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Military / National Security News

What's Happening In Space Policy October 13-17, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Oct-2014 (Updated: 12-Oct-2014 01:34 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of October 13-17, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress is in recess until November 12.

During the Week

The event likely to attract the most attention this week is the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS).  The speaker line-up is an intriguing array of "traditional space" and "new space" luminaries, although the description of Bill Gerstenmaier's talk may say it best:  "Never before have the titles of 'old space' and 'new space' been as trivial as they are today." 

Just to illustrate the breadth of speakers (sorry we can't list everyone -- the program is here), in addition to Gerstenmaier (NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations), speakers include Clay Mowry (Arianespace), George Sowers (United Launch Alliance), George Whitesides (Virgin Galactic), Stuart Will (Mojave Air and Space Port), Barry Matsumori (SpaceX), Brett Alexander (Blue Origin), Doug Loverro (DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy), John Shannon (Boeing), Mark Sirangelo (Sierra Nevada Space Systems), Doug Young (Northrop Grumman) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM). 

Most unfortunately, if you can't be there in person, you're out of luck.  The conference's media contact says none of the sessions will be webcast live, though "a few of the keynotes" may be posted online in a month or two.

That and other events we know about as of this afternoon (Sunday) are listed below.

Tuesday, October 14

Wednesday, October 15

  • ISS Spacewalk (2 NASA astronauts), begins approximately 8:10 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins at 7:00 am ET)

Wednesday-Thursday, October 15-16

Wednesday-Friday, October 15-17

Friday-Tuesday, October 17-21

What's Happening in Space Policy October 6-10, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Oct-2014 (Updated: 05-Oct-2014 01:31 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of October 6-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress is in recess until November 12.

During the Week

World Space Week 2014 continues (it began on Saturday) with events worldwide commemorating the beginning of the Space Age on October 4, 1957 and the benefits derived from space over the decades. This year's theme is "Space: Guiding Your Way" and the DC chapter of the International Space University alumni association will hold a Space Café on Tuesday featuring James Miller, who works for NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program.

Two of the five standing committees of the National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) will meet this week.  The five committees align with the five Decadal Surveys the SSB produces that advise NASA and other agencies on the top space science priorities.  The committees provide a forum to maintain discussion about the topics in between the once-a-decade (hence "decadal") reports.   This is the first meeting of the new Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, formed after completion of the first Decadal Survey for that field of research, which was published in 2011.  It is meeting at the NRC's Keck Center on 5th Street Tuesday and Wednesday, though the sessions on Wednesday are closed to the public.  The SSB's Committee on Solar and Space Physics will meet Tuesday-Thursday across town at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Ave.  It will have open sessions the first two days.  (If you're keeping track, the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences and the Committee on Earth Science and Applications in Space met in September; the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics meets in November.)

On Tuesday the first of two "U.S." spacewalks scheduled for October will take place from the International Space Station (ISS).  They are "U.S." because they involve tasks on the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) and the spacewalkers will be wearing U.S. spacesuits, but one of the two is Europe's Alexander Gerst (joining NASA's Reid Wiseman) so it really is a U.S./ESA spacewalk.  Next week (October 15) Wiseman and NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore will do another spacewalk, and the week after that, on October 22, two of the Russian cosmonauts will do a spacewalk on their segment of the ISS.  It's a busy time on the ISS with visiting spacecraft coming and going in addition to those spacewalks.   Three new crewmembers just arrived on September 25.   Two cargo spacecraft, a Russian Progress and SpaceX Dragon, already docked there will depart and be replaced by a new Progress and an Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus later this month.

