozin's Russian-language Twitter account. Alan Boyle of NBC News reports that Rogozin suggested via Twitter that the United States "bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline."
The United States and the other non-Russian partners in the ISS have had to rely on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get back and forth to the ISS on a routine basis since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011. The ISS crews also must rely on the Soyuz spacecraft as "lifeboats" in case they need to evacuate the station in an emergency. Today, there are three Russians, two Americans and one Japanese aboard the ISS. NASA continues to report that all is well there. Russia and the United States jointly operate the ISS and it would extremely difficult for one to operate it without the other.
The United States, Europe, Japan and Canada -- all partners in the ISS -- each announced new sanctions against Russia in the past two days because of its activities in Ukraine. CNN has a handy list of the individuals and entities that have been sanctioned so far. None appears to be directly related to space station activities other than Rogozin himself, who was among the first group of Russians sanctioned by the United States in March. As noted, the Obama Administration also is restricting exports to Russia that might aid Russia's military. It also instructed NASA to limit its cooperation with Russia other than for activities that are exempted, such as ISS.
Congressional actions are also reflecting the current tensions. The House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces subcommittee is preparing to mark up its section of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act tomorrow. Among other things, it plans to provide $220 million to DOD to develop an American-built liquid rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180 engines used for Atlas V rockets. Instead of referring to "Russian" engines, though, the language refers to "non-allied." The bill also requires a report from DOD assessing threats to U.S. space operations especially from China and Russia.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, said in a speech yesterday, that the United States is facing "real competition in space" not only from China, but "for the first time since the end of the Cold War, an overtly hostile Russia that is threatening our allies in Europe."
Orbital Sciences Corporation and ATK announced this morning that they will merge into a new company, Orbital ATK, headed by Orbital's President and CEO David Thompson. The deal is expected to close in December 2014.
The merged company will be headquartered in Dulles, VA where Orbital currently is located and will have eight major operating locations in Arizona, California, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. ATK will spin-off its sporting group to its shareholders, who will hold 100 percent ownership of it. ATK shareholders will own 53.8 percent of Orbital ATK and Orbital shareholders will own the other 46.2 percent. The merger will be a stock-for-stock exchange using the tax-free "Morris" structure.
Calling it a "merger of equals," a presentation from the companies point out the synergies. Orbital develops and manufacturers small- and medium-class space systems, space and suborbital launch vehicles, commercial and scientific satellites, and advanced space systems for national security and human exploration. ATK produces solid rocket propulsion systems for space and strategic applications; precision weapons, missile warning systems and tactical rocket motors; munitions; and composite aerostructures and satellite components.
The merged company will have 13,000 employees and combined revenue of $4.5 billion.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney released a statement this morning (April 28, 2014) announcing that additional sanctions are being placed on Russia because of the situation in Ukraine. Asset freezes on 17 Russian companies and export license restrictions are among the new sanctions.
The statement is general so it is not clear at this point whether any of the actions will affect space-related activities. The relevant part of the statement is as follows:
"The Department of the Treasury is imposing sanctions on seven Russian government officials, including two members of President Putin’s inner circle, who will be subject to an asset freeze and a U.S. visa ban, and 17 companies linked to Putin’s inner circle, which will be subject to an asset freeze. In addition, the Department of Commerce has imposed additional restrictions on 13 of those companies by imposing a license requirement with a presumption of denial for the export, re-export or other foreign transfer of U.S.-origin items to the companies. Further, today the Departments of Commerce and State have announced a tightened policy to deny export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities. Those Departments also will revoke any existing export licenses that meet these conditions."
Later in the day, the White House released a transcript of a telephone briefing in which a few -- but not many -- details were provided. Two members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle were sanctioned and 17 "entities" that are "affiliated with the oligarchs we designated a few weeks ago, on March 20, including the Rotenberg brothers and Gennady Timchenko."
Perhaps of more direct important to space activities are export restrictions. A "senior administration official" says that export license applications at both the Department of State and Department of Commerce have been on hold since the beginning of March and they are being scrutinized to "see which ones involve technology that the Russian defense industrial complex is in need of, and those are the ones that will be denied." Microelectronics was cited as one example.
Meanwhile, the State Department said that "effective immediately" the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls will "deny pending applications for export or re-export of any high-technology defense articles or services regulated under the U.S. Munitions List ... that contribute to Russia's military capabilities." It also will revoke any existing licenses that meet those conditions. Other pending applications will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The Obama Administration is in the process of updating export control regulations on commercial satellites, but at the moment they remain on the U.S. Munitions List. Several Russian rockets, including Proton, Soyuz, Zenit (which is partially Ukrainian), and Dnepr, are used to launch satellites that are manufactured in the United States or contain U.S. components. Whether the Administration deems them to "contribute to Russia's military capabilities" is an open question. Two other interesting facets of the issue are that International Launch Services (ILS), which markets the Proton rocket commercially, is a U.S.-based company, and the Soyuz rocket is launched not only from Russia, but from Europe's Kourou launch site in South America a part of a European-Russian arrangement. The United States wants to present a united front with Europe in imposing sanctions, but Europe has not announced its plans yet.
Note: this article was updated at 11:00 pm ET on April 28, 2014.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate will be back in session after a two-week spring break with a full agenda of NASA, NOAA and national security space decisions on tap.
During the Week
House committees and subcommittees will be making decisions on budgets and policy for the nation's space program this week as they mark up appropriations and authorization legislation. (Not sure what a markup is? Or the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See our fact sheet: What's a Markup? Answers to That and Other Mysteries of the Legislative Process.)
Customarily the House acts on appropriations legislation before the Senate, and, indeed, the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee is still holding hearings on FY2015 budget requests for the agencies under its jurisdiction. Its hearing on NASA's request is on Thursday.
Also of interest is a House SS&T Environment Subcommittee hearing on NOAA's FY2015 budget request on Wednesday.
NASA is engaged in a full court press to articulate the outline of the agency's plan on sending humans to Mars and how the Asteroid Redirect Mission fits into it. After meeting with the NASA Advisory Counci a week and a half ago and participating in a three-day Humans 2 Mars summit at George Washington University last week, NASA will hold its own public "exploration forum" at NASA Headquarters on Tuesday afternoon (interestingly, the House SS&T committee is marking up the NASA authorization bill at the same time, which, we imagine, is entirely coincidental).
Lots of other interesting events are scheduled, including a symposium on Capitol Hill sponsored by the American Astronautical Society on Thursday highlighting science experiments conducted on the International Space Station and Women in Aerospace's annual conference on Wednesday featuring top government officials including Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.
Here's the list of everything we know about as of Sunday morning.
Tuesday, April 29
Wednesday, April 30
Thursday, May 1