Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address:

Military / National Security News

What's Happening in Space Policy February 7-12, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Feb-2016 (Updated: 07-Feb-2016 10:30 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 7-12, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

North Korea's satellite launch last evening (February 6) Eastern Standard Time (today, February 7, local time in North Korea) certainly will be the international space-related story of the week.  The United Nations Security Council will meet in emergency session today to discuss whether additional sanctions should be levied.  The launch violates two U.N. Security Council resolutions --  Resolution 1718 adopted in 2006 and Resolution 1874 adopted in 2009 -- designed to discourage North Korea from developing ballistic missiles.

Meanwhile back in D.C., President Obama will submit the final budget request of his Administration to Congress on Tuesday.   The document will be released by the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at 11:00 am EST and should be posted on their websites at that time.   DOD, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and NASA are all holding budget briefings during the day.  NASA is using the entire day to showcase its activities at all of its centers around the country.  Called "State of NASA'" day, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will deliver a State of NASA speech at 1:30 pm EST that will be carried on NASA TV (it is separate from the NASA budget briefing at 5:00 pm EST with NASA Chief Financial Officer Dave Radzanowski).

The release of the budget kicks off congressional hearings on the President's request.  From a space policy perspective, first up is the Air Force.  SecAF Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III will appear before the defense subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday as well, but it is not budget related.  Instead, it will discuss "Understanding and Deterring Russia."  There is no way to know in advance whether any of the government or commercial space arrangements we have with Russia or DOD's space protection efforts will come up (the witnesses are not from the space community), but it is quite possible.  A growing number of U.S. officials cite Russia as the current biggest threat to the United States and its allies both on Earth and in space.

It is shaping up to be an intense week, so it's good that on Thursday evening there's something a little more fun to do (other than watching the next Democratic presidential primary debate).  NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green will speak at an AIAA-Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) event at the British Embassy in Washington on the science fiction and science fact in the movie The Martian.

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

Tuesday, February 9

Wednesday, February 10

Wednesday-Thursday, February 10-11

Thursday, February 11

Nield, Bridenstine Make Case for Expanding FAA/AST's Authorities

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Feb-2016 (Updated: 03-Feb-2016 07:10 AM)

The head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and a key Member of Congress are making the case for expanding AST's regulatory responsibilities to include much more than commercial launches and reentries. Both spoke at the first day of AST's annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference, which continues today (Wednesday).  The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is webcasting the event.

Over the past year, interest has grown in both the government and commercial space sectors over what agency should have the responsibility for ensuring U.S. compliance with Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that requires governments to "authorize and continually supervise" the activities of their non-government entities, such as companies.  U.S. companies have been operating in space since the 1960s, primarily commercial communications and remote sensing satellites, but the potential expansion of commercial activities to other realms, such as asteroid mining or habitats on the lunar surface, is raising the visibility of the issue of who in the U.S. government is responsible for that task.

The recently enacted Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to recommend approaches for oversight of commercial activities in space.  The law was enacted on November 25, 2015 and the report is due 120 days thereafter.

FAA Associate Administrator for AST George Nield wants his office to be given that responsibility.  He said that his office could issue a "mission license" for in-space operations not already regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or NOAA.   FCC licenses the use of the radio spectrum by commercial companies.  NOAA licenses commercial remote sensing satellites.

Another growing issue is who should be responsible for determining if satellites are going to collide with each other or with space debris and warn affected parties.  This is often referred to as Space Traffic Management.  Today, DOD's Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC) performs the calculations -- "conjunction analyses" -- and alerts appropriate parties, but some argue that JSPoC should focus on DOD's requirement to protect U.S. national security satellites, not those of the civil or commercial sectors.