Those and other events for the week of October 6-10 that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

October 6-10, Monday- Friday

Tuesday, October 7

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 7-8

Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9

Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10

Thursday, October 9

 

IAC2014 Day Three: Stratolaunch and Sierra Nevada Courting on Dream Chaser

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Oct-2014 (Updated: 02-Oct-2014 12:50 AM)

One of the highlights at today’s (October 1) International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) was a presentation by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Vulcan Inc., Paul Allen’s investment group that is funding the development of Stratolaunch.  The two companies are discussing a potential partnership wherein Stratolaunch would be used to launch a 75 percent version of Dream Chaser into low Earth orbit (LEO).

Vulcan oversees Paul Allen’s financial interests, ranging from the Seattle Seahawks to real estate to philanthropy to Allen’s “pet thing” – space exploration, according to Chuck Beames, who briefed an IAC2014 crowd along with SNC’s Mark Sirangleo.  Beames heads Vulcan Aerospace, a Vulcan division, and is Executive Director of Stratolaunch.  He joined Vulcan earlier this year after serving as principal director, space and intelligence, to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and overseeing the acquisition restructuring of the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is perhaps best known in the space business as the financial backer of  Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne design, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004.  One of Allen’s current projects is Stratolaunch, an aircraft that would serve as a launch platform for a three-stage rocket, Thunderbolt, to send people or cargo into suborbital or orbital spaceflight.  As Beames described it, Stratolaunch, with a 385 foot wingspan, can launch 13,500 pounds into low Earth orbit (LEO).  The plane is expected to have its first flight in 2016 with a demonstration space launch in 2018.

A Stratolaunch-Dream Chaser system envisions using Stratolaunch to launch a 75 percent version of Dream Chaser into space with cargo or two-three crew.  It could launch and return to the launch site within 24 hours in a “responsive space” mode.  It could take off from anywhere in the world and deliver cargo or people to any inclination orbit and, with its cross-range capability, land anywhere there is a runway that can handle a 747 or A320 aircraft.

SNC has a strong presence here at IAC2014, with company officials, including Sirangleo, stressing the company's 26-year history in the space business and Dream Chaser's origin as a NASA design for returning crews from the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA's program, HL-20, was cancelled and SNC picked it up.  SNC is one of the three companies supported by NASA in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program, but recently lost out to Boeing and SpaceX on the final phase, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP).  SNC is protesting that decision.

Beames said taking crews or cargo to the ISS is only one possibility and that as a former "Air Force guy" he is “excited” about the military possibilities of such a capability.  In a later interview, he offered the example of launching smaller versions of GPS to reconstitute the GPS constellation on an as-needed basis. 

Beames stressed that no final decision has been made on the partnership and the next step is to "mature the architecture." 

 

What's Happening in Space Policy September 29-October 10, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2014 (Updated: 28-Sep-2014 05:26 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks and any insight we can offer about them.   Congress returns on November 12.

During the Week

We are here in Toronto to cover the annual International Astronautical Congress, the joint meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and International Institute of Space Law (IISL).  As always, it promises to be fascinating ... and overwhelming.  So many sessions, so little time.  It'll be quite a challenge to choose the "best" sessions to cover, but we'll do what we can.

If you're not here and are back in Washington, DC, be sure not to miss Adam Steltzner's lecture at the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday afternoon.  He is the winner of the first Yvonne C. Brilll Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering.  The lecture was created by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering in honor of Brill, a distinguished aerospace engineer who passed way last year.

Lots more going on.  Our list of what we know about as of Sunday afternoon follows. 

Monday, September 29

Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3

Tuesday, September 30

Saturday-Friday, October 4-10, 2014

Tuesday, October 7

Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9

Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10

Thursday, October 9

 

What's Happening in Space Policy September 21-October 3, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2014 (Updated: 21-Sep-2014 02:04 PM)

Here is our list of events for the next TWO weeks, September 21-October 3, 2014, starting with MAVEN's arrival at Mars tonight (Sunday).   Congress is in recess until November 12.

During the Weeks

Mars will get two new visitors this week.  NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is due to enter orbit around Mars tonight, September 21, at 9:37 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).   Signal travel time between Mars and Earth means that NASA won't know certain that everything went smoothly until 9:50 pm EDT.   NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 pm EDT.  

On Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning local time in India), India's first mission to Mars, Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM), will join MAVEN and three other U.S. and European spacecraft orbiting Mars.   MOM is scheduled to fire its engine to enter orbit at 07:17 Indian Standard Time on Wednesday (9:47 pm Tuesday EDT).  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has not announced its plans for live coverage. Check the ISRO website for up to date information.

Back here in Earth orbit, SpaceX's CRS-4 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), with its cargo of mice, fruit flies, spacesuit batteries, a 3D printer and many other supplies and scientific experiments, will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday morning at 7:04 am ET.  Two days later three new ISS crew members will launch to and dock with the ISS on Soyuz TMA-14M.

Meanwhile, here on terra firma, there are many interesting events on the schedule.  John Logsdon will provide an update on his research for his upcoming book Richard Nixon and the American Space Program at 4:00 pm EDT on Monday at the National Air and Space Museum.  The event is free, but you MUST register in advance in order to access the museum's office area.  Later on Monday (8:00 pm EDT), the Secure World Foundation and The Space Show will host a webinar on Satellites and Disaster Management.  The NASA Advisory Council's heliophysics subcommittee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday at NASA Headquarters, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose will talk to the AIAA National Capital Section in Arlington, VA on Thursday.

Quite a full week, as many in the space community also get ready to head to Toronto for the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) next week.  It officially runs from September 29-October 3, but there are a number of associated meetings in the days preceding the conference beginning on September 25.

For those not traveling to Toronto, there are two very interesting events in the Washington, DC area that week.  On Monday, September 29, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will talk to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD.

On Tuesday afternoon (September 30), the inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering will be presented at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington (the one on the Mall, not on 5th Street).  This first Brill Lectureship, created in honor of the distinguished aerospace engineer Yvonne Brill, was awarded to Adam Steltzner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Steltzer led the entry, descent and landing team for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.  Steltzer's lecture will be on "Engineering and the Mars Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) System."

Here is the list of the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, September 21, for the two-week period through October 3, 2014.

Sunday, September 21

Monday, September 22

Tuesday, September 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 23-24

Thursday, September 25

Thursday-Sunday, September 25-28

Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3

Monday, September 29

Tuesday, September 30

Texas Launch Site Groundbreaking Caps Busy Week for SpaceX

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Sep-2014 (Updated: 21-Sep-2014 02:08 AM)

SpaceX will break ground for its new launch site near Brownsville, TX on Monday, September 22, 2014.  It will cap quite a busy week-long period for the entrepreneurial space launch company that started with winning a CCtCAP award from NASA and, hopefully, launching a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend.

On Tuesday, NASA awarded SpaceX one of two Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts (Boeing got the other).  The $2.6 billion contract is for SpaceX to complete development of its Dragon V2 spacecraft for taking astronauts to and from the ISS, fly a demonstration mission, and up to six missions thereafter.  NASA’s goal is to have SpaceX and/or Boeing commercial crew vehicles operational by 2017.  Boeing received a $4.2 billion award.

Right now, SpaceX is waiting for the weather to cooperate at Cape Canaveral, FL for the launch of its fourth operational “commercial cargo” to the ISS, Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-4.  The SpaceX CRS-4 cargo mission was supposed to launch early this morning, but was postponed to early tomorrow morning (September 21, 1:52 am ET) because of bad weather.  The forecast is only 40 percent favorable for launch tomorrow morning.   If it is delayed again, the next opportunity is on September 23.

Both the commercial crew and commercial cargo programs are essentially public-private partnerships where NASA and the private sector each provide funding for development (instead of the government providing all of the funds), with the government serving as a market for the resulting services.  SpaceX competes with Orbital Sciences Corporation for the commercial cargo launches.  Its competition for commercial crew will be Boeing and perhaps other companies that are willing to proceed without government funds in the hope that the market for taking people to and from space is larger than just NASA.

