Military / National Security News
The Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2015 defense appropriations bill this morning (July 15). It allocates $25 million to initiate a competitive program to build a new domestic rocket engine to replace Russia's RD-180, in sharp contrast to the House version of the bill, which added $220 million. The subcommittee also recommends $125 million for an additional competitive space launch.
Subcommittee chairman Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said the bill allocates $125 million "to accelerate full and open competition among any certified rocket providers," but SpaceX is the company he specifically cited. His enthusiasm is based on a hearing the subcommittee held in March. Recounting that at the hearing "folks from SpaceX said 'we're ready to compete'", Durbin said "Let's give them the chance." His hope is that competition will reduce launch costs, though he acknowledged that the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which essentially holds a monopoly on most national security space launches today, is "taking good steps to control costs."
Durbin said the March hearing also highlighted U.S. dependence on Russia's RD-180 rocket engine for one of the ULA launch vehicles -- Atlas V -- used for national security launches. "America's access to space should not depend on cooperation" with a country "that sadly has dreams of empire at the expense of its innocent neighbors," Durbin cautioned. Therefore the bill "accelerates investment" in a new competition to build a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the RD-180. "Both development and use are directed to be fully competitive so U.S. rocket companies can lead and have a fair shot at developing and using this new technology," Durbin stressed.
The amount that was added, however, was quite small in comparison to the House-passed version of the defense appropriations bill. That bill adds $220 million for a new rocket engine development program. The White House opposed the addition as "premature" while it continues to evaluate options that could lead to multiple awards that would "drive innovation, stimulate the industrial base, and reduce costs through competition." The Senate subcommittee allocated only $25 million. Its action appears to be more in line with the White House position.
The markup was short and sweet, as appropriations subcommittee markups are these days, with most controversial matters debated at full committee markup or on the floor. Full committee markup of this bill is scheduled for Thursday.
The only other Senator to address space issues during the markup was Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Referring to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), who chairs the full Senate appropriations committee (as well as its Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee), Murkowski said "the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee knows that both Alaska and the Delmarva peninsula are home to private space launch facilities. We are seeing them play an increasing role ... in national security space launch and this bill recognizes their importance, I think, for the first time. I appreciate what you've done here."
The text of the bill is not yet publicly available, so it is not clear precisely what Murkowski is referring to since SpaceX, which figured so prominently in Durbin's comments, does not launch either from Alaska's Kodiak Launch Complex or from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. (That part of the Virginia is on a peninsula that also includes parts of Delaware and Maryland, hence its nickname Delmarva -- Delaware, Maryland, Virginia.) Orbital Sciences Corp. launches its Minotaur and Antares rockets from Wallops. Orbital also launches Minotaur from Kodiak and Lockheed Martin used Kodiak for a launch of its Athena rocket in 2001 and plans to use it again for Athena now that it is reinstating that program. What the bill says or does about private space launch facilities, and whether it is only for Kodiak and Wallops or for any private space launch facilities (SpaceX is planning to build one in Texas) is not mentioned in the summary of the bill posted on the committee's website.
While “spying” is getting bad press lately, society has derived multiple benefits from intelligence-gathering technology developed by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), said speakers at a Friday briefing on Capitol Hill.
The event, hosted by the Space Foundation, featured Dr. Robert McDonald and Dr. James Outzen from the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance within the NRO. McDonald and Outzen described the political context leading to the establishment of the agency in 1961 and gave examples of how approaches and technology developed by the agency have seeped out of the intelligence-gathering world and into daily life.
Outzen identified three events – the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, and the movement of the North Korean army into South Korea in 1950 -- as driving the shift in mindset that the United States “could not afford” to be surprised by the activities of its adversaries. It was formalized during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, who said at the time “no more Pearl Harbors.”
McDonald and Outzen grouped the NRO’s contributions to society into four areas: organizational, intelligence-related, technological and data-related. The organization of the NRO itself was “unique” and “innovative,” and so were the agency’s early leaders, they explained. Of note is Edwin Land who, in addition to creating the Polaroid instant camera, is credited with a phrase that characterized the goal of reconnaissance: “see it all, see it well, and see it now.”
Alluding to the NRO’s long history of success in answering intelligence questions – many of which could not be disclosed at the briefing – Outzen offered a couple of examples from the Cold War. The Soviets, said Outzen, were carrying out a “fabulous deception” about the extent of their offensive capabilities. Intelligence gathered by U-2 aircraft and later by the CORONA program, the first U.S. photo reconnaissance satellites, helped defray fears of “the missile gap” and inform U.S. decisions about how best to use resources during the Cold War. Outzen explained that intelligence gathered by NRO satellites has also contributed in areas as diverse as treaty verification and assessments during humanitarian and environmental crises, such as hurricanes Rita and Katrina in the United States.
