Military / National Security News
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 21-25, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are not in session this week.
During the Week
The United States celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday. Across the nation, people are focused on shopping, cooking and traveling to celebrate with friends and family more than attending meetings on space policy or anything else. We do not have a single space policy event on our list for this week in the United States and only one that will be held abroad (see below).
This is, indeed, a good time to take a breath after a fractious election season. Melanie Kirkpatrick, acting editorial features writer for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), published a commentary on Thursday noting that "healing" is the watchword of post-election America. Author of "Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience," she shared the story of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday at a time of national strife and urged that this year it serve as "a moment to focus on our blessings as Americans, on what unites us, not on what divides us."
The tale of the First Thanksgiving with Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 is fairly well known, but how the holiday evolved over the centuries less so. Presidents had occasionally designated national days of thanks since the time of George Washington, but the holiday did not achieve permanence at the national level until it was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Yes, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War and just months after the horrific Battle of Gettysburg with its approximately 50,000 casualties (killed, wounded or missing). Poet, novelist and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale (a very interesting woman) had made it her mission to establish a single national day of Thanksgiving. Over three decades, she convinced many states to declare a day of thanks, but they were on various dates. Her goal was a single national day every year. Lincoln agreed as part of an effort to unite Americans on both sides of the conflict by reminding them of all that is good about our country even in such a painful time. He issued a Proclamation on October 3, 1863 designating the last Thursday of November (the date originally chosen by George Washington) as a day of thanksgiving. Kirkpatrick's commentary is behind the WSJ paywall unfortunately, but her bottom line is "Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation was profoundly hopeful, reminding the American people of the nation's capacity for renewal. It's a message that resonates today."
On that note, SpacePolicyOnline.com wishes everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, there is one space policy-related conference that we know about this week -- in Dubai. Sponsored by the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), this "High Level Forum" focuses on space as an economic driver for socio-economic sustainable development. Among the co-sponsors are the Secure World Foundation, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems Division and the International Committee on Global Navigation Systems. It is part of the lead-up to UNOOSA's UNISPACE+50 conference that will take place in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the first UNISPACE conference (two others were held in 1982 and 1999). The website does not indicate if any of this week's conference will be webcast.
It looks like Congress will delay finalizing FY2017 appropriations until next year after Donald Trump is sworn in as President. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced today that his committee will now focus on writing a bill extending the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 31, 2017. The Senate has not officially agreed with the House plan of action, but signs are that it will. Whether the incoming Trump Administration and 115th Congress will be ready to finalize FY2017 funding by that date, or just kick the can further down the road, remains to be seen.
Rogers has valiantly advocated for a return to "regular order" in the congressional appropriations process where all 12 regular appropriations bills are considered and approved at subcommittee level, then by the full committee, then debated and passed by the House, and conferenced with Senate counterparts to present a final bill to the President.
He successfully pushed his 12 appropriations subcommittees to finish their work in a timely manner this year, but only one bill, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA), made it through the process. It is incorporated into the existing CR. The CR funds all the other government departments and agencies at their FY2016 funding levels just through December 9. Congress must pass some type of appropriations by then to keep the government operating.
In the week since the election, congressional leaders have been weighing whether to finish the other 11 bills, packaging them into a single "omnibus" spending bill or several smaller "mini-buses," or delay action until Trump takes office.
The latter choice was made today.
In a press release, Rogers made no secret of his disappointment, but remained philosophical.
"While I'm disappointed that the Congress is not going to be able to complete our annual funding work this year, I am extremely hopeful that the new Congress and the new Administration will finish these bills. I am also hopeful for a renewed and vigorous 'regular order' on future annual funding bills, so that the damaging process of Continuing Resolutions will no longer be necessary."