Meanwhile on September 22, SpaceX will break ground near Boca Chica Beach, TX, close to Brownsville, for an orbital launch facility which it hopes will be completed by 2016.  The FAA approved SpaceX’s application to conduct launches from the site in July.  The license allows up to 12 commercial launch operations per year of the Falcon 9 and prospective SpaceX rockets including Falcon Heavy and “a variety of reusable suborbital vehicles.” The launch site is on 68.9 acres of land just three miles north of the U.S./Mexico border.   Space launches from there can travel out over the Gulf of Mexico, avoiding overflight of land during the early stages of launch just like the other U.S. orbital sites in Virginia (Wallops Island), Florida (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's adjacent Kennedy Space Center), California (Vandenberg Air Force Base) and Alaska (Kodiak).  By having its own launch site, SpaceX will have more flexibility in launch dates by not having to coordinate with other users.  SpaceX currently launches from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.  It will continue to use those facilities when necessary and its commercial crew flights will launch from Pad 39A at KSC, which SpaceX is leasing from NASA.

Note:  SpaceX CRS-4 was successfully launched at 1:52 am EDT, September 21, 2014.

Senate Passes FY2015 CR

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Sep-2014 (Updated: 18-Sep-2014 07:20 PM)

The Senate just passed the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the government through December 11, 2014 and avoiding a government shutdown.

The House and Senate are still in session at this hour (September 18, 7:00 pm EDT), but are expected to adjourn later today and not return until after the November elections.

The vote on the CR, which also includes a limited authorization for President Obama to take military actions related to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was 78-22.  The bill passed the House yesterday and now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it.

The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion.  Government agencies including NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0544 percent across-the-board reduction to pay for new activities included in the bill that are primarily related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  Two space-related provisions allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extend the authorization for the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015.

ULA, Blue Origin Announce Partnership on U.S. Alternative to RD-180 Engine

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Sep-2014 (Updated: 18-Sep-2014 09:11 AM)

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin announced a partnership today to produce Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine for use in future ULA rockets.

ULA currently launches the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.  The Atlas V uses Russian RD-180 rocket engines and recent geopolitical tensions with Russia have galvanized interest in building an American-made alternative.

At a press conference today, ULA President Tory Bruno said BE-4 (Blue Engine 4) is not a "one-to-one replacement" for the RD-180 because two BE-4 engines are needed instead of one RD-180, but the BE-4 offers an opportunity to "jump into the 21st century to get more performance at lower cost."  Bruno said the first flight of a ULA rocket with a BE-4 engine would take place in four years, followed by an "appropriate" certification period, after which use of ULA rockets with BE-4s would be "feathered in" with existing ULA rockets over time.  

Therefore this announcement has no impact on the block-buy of 36 engine cores for ULA's existing rockets (called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles or EELVs) by the Air Force announced last year that is the subject of a lawsuit by SpaceX.

Blue Origin, created and owned by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, has been working on the BE-4 for three years.  A less powerful version, BE-3, has completed development and is about to enter flight testing, Bezos said.   The BE-3 is for Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital rocket to take people to the edge of space.  The company's overall goal is "reliable, cost-effective human access to space."

Bruno said that ULA’s choice of Blue Origin resulted from a set of contracts it established in June with multiple U.S. companies to develop technical concepts and perform business case analyses for alternative engines.  Blue Origin won, he said, because it is so far ahead of other companies, having spent three years already on BE-4, and because its “innovative technology” will allow ULA to modernize and reduce recurring costs.   He declined to provide specifics on the degree of cost reduction, saying only that it would be "substantial."

The BE-4 is a first stage engine and is designed to be reusable.  It uses liquid oxygen (LOX) and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), a form of methane, as fuel.  It has 550,000 pounds of thrust.  Bezos said the company already had 10,000 seconds of test time, with hundreds of starts and relatively few failures, on the smaller BE-3.  Testing of the BE-4 is expected to begin in 2016.