Nield said the FAA should take on that responsibility as well;  "We think it makes sense for the FAA to take on this role, and we believe that there is consensus in the interagency community that we are the right ones to do it, but we need to make the decision soon and get on with it."  He also advocated for the FAA to process safety-related space situational awareness data and release it "to any entity, consistent with national security interests and public safety obligations."  The FAA and DOD are in agreement that this is feasible, he added, though his office needs additional resources to do it.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), a member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, agrees.   Speaking at the conference yesterday, he stressed that DOD must focus on the threats posed to national security satellites rather than spending its time determining whether the International Space Station (ISS) is "going to hit a screw."   DOD must be relieved of the "burden" of performing conjunction analyses for the civil and commercial sectors, he said, and the FAA is the proper agency to take on that task.   He added that DOD does not want to relinquish JSPoC, but instead to use it for what it is intended -- national security.  He also agreed that FAA/AST needs more money if it takes on additional tasks.   He noted that he tried to add $1 million for FAA/AST in the House-passed version of the FY2016 Transportation-HUD appropriations act, but only $250,000 was approved.

Bridenstine also raised the issue of who should be responsible for ensuring compliance with Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty, calling it a "challenge we have to own up to and ultimately solve.  It won't be easy and won't happen overnight."  He stopped short of recommending FAA/AST as the answer, but said government regulation of commercial space activities overall must be consistent and simplified.

The conference continues today, with Rep. Brian Babin, chairman of the House SS&T Space Subcommittee, scheduled to speak at 8:30 am ET, followed by NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation indicated that it will webcast today's sessions as well.

What's Happening in Space Policy February 1-5, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jan-2016 (Updated: 02-Feb-2016 09:31 AM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of February 1-5, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

A conference on commercial space transportation and a House hearing on NASA's human exploration proposals are just two highlights of the coming week.

The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation's (AST's) 19th annual conference is in Washington, DC on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Neither the conference's website nor the agenda indicate that any of the sessions will be webcast, which is a shame because they look really interesting.   If we learn that remote access will, in fact, be available, we'll add that information to the entry in our Events of Interest list. [UPDATE:  FAA/AST confirms that there will NOT be a webcast.  UPDATE 2 -- AS WE JUST LEARNED NOW THAT WE'RE HERE AT THE CONFERENCE, THE COMMERCIAL SPACEFLIGHT FEDERATION IS WEBCASTING THE EVENT.] There are keynotes and panels featuring top leaders from the Administration (e.g. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman), Congress (Rep. Brian Babin, R-TX, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX, and a panel of congressional staff), and industry (Sierra Nevada Corporate VP for Space Systems Mark Sirangelo and SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell).   For those who are advocating for an expansion of AST's jurisdiction beyond launch and reentry of satellites, one of the panels will discuss European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner's Lunar Village (or Moon Village) concept.   AST's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) recently recommended that AST "engage directly" with ESA to foster the participation of U.S.-based commercial entities in planning and creation of such a village.  Woerner spoke to COMSTAC during a telecon meeting last month and will participate in this conference via livestream.

Wednesday's hearing before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee also should be interesting.   The topic is NASA's human exploration proposals, but in this case there are no NASA witnesses.  Instead, three "outside" witnesses will present their views.   Aerospace industry icon Tom Young is one of them.  He has testified many times, perhaps most memorably answering "never" to a question about when humans would get to Mars under NASA's current budget. He is a member of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), which has been deliberating for at least two years over NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and NASA's planning for sending humans to Mars.  Young will be speaking only for himself, but NAC has not been enthusiastic about ARM for many reasons, one of which is skepticism that it will cost only $1.25 billion as NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden insists.  NAC members also criticize NASA's Evolvable Mars Campaign because it lacks specifics.  The other two witnesses are Paul Spudis, a fervent advocate of returning humans to the lunar surface before going to Mars, and John Sommerer, who chaired the Technical Panel of the 2014 "Pathways" report from the National Academies that also endorsed returning astronauts to the lunar surface and raised questions about the value of ARM to the long term goal of human Mars exploration.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.  Check back throughout the week to see any new meetings we learn about and post to our Events of Interest list.