House rules set 6-year term limits for committee chairs and Rogers has reached that limit, so will not chair the full Appropriations Committee in the next Congress. He is vying to become chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Speaking at a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) luncheon this afternoon, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), a member of the Appropriations Committee and just elected to his third term, was more blunt. Kilmer calls his Seattle-area district, which is home to Blue Origin and Planetary Resources among others, the "Silicon Valley of space." He was a key figure in passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act last year, and this year in convincing the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee to fully fund the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
Asked about the decision to extend the CR instead of providing full-year funding, he said he could not "explain the inexplicable" or "defend the indefensible" and Congress needs to return to regular order and pass appropriations bills. "I don't think that is a good way to do business. ... When I chose to run for Congress it was with the knowledge that what Congress does and doesn't do has a big impact on industry for good and for bad. Some of that is positive investments in workforce, infrastructure, and establishing a regulatory framework that provides certainty. Some of that is budget certainty." When Congress does not pass appropriations bills on time, it not only is disruptive to government agencies, "but also has a negative impact on industry."
Outgoing Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) also expressed her dissatisfaction. She is retiring from the Senate next month.
"This is deeply disappointing. Once again, Republicans are stymying our ability to do our job and meet our constitutional responsibility to produce full year appropriations bills for the American people," she said in a press release.
Mikulski chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA, when Democrats were in control of the Senate. She is the top Democrat on the committee and subcommittee now and an ardent advocate for NOAA and NASA's space and earth science programs in particular. "We believe we can finish the job. We do not want a government shutdown. Our principles remain the same: parity between defense and non-defense, no poison pill riders and compliance with the Bipartisan Budget Act. ... We could do it. Where there's a will there's a way. Republicans instead have decided to procrastinate rather than legislate."
CRs typically fund agencies at their prior year levels unless exceptions are made. In this case, there may be more exceptions than usual. The Obama Administration just sent a supplemental request to Congress for additional defense spending, for example, that likely will be wrapped into the CR, and there is concern that attempts will be made to include some of those "poison pill" provisions Mikulski referenced (such as ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood).
On the other hand, some Senate Republicans reportedly are arguing to pass a CR for the rest of FY2017, not just to the end of the March, so they do not have to deal with the issue in the spring when other Trump Administration priorities are being debated.
It may take a while to develop a new CR that can get enough votes to pass Congress and win President Obama's signature. They have until December 9 to do something.
Assuming a new CR passes -- which should not be taken for granted, although a government shutdown just before Christmas would not be to either party's advantage -- how much longer the 114th Congress will remain in session thereafter is up in the air. It would not be surprising if they adjourned as soon as the CR is passed, further limiting the amount of time to get other legislation, like the FY2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act, finalized.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 14-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The House and Senate return to work for one week beginning tomorrow (Monday). The House meets for legislative business Monday-Thursday; the Senate will be in pro forma session on Monday and meet for legislative business the rest of the week. Then they will recess again until after Thanksgiving.
With Republicans retaining control of both chambers, there will be less organizational work to prepare for the 115th Congress that convenes in January. The one "must do" item between now and the end of the year is passing appropriations bill(s) to fund the government past December 9. As we wrote yesterday, it's not clear how that will play out, but it's hard to imagine anyone wants a government shutdown at this point, so they will have to work something out. One "probably will do" is complete action on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). A number of other pieces of legislation could also be completed, such as the NASA Transition Authorization Act, if the various parties can reach agreement. It's doubtful any of that will be finalized this week, but progress may be made behind the scenes.
Everyone is still catching their breaths after the stunning election results. The quadrennial parlor game of guessing who will be to tapped to lead NASA and NOAA (and every other government agency) is in full swing along with prognosticating about the incoming Trump Administration's space priorities. It's far too early to know based on the limited information the Trump campaign issued, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to play. We'll refrain from speculating on new agency leaders, but, programmatically, here's our two cents worth on NASA's future. Human spaceflight will be fine, though we think the days are numbered for the Asteroid Redirect Mission and fully expect a human return to the surface of the Moon to be restored to the long term plan; space science will hold its own, though within a more constrained budget if deficit-cutting regains popularity; and earth science will not do very well not only because President-elect Trump is a climate change skeptic, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski is retiring so will not be in a position to rescue it. We don't have a good feel for aeronautics or space technology. Both are very popular in theory, but routinely underfunded in practice. One worry is that if the total NASA budget is constrained due to broad deficit cutting goals, and human spaceflight programs exceed current cost targets -- let's be honest, that would hardly be surprising -- other parts of the NASA portfolio will pay the price. Meanwhile, public private partnerships will continue to be encouraged, as will interagency and international cooperation/coordination.