At the press conference, Bruno and Bezos beamed about the new partnership, although they were not willing to disclose the financial aspects of their relationship.   Bezos exclaimed that one positive feature of the BE-4 is that it is “fully funded,” but when asked about the details of the financial arrangements, he said only that no equity investments are involved and ULA is contributing a “significant” amount to engine development “but we are not disclosing how much.”  For its part, Blue Origin is “committed to finishing the engine,” he said.

Bruno emphasized that ULA will continue to use the same upper stages as it does now with Delta IV and Atlas V, and has no plans to change the Delta IV RS-68 engine.  As for future vehicles, however, he said trade studies were still underway as to whether BE-4 would be the only engine or just one of several.   Bezos responded that Blue Origin's goal is "to make the engine so operable, so low cost, so reliable that ULA would be crazy to use anything else."

They emphasized that today's announcement is not related to yesterday's announcement of the winners of NASA's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts.  One of the two CCtCAP awardees, Boeing, plans to use ULA's Atlas V as the launch vehicle for its CST-100 crew spacecraft, and Blue Origin is one of Boeing's CCtCAP partners.  "Of course we're a part of Boeing's team," Bezos said, "and we stand ready to help them in any way they want us to."   He said earlier, however, that Blue Origin is still committed to building its own capability to send humans into space by the end of this decade.

Senate Expected to Pass CR Tomorrow; Could Consider NASA Authorization

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Sep-2014 (Updated: 17-Sep-2014 10:42 PM)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring up the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) for a vote tomorrow (Thursday, September 18).  The House passed the CR today.  The Senate could consider other legislation, including a NASA authorization bill, as it strives to adjourn by the end of the week until after the November elections.

The Hill newspaper reports that Senate debate on the CR will commence at 1:00 pm ET.   The CR funds the government through December 11, 2014 at the same level as FY2014, although it includes an across-the-board 0.0544 percent cut to fund new activities mostly related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  The House included an authorization for President Obama to engage in certain military activities related to Syria and the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), but that authorization also will expire on December 11.  A more intense debate on that topic is anticipated in the lame-duck session after the elections.

The Senate may also consider a new NASA authorization bill before it leaves town.  The House passed its version in June and sent it to the Senate, where there has been no action since then. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill last year on a party-line vote and Senate sources have been saying for some time that a revised version is in the works.  The committee held a markup session today, but a revised NASA authorization bill was not considered.   Nonetheless, a revised version could be brought up on the Senate floor as an amendment to the House version.  Whether that happens or not depends on many factors and even if the Senate did pass a bill, it would have to go back to the House, which is also expected to adjourn by the end of the week.  Final resolution, therefore, will not come in the near term.

House Approves CR Funding Government Through December 11, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Sep-2014 (Updated: 17-Sep-2014 05:49 PM)

The House approved a FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) this afternoon (September 17) that will fund the government through December 11, 2014.  An amendment allowing President Obama limited authority to spend funds on military actions in Syria was adopted.  The next step is the Senate.

The House was poised to pass a CR last week, but a White House request to add the Syria authorization complicated that plan.  The authority adopted by the House today is limited and it is expected that a more intense debate on U.S. actions in fighting the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) may come in the lame-duck session after the elections.

As far as funding the government is concerned, however, the House action is good news.  The bill passed by a vote of 319-108.  None of the FY2015 regular appropriations bills has cleared Congress yet, so if Congress does not pass a CR by midnight September 30, there will be another government shutdown like last year.  The Senate is also hoping to complete its legislative work this week so hopefully it will deal with the CR swiftly (but should not be taken for granted).

The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion.  Government agencies, including NASA, NOAA and DOD, would be funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0554 percent across-the-board cut to pay for new activities in the bill that are mostly related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  Two space-related provisions would allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs, and an extension of the authorization for the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015.