Monday-Tuesday, February 1-2

Tuesday, February 2

Tuesday-Wednesday, February 2-3

Wednesday, February 3

McCain, McCarthy Try to Repeal RD-180 Provision in FY2016 Appropriations Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jan-2016 (Updated: 28-Jan-2016 12:15 AM)

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are introducing legislation to repeal a provision in the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act that undermines a section of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that limits the number of Russian RD-180 engines that can be obtained by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for its Atlas V rockets.  The appropriations law, enacted after the NDAA, essentially allows an unlimited number to be procured.   McCain announced his new legislation in conjunction with a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on the topic today.

Since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula two years ago, McCain has led efforts to end U.S. reliance on Russian RD-180 engines used in rockets that launch national security satellites.   He argues that Russia's actions in Ukraine and elsewhere are inimicable to U.S. interests and the money ULA pays for the engines goes to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his "cronies."  As chairman of SASC, he included language in the FY2015 and FY2016 NDAAs that limits the number of RD-180s ULA may obtain and directs DOD to fund the development of a U.S. alternative.  McCain also is a champion of SpaceX and its drive to compete with ULA for Air Force contracts to launch national security satellites.  The Air Force certified SpaceX's Falcon 9 to launch its satellites last year. 

Little new was added to the debate at this morning's hearing.  Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Under Secretary of  Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall repeated their oft-stated position that they agree on the need to end reliance on Russian engines and to build a new U.S. engine by McCain's target date of 2019.  They argue, however, that an engine is only part of a  launch system and it will take at least two more years, to 2021, to integrate a new engine into a new launch vehicle, test it and certify it to launch national security satellites.  McCain and other members of the committee insisted that the transition to a new rocket with an American engine must happen sooner.

The distinction between an engine and a complete launch system was reiterated by James and Kendall throughout the hearing.  They are seeking relief from language in the FY2016 NDAA (Sec 606) that restricts them to spending funds on developing new rocket engines only and not entire new launch vehicles. James and Kendall said if they can only use the money for a new engine to replace the RD-180, just one company will benefit, ULA, which would get a new engine for its Atlas V.    If instead they could use the money to invest in a public private partnership to develop a new, modern launch system to replace the Atlas V, greater benefits would accrue.  

According to James, Congress has authorized and appropriated over $400 million for a new engine:  $41 million that was reprogrammed in FY2014, $220 million in FY2015, and $227 million in FY2016.  Of that, $176 million has been obligated to date, she added.

One point on which McCain and the witnesses agreed was unhappiness that ULA chose not to bid on the first launch where SpaceX could compete.   Competition for that launch, of a GPS 3 navigation satellite, opened last fall, but ULA asserted that it could not enter a bid because of the limitation on how many RD-180 engines it may obtain under the FY2015 NDAA in effect at that time and for other reasons.

McCain repeatedly expressed exasperation at ULA's decision not to bid.  James said the Air Force was "surprised and disappointed" and Kendall said "we are all upset."  James said she has asked her legal team to review the Air Force contract with ULA to see what can be done possibly "including early termination" of the EELV Launch Capability (ELC) contract that pays for infrastructure and other ULA costs. That funding is separate from the money paid for individual launches.

McCain repeatedly referred to the ELC funding -- approximately $800 million per year -- as money the government pays ULA "to do nothing" or "to just stay in business."  Kendall explained that the ELC contract was designed to cover fixed and variable costs associated with launch infrastructure and meant to ensure stability in a sole source environment.  ULA has been virtually a monopoly provider of national security launch services since it was formed in 2006 as a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  While Kendall defended the ELC as a good business deal under those circumstances and "not a subsidy," he agreed it is the only DOD contract of its kind, is being phased out, and a model that will not be used in the future.  What DOD wants to do now is to provide "at least two launch service providers" with some of the capital to develop, test and certify new launch systems through public private partnerships.  A draft request for proposals (RFP) will be released this spring, he said, and a final RFP by the end of the year with awards expected in FY2017.