That will all take place over the next months and years. Getting back to this week, there is, as usual, a lot of very interesting events coming up. To pick just three, tomorrow's meeting of the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee at JSC could be interesting (available remotely by WebEx/telecon). Kathy Lueders, program manager for the commercial crew program, is on the agenda for 1:45 pm Central Time (2:45 pm Eastern). Perhaps she will address some of the issues raised in the letter that Tom Stafford and his ISS Advisory Committee sent to Bill Gerstenmaier about SpaceX's plans to fuel the Falcon 9 rocket while crews are aboard. At a minimum, she should provide an update on when the Trump Administration can expect to see American astronauts on American rockets sent to the ISS from American soil. Instead of launching on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan, as will happen on Thursday when Peggy Whitson and her Soyuz MS-03 crewmates, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Roscosmos's Oleg Novitsky, blast off from Baikonur.
Our second top pick this week is Saturday's launch of NOAA's GOES-R satellite. NASA TV is in the unenviable position of needing to cover the Soyuz MS-03 launch and GOES-R pre-launch briefings both on Thursday afternoon, and the Soyuz MS-03 docking at ISS and GOES-R launch, both on Saturday afternoon. NASA TV has a public channel and a media channel; if you don't find the programming you're looking for on one, try the other. GOES-R is the first of four next-generation geostationary weather satellites that NOAA has been developing for many years. It will be redesignated GOES-16 once in orbit. The other three have launch dates stretching out into the mid-2020s. The spacecraft has an on-board orbit-raising engine similar to one that failed on MUOS-5, but NASA and NOAA are confident that a backup system will get GOES-R to its correct orbit no matter what.
Third is a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) luncheon on Thursday featuring Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). He represents a Seattle-area district that is home to companies like Blue Origin and Planetary Resources -- he calls it the Silicon Valley of space. He is one of the congressional champions of creating a legal and regulatory environment conducive to new types of commercial space ventures and worked with Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) earlier this year to get the House Appropriations Committee to approve the full requested funding level for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. He may have some insight as to what Capitol Hill will do in these closing weeks of the 114th Congress and his own prognostication of what the next four years have in store for space.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, November 14
Monday-Tuesday, November 14-15
Tuesday, November 15
Tuesday-Wednesday, November 15-16
Tuesday-Thursday, November 15-17
Wednesday-Friday, November 16-18
Thursday, November 17
Thursday-Friday, November 17-18
Friday, November 18
Saturday, November 18
Correction: an earlier version of this article listed the start time for Monday's NAC/HEO meeting as 9:00 am Central Time, but it begins at 9:30 am CT (10:30 am ET).
While everyone is focusing on what a Donald Trump presidency means for the future of NASA and the rest of the space program, it is important to bear in mind that the FY2017 appropriations process is not finished yet. He may have an early shot at those decisions if Congress pushes final action into next year.
FY2017 began on October 1. Action on the FY2017 appropriations bills was not completed, so the House and Senate passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund agencies at their FY2016 levels through December 9. The one exception is that the CR incorporated full-year funding for activities in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill. The other 11 "regular" appropriations bills, including Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) that fund the lion's share of national security and civil (NASA, NOAA) space programs, are in various stages in the congressional process.
To keep those and other agencies operating after December 9, Congress will have to pass and President Obama will have to sign one or more new appropriations measures.
Before the elections, the betting was that Congress would pass one "omnibus" spending bill incorporating all 11 of the remaining appropriations bills or bundle them together into several smaller packages (mini-buses). While differences remain between the House and Senate on their versions of these bills, for NASA, at least, the picture was looking positive for Congress to add about $1 billion in appropriated funds above what President Obama requested. (His request included $763 million that purportedly was to come from the mandatory portion of the federal budget, which Congress ignored since NASA is funded by appropriations and the appropriations committees have no control over mandatory spending.)