By enabling the “massive collection of information,” McDonald reiterated that aerospace technologies have been “very critical” in answering intelligence questions. He explained the dramatic mechanical and technological improvements as early reconnaissance satellite programs evolved, as well as the development of the first military meteorological satellite to improve the efficiency of imaging satellites in cloudy and nighttime conditions. He and Outzen also pointed to advancements in photography – such as the development of digital photography -- as well as systems engineering and other improvements that supported reliable launch capability, as key contributions from NRO activities. McDonald commented on the “staggering” number of NRO launches in the height of the Cold War, with one or two successful launches almost every month.
The final area of contributions the speakers commented on was data. Thinking about intelligence questions as data problems – dependent on the ability to gather the right data at a fast rate – helped drive innovations in data acquisition, integration, and processing. While much of these data remain classified, some of the long-term records are helping answer questions in other fields. In response to a question about the role of historical data in environmental research, McDonald noted that imagery collected by the CORONA satellites has been declassified and is available through the National Archives and the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS’s) Earth Resources Observation Systems (EROS) Data Center. He said that because these records allow researchers to examine conditions before NASA’s land remote sensing satellites began launching in 1972, they have been “invaluable” in environmental studies.
Lessons learned from NRO’s history and activities are captured in the National Reconnaissance Journal produced by the Center. Three issues have been published, in 2005, 2009 and 2012.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week, July 13-18, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate will be in session.
During the Week
Hopefully this week will get off to a roaring start -- literally -- with the launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Orb-2 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Delayed a number of times, as of mid-afternoon today (Saturday) Orbital's Antares rocket is scheduled to lift off from Wallops Island, VA at 12:52 pm ET tomorrow (Sunday, July 13) sending the Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS. If the launch does, in fact, take place tomorrow, Cygnus should arrive at the ISS on Wednesday. Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for up to date information on the launch.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2015 defense appropriations bill this week (subcommittee markup is on Tuesday, full committee on Thursday). One of the more interesting space policy-related issues will be whether it allocates any funding for the Air Force to begin a program to develop an alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engines. The House version of the bill adds $220 million to do so even though the White House opposes the addition because it is "premature." The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended $100 million in FY2015 in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but that bill has not passed the Senate yet.
U.S. dependence on Russian rocket engines is among the topics to be explored at a joint hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The hearing on Options for Assuring Domestic Access to Space features witnesses from DOD, NASA, GAO and RAND, as well as the chair (retired AF Maj. Gen. Howard Mitchell) of a recent Air Force review of alternatives to the RD-180 and the very recently retired head of NASA's Space Launch System and Orion programs (Dan Dumbacher). It's somewhat interesting that NASA will be represented by Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot instead of Administrator Charlie Bolden, who would be closer in rank to the other agency witnesses: Gen. William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command, and Alan Estevez, Principle Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Lightfoot, however, is a former director of NASA's rocket-building Marshall Space Flight Center so knows rockets inside and out.
Lots of other interesting events coming up this week. The full list of events that we know of as of Saturday afternoon is shown below.
Sunday, July 13
Monday, July 14
Tuesday, July 15
Wednesday, July 16
Thursday, July 17
Thursday-Friday, July 17-18
SpaceX announced today (July 11) that the Air Force has certified that the company's Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket has successfully completed three flights. That is one of the steps required before SpaceX can be awarded contracts from the Air Force for launches within the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Separately, on Wednesday it received approval from the FAA to conduct launches from a new launch site it plans to build in Texas.
The Air Force decision comes at a time when the SpaceX-Air Force relationship is rather strained. The company is suing the Air Force because it awarded a block-buy contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA) last year for 36 EELV cores on a sole-source basis rather than allowing SpaceX to compete. The Air Force and the Justice Department filed a motion last week asking the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to dismiss the suit.
Today's brief announcement by SpaceX is carefully worded to say that the Air Force certified that the Falcon 9 system successfully completed three flights, not that the company has been certified to win EELV contracts. While asserting that it is "already qualified to compete for EELV missions," SpaceX said today it "must also be certified by the Air Force before any contract can be awarded..." The statement concludes by saying that it expects to satisfy the remaining requirements by the end of this year.
SpaceX and the Air Force signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in June 2013 that details the requirements SpaceX must meet to win contracts for EELV-class launches of national security satellites. They include an evaluation of the Falcon 9's flight history, vehicle design, reliability, process maturity, safety systems, manufacturing and operations, systems engineering, risk management, and launch facilities. Achieving three successful flights of a common configuration of the Falcon 9 is part of that evaluation.