One new piece of information that surfaced today was the cost of an RD-180 engine.  Kendall pegged it at $30 million.  The fundamental dispute is whether ULA should be able to obtain nine more, or 14 more, RD-180 engines than the five they already have under contract as part of a 2013 block buy awarded by the Air Force.  That is a difference of five engines, or $150 million, money McCain argues would go to Putin and associates including three he said have been sanctioned by the United States - Igor Komarov, Sergey Chemezov and Dmitry Rogozin.   Rogozin is the Russian Deputy Prime Minister who oversees the aerospace sector.  Komarov is the head of Roscosmos, which recently transitioned from a government space agency into a state corporation.  McCain identified them as members of the Board ot RD-AMROSS, the intermediary between the Russian company that manufactures RD-180s. Energomash, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, which imports them for use in the Atlas V.

The Air Force and ULA want 14 more; McCain wants to limit it to nine.   The FY2016 NDAA states that only nine may be obtained, but Senate appropriators, led by Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) included a provision in the DOD portion of the FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act that removes that limit. ULA builds its rockets in Alabama; Boeing is headquartered in Illinois.  McCain verbally attacked both Senators during a floor speech after the appropriations bill language became public. 

Just before this morning's hearing, McCain revealed that he and House Majority Leader McCarthy will introduce legislation imminently to repeal the provision in the appropriations law.  In a statement, McCain said the provision was "airdopped" into the appropriations bill "in secret, with no debate" after the nine-engine limitation in the NDAA was "debated for months and passed by the Senate not once, but twice."  

Washington DC Gets Back to Work, RD-180 Hearing On Track

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jan-2016 (Updated: 27-Jan-2016 06:30 AM)

The Washington, D.C. area is slowly recovering from the Snowzilla blizzard and government offices reopen today with a three hour delay.  The Senate Armed Services Committee's (SASC's) website shows that the 9:30 am ET hearing on RD-180 rocket engines will take place as scheduled.

Most schools are still closed and the traffic reports at this hour (6:00 am) are chock full of accidents closing portions of major highways, so still be sure to check to see if any meeting you plan to attend will, in fact, take place.

Virtually all congressional committees webcast their hearings, so the SASC hearing should be viewable on the committee's website without making the trek to Capitol Hill.  Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall are scheduled to be at the witness table to continue the debate over how quickly an American alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engine will be ready.  The issue is a bone of contention between SASC and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 25-29, 2016 - UPDATE 4

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jan-2016 (Updated: 25-Jan-2016 11:40 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 25-29, 2016.  The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session, but with the blizzard that's coming, all events in the DC area should be considered tentative. [UPDATE JANUARY 24: The House has decided not to meet this week because of the aftereffects of the blizzard.  So far, the Senate's schedule is unchanged.  The immediate Washington DC area got between 17 and 30 inches of snow and roads remain impassable in many places.  Also, Federal Government offices in the DC area will be closed on Monday.  UPDATE JANUARY 25:  The January 26 SASC defense acquisition hearing has been postponed.  Federal Government offices in the DC area will be closed on Tuesday, too.]

During the Week

The first flakes of the Blizzard of 2016, also known as Snowmageddon II, Snowzilla, or Jonas (that's what The Weather Channel calls it), are falling.   The forecast is so grim that we worry whether the electricity will be on this weekend, so decided to post this today (Friday).   The Washington DC area does not do well with snow and even if it did, this storm is expected to break records in snowfall totals (18-30 inches is forecast for right here) and winds (30-40 miles per hour in this area, higher elsewhere), so any city would have a problem keeping up with it.   If you have plans to travel to the DC area, or the mid-Atlantic generally, check to be sure your meeting or whatever is still taking place before you start your trip. [UPDATED JANUARY 25:  The House will not meet this week.  The SASC hearing on defense acquisition on Tuesday has been postponed (not the RD-180 hearing on Wednesday, at least not yet).  Federal government offices in the DC area are closed Monday and Tuesday.]