Congress was able to add such a large amount in part because of a deal reached last year among the President, then-House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to relax spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Ultra conservative House Republicans objected to that budget deal and to the amounts being approved by the appropriations committee for FY2017 for non-defense discretionary agencies like NASA.
The results of last week's elections, which kept Republicans in control of the House and Senate and handed them the White House as well, could intensify efforts to rein in the deficit through budget cuts alone, not in tandem with tax increases proposed by Democrats. Republicans want more, not less, defense spending, so the non-defense agencies likely would bear the brunt of any reductions.
The path forward for FY2017 appropriations therefore has become more complicated. Congressional Republicans are debating whether to complete action on FY2017 appropriations before the end of the year or extend the CR into next spring. If they finish it now, and keep the committee-approved funding levels in place, any criticism of exceeding the budget caps could be aimed at the departing Obama Administration. If they push it into next year, it would give the new Trump Administration an opportunity to set its own priorities and determine whether or not to exceed the caps.
Optimism that NASA would do quite well in FY2017 now must be tempered with Yogi Berra's caution that "it ain't over till it's over."
Congress returns to work this week after a multi-week recess for the elections. The House meets for legislative business beginning on Monday. The Senate meets in pro forma session on Monday and for legislative business beginning Tuesday. Each chamber plans to meet only this week and then recess again until after Thanksgiving.
The Republican Party swept the 2016 national elections, winning the White House and retaining control of the House and Senate.
Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States on January 20, 2017, with Mike Pence as his Vice President. The House and Senate will remain in Republican hands, though leadership elections will determine who is Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader. House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, has not been an enthusiastic supporter of Trump and very conservative Republicans had earlier indicated they might mount a challenge to his speakership when the 115th Congress convenes because of policy differences.
From the perspective of the space program, the Trump campaign's few remarks suggest little change in civil space except in the area of earth science. Trump is a climate change skeptic, as are key members of Congress who oversee NASA and NOAA's budgets. Otherwise, he and his representatives have expressed support for U.S. leadership in space with a bold exploration program that includes international and commercial partners. Two space advisers, Bob Walker and Peter Navarro, wrote in a Space News op-ed that Trump would restore a National Space Council in the White House to ensure "proper coordination" among the various space sectors.
As for national security space, in a separate op-ed, Walker and Navarro asserted that Trump's priorities would be to reduce vulnerabilities, assure commands have the tools they need, reduce the cost of space access, and create new generations of satellites to deal with emerging threats.
Trump's own statements and the op-eds provide only the broadest strokes of what his presidency might do with the space program. Budgets are always key, so further clues will have to wait until he submits his first budget to Congress next year.
In Congress, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) won the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikuilski (D-MD). He is expected to follow in her footsteps as a strong supporter of NOAA and NASA (especially earth science and astrophysics programs at Goddard Space Flight Center), though as a freshman Democrat, he will lack her powerful position on the appropriations committee.
Two other Senators with key roles in the space program won reelection -- John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 7-11, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
Welcome back to Standard Time in the United States. Daylight Saving Time ended overnight. Adjust your clocks accordingly! We lost an hour of sleep in the process, but can catch up on Friday, which is a Federal Holiday (Veterans Day).
One hardly needs to say what the big news is this week. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Who will control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are all at stake and the results are completely up in the air. Voter turnout will be, as always, a critical factor. Get out and exercise your right - and your responsibility - to choose our nation's leaders.
For the space program, especially NASA and NOAA, which are part of the non-defense discretionary part of the budget, the congressional races may be more important than the White House. The Clinton and Trump campaigns haven't said much about their positions on civil and commercial space, but what they have said is very similar -- they want the United States to be a leader in space with a bold exploration program that incorporates international and commercial partners. One area of difference, not surprisingly, is NASA's role in earth science research. The Clinton campaign is enthusiastically supportive of NASA's earth science program and its role in understanding climate change; the Trump campaign thinks NASA should focus on space exploration while other agencies study the Earth.