In February 2014, the Air Force certified the first successful flight under the CRADA. That launch, of a Canadian science satellite and five smaller satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, took place on September 29, 2013 and was the first of the Falcon 9 v1.1. The other two flights, on December 3, 2013 and January 6, 2014, now also have been certified as successful. Both of those were from Cape Canaveral and launched commercial communications satellites for SES and Thailand, respectively.
Separately, on July 9 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX's plans to conduct launches from a new launch site the company plans to build south of Brownsville, TX. The Record of Decision provides FAA's final environmental determination and approval to support issuing launch licenses and/or experimental permits to launch the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy (still in development) "and a variety of reusable suborbital vehicles" from 68.9 acres adjacent to the village of Boca Chica. The location is in Cameron County, TX, and is approximately 3 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. The approval is for up to 12 "commercial launch operations" per year.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is getting ready for another attempt to launch six Orbcomm second generation (OG2) communications satellites on Monday, July 14. That launch has been delayed several times for a variety of technical or weather-related reasons.
Two Senate committees will hold a joint hearing next week on the status of the U.S. launch industry. "Options for Assuring Domestic Space Access" will feature witnesses from DOD, NASA, RAND and GAO, as well as the chairman of a recent Air Force study on alternatives to Russia's RD-180 rocket engine and the very recently retired head of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs.
The hearing on July 16 will be co-chaired by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the Science and Space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Many U.S. space launches take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the adjacent NASA Kennedy Space Center on the Florida coast. Colorado has the nation's third largest aerospace economy. It is home not only to a large number of aerospace companies, such as United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) headquarters, but also to military users of space systems, including Air Force Space Command.
The three government witnesses on the first panel are the head of acquisition for DOD, Alan Estevez; the commander of Air Force Space Command, Gen. William Shelton; and NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot. Lightfoot is the former director of NASA's rocket-building Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.
Questions that are likely to arise include the Air Force's long term procurement plan for launch vehicles and how "new entrants" like SpaceX are -- or are not -- being accommodated. SpaceX is trying to get certified to bid for Air Force launch contracts and in the meantime filed a lawsuit against the Air Force because it gave United Launch Alliance (ULA) a sole source contract last year instead of allowing SpaceX to bid on it. That matter is before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims so it is not clear how far Estevez or Shelton can go in discussing it, but the topic is almost certain to come up. The Justice Department and the Air Force recently filed a motion with the Court to dismiss the lawsuit.
That contract is for ULA's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs), Atlas 5 and Delta IV. They are also used for NASA and NOAA satellites, so NASA's requirements are also an important part of the calculus, especially since two of the three companies it is funding in the commercial crew program (Boeing and Sierra Nevada) plan to use the Atlas V to launch their crew spacecraft (CST-100 and Dream Chaser, respectively).
NASA itself is developing a new launch vehicle, SLS, much more capable than the EELVs. Whether DOD has any use for that type of capability may also be of interest to the committees. SLS is being designed to take people beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). The initial version will be able to take 70 tons to LEO, more than twice the capability of the biggest EELV (Delta IV Heavy), and a future version will be able to launch 130 tons to LEO. At the moment NASA is the only customer, which means a very low flight rate and high costs per flight.
As critical as the SpaceX and SLS issues are, perhaps of greatest interest is U.S. reliance on Russia's RD-180 engines for the Atlas V rocket. With the deteriorating geopolitical situation between the Untied States and Russia, the House recently voted to allocate $220 million in the FY2015 defense appropriations bill to begin a rocket engine development program to replace the RD-180. The Senate appropriations defense subcommittee is scheduled to markup its defense bill the day before this hearing, and the full committee may be debating it at the very same time. The White House opposed the addition of the money in the House bill as premature.
In any case, Maj. Gen. Howard Mitchell (Ret.), now with the Aerospace Corporation, is one of four witnesses on the second panel. He just chaired a study on RD-180 alternatives for the Air Force that concluded there are few good options in the near term. He will be joined by Dan Dumbacher who retired from NASA on July 1 and is now at Purdue University. His last assignment at NASA was as Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development -- the person in charge of the SLS program and the Orion crew spacecraft it will launch. Also on that panel are Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) who has extensive experience in auditing and analyzing DOD acquisition of space systems for GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, and Yool Kim of the RAND Corporation. Kim was one of the authors of a 2008 RAND study on improving cost estimation for space systems.
The hearing is at 9:30 am ET in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
The U.S Government responded yesterday to the lawsuit filed by SpaceX against the Air Force and the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Lawyers for the Justice Department and the Air Force requested that the U.S. Court of Federal Claims dismiss the lawsuit because SpaceX does not have "standing" to file such a protest.