Among the highlights of events that are SCHEDULED as of this moment is NASA's annual remembrance of the astronauts who lost their lives in the 1967 Apollo fire and 1986 space shuttle Challenger and 2003 Columbia tragedies.   This year is the 30th anniversary of the January 28, 1986 Challenger accident that killed NASA astronauts Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair; Hughes Aircraft payload specialist Greg Jarvis; and Teacher in Space Christa McAuliffe.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and other NASA officials will take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on January 28 (Thursday), followed by activities at other NASA centers throughout the day.  NASA TV will televise a wreath-laying ceremony at the Space Mirror Memorial at Kennedy Space Center's Visitor Center at 10:00 am ET.

On a completely different note, the debate over United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines and efforts to build a U.S. alternative to them resumes on Wednesday with a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) is livid that Senate appropriators pulled the rug out from under his feet, essentially allowing the use of an indeterminate number of RD-180s instead of capping the number at nine as required by the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) reportedly at the urging of the Air Force and ULA.   Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and DOD Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall will be at the witness table to explain their position.  The argument is not over the need to end reliance on Russian engines for national security launches or to build a U.S. alternative, but the timing.  ULA and the Air Force do not think a new U.S.-built engine will be ready for service by 2019; McCain thinks that is a reasonable goal.  McCain also is an advocate for SpaceX and other "new entrants" who could compete against ULA and bring launch costs down.  

Note that there is a more general hearing on defense acquisition the day before.  [UPDATE:  THIS HEARING HAS BEEN POSTPONED] At that one, the service chiefs will testify about the role they play in the acquisition process.  Impossible to know if anything will come up about space, but it wouldn't be surprising.  SASC's House counterpart, HASC, held its own defense acquisition hearing on January 7.  HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) used it as a opportunity to slam DOD on the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).  DOD bought 20 DMSP weather satellites almost two decades ago.  The first 19 have been launched, but the fate of the last one, DMSP-20, is in limbo.  In 2014, DOD said it no longer was needed, but changed its mind last year.  Congress reacted skeptically and required DOD to certify whether it is needed or not.  Meanwhile, millions of dollars have been spent keeping it in storage.   Rogers used $518 million as the total amount of money spent on that one satellite and said a lot of aggravation could have been saved if 18 years ago the Air Force and Congress "put a half billion dollars in a parking lot in a pile and just burned it."  He said now the satellite will be trashed and "I presume ... be made into razor blades."  We'll see if the SASC hearing has any of its own fireworks.

Those and other events that are scheduled for next week are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additional events that we learn about and add to our Events of Interest list.   And to all of our readers in the mid-Atlantic area about to endure this storm, pay heed to the experts on how to stay safe.

Tuesday, January 26

Wednesday, January 27

Wednesday-Friday, January 27-29

Thursday, January 28

Thursday-Friday, January 28-29

Friday, January 29

What's Happening in Space Policy January 17-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jan-2016 (Updated: 17-Jan-2016 04:17 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for January 17-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The Senate is in session part of the week; the House is in recess.

During the Week

Tomorrow (Monday) is a Federal holiday -- Martin Luther King's birthday -- and federal offices will be closed.  The House is taking the entire week off, but the Senate will be in session beginning Tuesday.

The big news for this week has already happened:  today's successful launch of the NOAA-Eumetsat-NASA-CNES Jason-3 ocean altimetry spacecraft.  Despite the fog, the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA went off on time at 1:42 pm Eastern Time (10:42 am local time at the launch site) and as of this moment, the satellite is in the correct orbit and the solar arrays have deployed.  The Falcon 9 launch was flawless, but SpaceX's attempt to land the first stage on one of its autonomous drone ships about 200 miles off the California coast failed.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that one of the landing legs did not lock into place so the rocket tipped over when landing on the drone ship.