Congress, however, is still battling over how to rein in the deficit. The draconian sequestration rules have been held in abeyance since FY2013 by two-year agreements negotiated in 2014 by the Republican House and Democratic Senate (the Ryan-Murray deal), which relaxed budget caps for FY2014 and FY2015, and in 2016 by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and President Obama for FY2016 and FY2017. Sequestration is still the law of the land (the 2011 Budget Control Act -- BCA), however, and whether it is strictly followed, loosely followed, or ignored (perhaps repealed) in the future depends in large measure on what parties control which parts of the government. NASA has fared extremely well in recent years (Congress is poised to give NASA about $1 billion more than President Obama requested in appropriated funds for FY2017) in part because the BCA caps have not been rigorously enforced. The two parties have been battling for years on how to cut the deficit. Republicans want to do it entirely through spending cuts. Democrats want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Both parties want to protect the defense budget, though there are many differences on the details. That leaves mandatory spending programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) and non-defense discretionary agencies (e.g. NASA and NOAA) as the go-to places to look for whatever cuts are to be made. Generally speaking, Democrats are more protective of those activities than Republicans, hence the inclusion of tax increases in their deficit-reduction strategy to ensure they are not eviscerated in the process, but tax increases aren't very popular.
This election has been ... draining ... and many look forward to its end, but the nation's problems will still be there on November 9 or whenever the outcome is known (it may not be on November 9 after all, there are many close races). The new leaders, whoever they are, will have a lot to do. Every vote matters. GET OUT AND VOTE.
In addition to voting, there are number of interesting things to do this week. NASA has two media events, tomorrow (Monday) and Thursday, on small satellites for earth science. Tomorrow's virtual briefing (listen at www.nasa.gov/live) will discuss the agency's overall program of utilizing cubesats and microsatellites for earth science research, including technology developments, and a preview of three upcoming small satellite missions. Thursday's briefing at NASA HQ (watch on NASA TV) is specifically about one of them -- a constellation of eight small satellites to be launched next month that will gather data on the formation and intensity of tropical cyclones and hurricanes (CYGNSS).
Meanwhile, out at the National Academies' Beckman Center in Irvine, CA, the steering committee of the Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet tomorrow through Thursday. On Wednesday, it will hold a webinar for members of the earth science community to get an update on the status of the Survey and ask questions of the co-chairs, Waleed Abdalati and Bill Gail.
In Paris, European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner will hold a press conference tomorrow morning about the ESA Ministerial Meeting coming up next month. It will not be webcast, unfortunately, but ESA says a video recording will be posted to the ESA website within 24 hours.
Lastly, the Atlantic Council will hold the next in its "Captains of Industry" series on Wednesday featuring representatives of four leading U.S. and European defense and aerospace companies (Airbus, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Thales USA) and the National Venture Capital Association on "Corporate-Venture Investing in Aerospace and Defense." It will be webcast.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, November 7
Monday-Thursday, November 7-10
Tuesday, November 8
Tuesday-Thursday, November 8-10
Wednesday, November 9
Thursday, November 10
China conducted the first launch of its new Long March 5 rocket today. At 25 metric tons (MT) to low Earth orbit (LEO), it has twice the capability of the largest existing Chinese rocket and is only slightly smaller than the largest U.S. rocket, Delta IV. It opens many possibilities for China, which has identified large space stations and probes to the Moon and Mars among its nearer-term uses.
China announced on October 28 that the launch would take place in early November, but its English-language news services, Xinhua and CCTV, typically used by the Chinese government to herald headline-grabbing space events, provided virtually no new information in the interim. Even a CCTV segment just hours before the launch (November 3, 12:46 Beijing Time; 12:46 am EDT) did not mention the launch date or time, again saying only it would be in November.