The successful launch of Jason-3 will provide a nice backdrop for Wednesday's NASA-NOAA media telecon on weather and climate, although the telecon's focus is what happened last year.  The telecon will be broadcast on NASA's News Audio website at 11:00 am ET.   An hour later, NOAA's Chief Scientist, Rick Spinrad, will have a chance to tout the success at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.  Check back throughout the week to see any additional events we learn about later and post on our Events of Interest list. 

Sunday-Wednesday, January 17-20

Wednesday, January 20

Thursday, January 21

Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win $80 Million in Air Force Rocket Propulsion Agreements

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2016 (Updated: 14-Jan-2016 10:03 AM)

The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has awarded Orbital ATK and SpaceX a total of $80 million in "Other Transaction Agreements" (OTAs) for work connected to its efforts to develop a U.S. alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engines.

SMC characterized the awards of $46.9 million to Orbital ATK and $33.6 million to SpaceX as "initial government contributions" for Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) prototypes.  The OTAs are similar to NASA's Space Act Agreements and are part of the move towards public private partnerships for developing new space hardware.  SMC says that it is still negotiating with other offerors and all of the awards are part of a portfolio of planned investments "in industry's RPS solutions."   Companies could submit proposals for addressing a range of requirements for the national security space sector from developing a new RPS to modifying an existing RPS to addressing high risk items for an RPS or subcomponents, or testing of qualifying a new or existing RPS.

The award to Orbital ATK is for development of the Common Booster Segment main stage, the  Graphite Epoxy Motor 63XL strap-on booster, and an extendable nozzle for Blue Origin's BE-3U/EN upper stage engine.  SpaceX's award is for development and testing of its Raptor upper stage.

The national security sector currently relies on the United Launch Alliance's Delta IV and Atlas V Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).  The Atlas V is powered by Russia's RD-180 engines and the strained U.S.-Russian relationship following Russia's annexation of Crimea and other actions in Ukraine galvanized political pressure to end that reliance on Russia.   The Air Force and ULA agree on the need to build a U.S. alternative, but disagree with those, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who want to set 2019 as a firm date for ending use of the RD-180.

Orbital ATK said in a statement that the $47 million award has options valued up to $133 million and "the company will also contribute additional development funds."  The SMC announcement stated that for all of these awards "at least one third" of the total cost would be paid by "parties to the transactions other than the federal government."

The Chinese ASAT Test -- Nine Years Later

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2016 (Updated: 12-Jan-2016 08:56 AM)

Nine years ago today China conducted a test of an antisatellite (ASAT) weapon against one of its own satellites, creating more than 3,000 pieces of space debris and earning international condemnation.  A State Department official today credited U.S. diplomacy as one factor in leading China to avoid such debris-generating tests since then.

Mallory Stewart, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy in the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance spoke at the Atlantic Council today at an event marking the anniversary of the 2007 ASAT test.   Stewart noted that China has conducted additional ASAT tests in the intervening years, but none that created "what some have conservatively estimated to be one-sixth of the existing radar trackable debris" in Earth orbit.

The consequences of the 2007 test, which will endanger satellites for decades to come, catalyzed U.S. and international efforts to ensure that the space domain is not ruined by irresponsible actions and remains usable for future generations -- what has become known as space sustainability.  

Stewart credited the "huge international outcry" and diplomatic initiatives by the United States and others to "inspire responsible behavior in space" as factors in convincing China to avoid debris-generating ASAT tests since then.  She did not specify what those additional Chinese ASAT tests were, but the State Department publicly criticized China for a 2013 test and experts believe there have been others.  The Secure World Foundation has a fact sheet listing them.

She also said that China may have realized its mistake since it has had to maneuver its own satellites to avoid the debris.  Just as the United States and Soviet Union learned first-hand about the consequences of debris-generating ASAT tests during the Cold War, China may have as well and thus chosen a course of  "strategic restraint" in finding other ways to conduct such tests. 