Web- and Twitter-based sources who closely follow the Chinese space program kept the public apprised of the launch status, including Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI), who writes for gbtimes.com (@gbtimescom); Chris Bergin at NASASpaceflight.com (@nasaspaceflight); and two who do not identify themselves -- @cosmicpenguin and China Spaceflight @cnspaceflight (in Chinese). About 1 minute before launch, CCTV finally began live coverage, which continued until the payload separated from the second stage.
Liftoff from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island was initially expected at 6:00 am ET (10:00 GMT; 18:00 local time at the launch site) based on Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) issued by the Chinese government to warn pilots to avoid the airspace. Launch was briefly delayed twice due to technical issues, but ultimately came at 8:43 am ET (12:43 GMT; 20:43 local time). [Editor's note: several accounts have appeared about the causes of the delays based on Chinese sources. SpacePolicyOnline.com cannot confirm them, but here are links to three for those who are interested. The first is an account apparently from one of the launch crew translated into English by @cosmicpenguin and posted to NASASpaceFlight.com. The second (text) and third (audio) are in Chinese - we used Google Translate for the text copy -- and posted to Twitter by @cnspaceflight. The gist is that the first delay was due to indications of a liquid oxygen leak and the second was related to a chill-down problem with the first stage engines. Editor's note 2: China's CCTV has now posted a YouTube video about the "nail-biting countdown."]
The payload is the Shijian-17 experimental satellite that is on its way to geostationary orbit. Long March 5 delivered it to an elliptical geostationary transfer orbit. The spacecraft's on-board propulsion will take it the rest of the way (as is typical with such launches).
Until now, the most capable Chinese rockets have been the older Long March 3B (12 MT to LEO) and the brand new Long March 7 (13.5 MT to LEO), which made its first flight in June.
Delta IV Heavy is the most capable U.S. rocket in use today. It can deliver 28.4 MT to LEO. Long March 5 and Delta IV Heavy, though large by today's standards, are modest compared to the U.S. Saturn V developed for the Apollo program (118 MT to LEO) or the Space Launch System currently being developed by NASA in three versions (70 MT, 105 MT and 130 MT). In addition, two U.S. private companies are developing or planning new heavy lift rockets: SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, 54 MT to LEO, which is close to its first flight; and Blue Origin's New Glenn, 70 MT to LEO, still in the planning phase.
Among the payloads China has announced for Long March 5 are space station modules that will be docked together in orbit to form a 60 MT space station by 2022 and robotic exploration missions. Those include a sample return mission to the Moon (Chang'e 5) next year and an orbiter/lander/rover to Mars in 2020.
Exclaiming "this is our Sputnik moment," Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) told an audience of lunar scientists and entrepreneurs tonight that the Moon is the pathway to American preeminence in space. He also addressed comments made several weeks ago by his colleague, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), that seemed to contradict his approach to government oversight of commercial space activities, saying that the two views are closer than they appear.
Bridenstine, a former Navy pilot elected to Congress in 2012 who has term-limited himself to three terms (he is in his second term now), has become a leading advocate in Congress for passing laws that create a stable legal and regulatory environment for new types of commercial space activities. A member of both the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, he has a broad outlook on U.S.civil, commercial and national security space issues. He introduced the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) earlier this year as a compendium of legislative provisions that can be incorporated into various pieces of legislation, including authorization and appropriations bills. Commercial space is one of the themes in ASRA.
He spoke at a meeting of NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) being held at the Universities Space Research Association's headquarters in Columbia, MD. The three-day meeting, which concludes tomorrow, has sessions ranging from deeply scientific to highly commercial.
Bridenstine took the theme of lunar science and resource utilization and ran with it. His closing sentences summed it up: "This is our Sputnik moment. America must forever be the preeminent spacefaring nation and the Moon is our path to being so."
The discovery of water ice at the lunar poles by DOD's Clementine mission, which originated with DOD's Brilliant Pebbles concept as part of the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative, should have "transformed" the U.S. space program, he asserted, because of the significance of finding water there. He foresees a cis-lunar industry based on servicing and maintaining Earth-orbiting satellites that includes refueling those satellites using liquid oxygen and hydrogen produced from the Moon's water ice. If existing satellites can be refueled and otherwise maintained, fewer new spacecraft can be launched, reducing costs and the space debris population. He views the government's role as risk reduction to "empower" commercial companies to establish such industries.
Creating a U.S. legal framework to encourage investment in such businesses is key, he stressed. Bridenstine is a leading advocate of expanding the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation's (AST's) regulatory authority to include "enhanced payload reviews" for new types of commercial space activities to ensure they comply with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. He has worked closely with industry, especially through FAA/AST's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), to advance that idea.
COMSTAC adopted an OFR (Observations, Findings, and Recommendations) at its meeting last week recommending that the government take "expeditious action to enable a safe, predictable, and conducive environment for the growth of commercial space operations and activities..."
Babin expressed an opposite point of view in September, insisting that no legislation is needed. Instead, he argued, the private sector should be able to do whatever it wishes in space and the burden should be on the government to demonstrate why government intervention is needed, not on the private sector to follow regulations.
Though the two philosophies seem at odds, Bridenstine said tonight that, in fact, they are not as far apart as they may seem. Both he and Babin want minimal regulation and a free market in space for a broad range of commercial activities.
Bridenstine, however, strongly believes that legislation is needed. The Department of State already has said it does not have the tools to say "yes" to new commercial activities to ensure U.S. compliance with the Outer Space Treaty, he said. That means there is a risk that a U.S. company could proceed with an activity only to have the State Department stop it at the last minute because of a protest by another country. Such a risk could dampen investor confidence. Also, Congress should be involved in setting the legal regime, rather than the Executive Branch alone, so that it can endure through successive administrations.
A "rock solid ... airtight" regime is needed so "that when you get your authorization, you know, not with absolute certainty, but you're pretty darn certain, that you're going to be able to launch." That means Congress passing a law that includes an enhanced payload review process that provides "maximum regulatory certainty with the minimum regulatory burden" implemented by FAA/AST. "Enhanced space situational awareness [SSA] and reporting" also is needed. The Air Force does not have the necessary resources to provide SSA for non-DOD entities and is not a regulatory agency, so FAA/AST should take on that responsibility as well, he said, repeating comments he has made in the past.
Bridenstine's remarks tonight went further, branching out into threats posed by China, a country that understands "the geopolitical value of space operations." The possibility that the "highly valuable platinum group of metals are much more available on the moon from astroblemes than they are on earth" could explain China's interest in the Moon, he said. "Such a discovery with cis-lunar transportation capabilities ... could profoundly alter the economic and geopolitical balance of power on Earth."
To "enable freedom of action, the United States must have cis-lunar situational awareness, a cis-lunar presence, and eventually must be able to enforce the law through cis-lunar power projection. Cis-lunar development will either take the form of American values with the rule of law and private property rights, or it will take the form of totalitarian state control. The United States can decide who leads."
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 31-November 5, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 14.
During the Week
As usual, there is a full plate of interesting space policy events coming up this week.
To highlight just two, NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) will meet in Columbia, MD at the headquarters of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). It will spend part of the first day (Tuesday) discussing ESA Director General Jan Woerner's concept for a Moon Village (or Lunar Village). Wednesday features an evening reception where Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) will provide an update on his American Space Renaissance Act and policies needed to ensure free enterprise can occur on the Moon and in cislunar space. Bridenstine is a leading voice in Congress for determining what is needed to enable the United States government to fulfill its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty in a manner that facilitates new types of private sector activities in Earth orbit and beyond. We've inquired as to whether any of the meeting will be webcast and will add that information to our calendar entry if/when we get an answer. [UPDATE: It will be available by WebEx. See our calendar entry for details.]