Another catch phrase that has taken hold since the Chinese ASAT test is space situational awareness -- the need for better knowledge about where everything is in orbit and, for maneuverable satellites, where they are going.  Early in the Obama Administration, State Department and Defense Department officials began describing space as "congested, contested and competitive."  Today Stewart joked that the government "loves" alliteration and discussions about the "three Cs" are meant to prevent the "three Ms" -- "miscommunication, misperception and miscalculation."

The State Department engages in bilateral space security dialogues with a number of countries, Stewart recounted, along with multilateral efforts to develop norms for responsible behavior in space.  For several years, the latter activity took place in part under the rubric of development of an "international code of conduct."  That effort faltered at a United Nations meeting last summer, but Stewart asserted that it laid the groundwork for "subsequent clarity and work on additional principles" everyone could agree on.

Defining terms was one of the challenges in those discussions, she explained. 

What constitutes a "space weapon" has been debated for decades.  President Jimmy Carter opened negotiations with the Soviet Union to limit the development of space weapons in the 1970s, but the Soviets wanted to categorize the space shuttle as a weapon, for example.   

Stewart remains optimistic that, over time, consensus can be reached leading eventually to a treaty, "but what we don't want to do is jump into a treaty headlong" without understanding the definitions and ensuring it is verifiable.

Involving the commercial sector is critical, she said.   It is a "collaboration that has to work" to establish norms of responsible behavior in space effectively.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 10-15, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2016 (Updated: 10-Jan-2016 01:12 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of January 10-15, 2016.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

President Obama's final State of the Union Address will take place on Tuesday night at 9:00 pm Eastern.   No idea whether space will be mentioned, though Obama has done so in the past,  Last year astronaut Scott Kelly was in attendance just prior to launching to ISS on his "year in space" mission and got a shout-out from the President along with NASA and NOAA climate scientists.

Also in the political realm, another Republican presidential primary debate is on tap this week, on Thursday in North Charleston, South Carolina.   The national media who run these debates have not asked questions about the space program so far, although the topic has arisen during campaign events for some of the candidates, notably in New Hampshire (most recently for Jeb Bush).   With the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy coming up in less than three weeks (on January 28), it is possible the national media could use it as an opportunity to query the candidates about their positions on space exploration.  Not to mention the next Democratic debate on January 17 in Charleston, SC.  Or the subsequent Republican debate on January 28 itself in Iowa.

Apart from that, a number of interesting meetings are scheduled this week, including the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).   Unfortunately the sessions will not be livestreamed.   A panel discussion of particular note to readers of this website will take place on Wednesday concerning "The Weather Value Chain of the Future" that will discuss "innovative data sources" -- commercial and crowdsourced data including commercial weather satellites.   Rob Kursinski of PlanetIQ will be there and the company's Dan Stillman tells that a video of the panel will be posted "in the days after."   Other panelists are from IBM, Weathernews, Panasonic, Weather Analytics, and Ignatia.  AMS past president and the Weather Channel's WeatherGeeks host Marshall Shepard is the moderator.

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

Sunday-Thursday, January 10-14

Monday-Wednesday, January 11-13

Tuesday, January 12

Thursday, January 14

  • Republican Presidential Primary Debate, Fox Business Network, 6:00 pm ET ("undercard"), 9:00 pm EST (main group)

Friday, January 15

  • ESA Director General Annual Briefing, ESA HQ, Paris, France, 09:00 Central European Time (3:00 am Eastern Standard Time), followed at 11:30 CET (5:30 am EST) by briefing on European Data Relay System (webcast)
  • Jason-3 Pre-Launch Briefings, Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, 1:00 pm and 1:45 pm Pacific Standard Time (4:00 pm and 4:45 pm EST) (watch on NASA TV)