On Friday and Saturday, the New Worlds Institute will hold the New Worlds 2016 Conference and Space Settlement Symposium at the Renaissance Austin Hotel at the Arboretum in North Austin, TX. It features a star-studded line-up of speakers separately making "the case for" the Moon, for Mars, and for free-space, plus sessions on space elevators, space solar power, protecting the planets, who owns space, and a broad range of other topics. Co-chaired by Mary Lynne Dittmar (Coalition for Deep Space Exploration), Pete Worden (Breakthrough Prize) and Phil Metzger (founder of Kennedy Space Center Swamp Works), speakers include Bob Richards (Moon Express), Bob Zubrin (Mars Society), Bill Gerstenmaier (NASA), Margaret Race (SETI Institute), John Lewis (University of Arizona), and Rick Tumlinson (New Worlds Institute). The website does not indicate whether any of it will be webcast. We've inquired and will post the information on our calendar if/when we find out. [UPDATE: we've been informed that it will NOT be webcast, although a few videos may be posted later.]
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, October 31
Monday-Tuesday, October 31 - November 1
Tuesday, November 1
Tuesday-Thursday, November 1-3
Wednesday, November 2
Wednesday-Thursday, November 2-3
Wednesday-Friday, November 2-4
Thursday-Saturday, November 3-5
Friday-Saturday, November 4-5
Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed today to "free NASA" from serving "primarily" as a logistics agency for low Earth orbit operations. He also supported more public private partnerships and asserted that if he wins "America and Florida will lead the way into the stars."
Trump spoke at the Orlando Sanford International Airport today. Originally, he planned to visit Kennedy Space Center on Florida's Space Coast, but those plans changed over the weekend. Florida Today reported that the Trump campaign concluded there was no suitable indoor venue near KSC and outdoor locations posed security risks, but Trump did, indeed, speak outdoors at the Sanford rally. He mentioned that it was to have taken place inside an airplane hangar, but it was too small for the crowd.
The space program came up at the end of an almost hour-long speech (available on YouTube). The following is SpacePolicyOnline.com's transcript:
"My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here [in Florida]. You know what we call this place.
"Over the last 8 years, the Obama-Clinton administration has undermined our space program tremendously. That will change. So many good things come out of it, including great jobs. That will change very quickly under a Trump administration and it'll change before it’s too late.
"Did you ever see what’s going on with space, with Russia and different places? And us? We’re, like, we’re like watching. Isn’t that nice? So much is learned from that, too.
"A cornerstone of my policy is we will substantially expand public private partnerships to maximize the amount of investment and funding that is available for space exploration and development. This means launching and operating major space assets, right here, that employ thousands and spur innovation and fuel economic growth.
"I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low earth orbit activity. Big deal.
"Instead we will refocus its mission on space exploration. Under a Trump administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars. With a victory in November, everything will change. Just think about what we can accomplish in 100 days."
His characterization of NASA as an agency whose primary mission is providing logistics to low Earth orbit (LEO) is surprising even assuming that his remarks were centered on the human spaceflight program and not NASA's many robotic spacecraft in Earth orbit and elsewhere in the solar system. The only logistics flights to LEO associated with NASA are the commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Upcoming commercial crew flights would also fit under that categorization, but it ignores the the ISS itself and the round-the-clock, round-the-year crew presence that enables scientific experiments important to future human exploration.
His embrace of public-private partnerships, rather than being at odds with the Obama Administration, is an extension of President Obama's policy, which itself built on the George W. Bush Administration's commercial cargo initiative.
Still, these are the most extensive remarks from the candidate himself. Two campaign advisers, Robert Walker and Peter Navarro, published on op-ed in Space News last week laying out the broad strokes of a Trump civil space policy. They followed-up this week with a second op-ed addressing national security space, asserting that Trump would follow a "peace through strength" strategy. That includes a recognition that "many of our military needs can be met with commercially available launch, communications and observation capabilities," an approach that will reduce costs and access new advances more quickly, they stated. "No space goals will be more important to Donald Trump than defense of our nation and that a freedom-loving people will lead the way to the heavens above."
Walker is Executive Chairman of the Wexler|Walker lobbying firm and a former member of Congress from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of what is now the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. He was part of Gingrich's inner circle. Both are avid space supporters and advisers to Trump. Navarro is a Harvard-educated economist and business professor at the University of California-Irvine.