SpaceX filed suit in April arguing that the Air Force should not have awarded a sole-source contract to ULA in December 2013 for 36 rocket cores for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, but instead have opened the contract for bid. ULA builds and launches the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, which are used primarily for launching national security satellites, but also spacecraft for NASA and NOAA.
The legal arguments are complex, but the bottom line of the government's "Motion to Dismiss" seems to be that SpaceX does not have standing to file a protest because, in legal terms, it is not an interested party and does not have a direct economic interest.
Citing case law to support its arguments, the government asserts that companies cannot successfully argue after the fact that they could have competed for a contract and won if they were not a qualified bidder when the contract was open and did not indicate at the time that they intended to bid. In this case, SpaceX had not completed its certification flights at the time the request for proposals was issued in 2012 or when the contract was awarded in 2013. it completed its third certification flight only in 2014 and is still in the process of being certified by the Air Force to bid for launch service contracts. The government stresses that SpaceX did not file any complaints while the contracting process was underway in 2012-2013 even though it had opportunities and access to the necessary documentation to do so.
The government argues that SpaceX must show both that is an interested party and that it has a direct economic interest in order to have standing to file a protest.
To be an interested party, SpaceX would have to be either an actual or prospective bidder. To be an actual or prospective bidder, it would have had to have notified the government that it wanted to compete by submitting a statement of capability before the deadline, which it did not. The government cites SpaceX's own legal filing in this case as saying that it "could be a bidder for future contracts," not for past contracts.
The government also argues that SpaceX did not have a "direct economic interest" because to "prove a direct economic interest, a party must show that it had a 'substantial chance' of winning the [challenged] contract." Since SpaceX did not submit a statement of capability, it could not have had a substantial chance of winning the contract, therefore does not have a direct economic interest, and consequently does not have standing.
In short, the government contends, SpaceX "failed to submit a capability statement in response to the March 2012 solicitation. ... Nor ... did it indicate any dissatisfaction with the Air Force's intent to procure the launches sole-source" from ULA, and "took no steps to get involved in the procurement at the time the agency was planning its course. It is too late for SpaceX to try to bring a challenge to that procurement now."
The government makes a series of other arguments as well, all leading to a request that the court dismiss the case. (It is somewhat more complicated than that because the government complains that the SpaceX lawsuit is "amorphous" in that it protests any sole-source EELV award, not just the one issued in December 2013. The government asks the court to narrow the scope of the proceeding to the December 2013 contract, FA8811-13-C-0003, and therefore its filing is a Motion to Dismiss "portions" of the SpaceX lawsuit.)
Michael Listner, founder and principal at Space Law & Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, analyzed the government's Motion to Dismiss in a series of tweets (@ponder68) today and concluded it is "substantive, focused and confident." While SpaceX may object, "they will have a difficult time overcoming this Motion," he predicts.
For more SpacePolicyOnline.com coverage of this issue, see these previous articles:
This edition of "What's Happening in Space Policy" covers THREE weeks rather than one since so many people -- including Congress -- are on vacation this coming week as the United States celebrates the July 4th (Independence Day) holiday and future activities have not yet been announced. Here is our list of events June 30 - July 18, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is scheduled to return for legislative business on July 7 and the House on July 8.
During the Weeks
There could be some particularly interesting launches in the next three weeks -- or not.
Russia's launch of its new Angara rocket was postponed in the final minutes of countdown on June 27. As of today (June 29), Russian government and news sources have been silent about what caused the abort or when a new attempt will take place. Angara is a family of launch vehicles that has been under development for about the past 20 years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The new vehicles of various capabilities are intended to replace many of the Soviet-era rockets. This suborbital test flight is of the smallest version and carries a dummy payload.
Here in the United States, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket also experienced an anomaly during countdown on June 22. It was the latest delay in the launch of six next-generation communications satellites for Orbcomm. Like the Russians, SpaceX was not very forthcoming about what the problem was or how long it would take to fix. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said during a radio interview on The Space Show this past week, however, that the problem involves the first stage thrust vector control actuator and launch probably will not take place until at least July 14. That information is not posted on SpaceX's website, however.
Also uncertain is when Orbital Sciences will conduct the next cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS), Orb-2. Orbital is investigating the failure of an AJ-26 rocket engine during a May 22 test at Stennis Space Center before deciding whether to clear the Antares rocket designated to take a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the ISS. The engine that failed is for a launch in 2015, but the company needs to determine whether the problem affects more than that one engine. The "no earlier than" launch date for Orb-2 at the moment is July 10. The launch was originally scheduled for May and initially delayed because a SpaceX cargo flight to ISS was postponed, but the May 22 engine test failure led to several additional delays.
One U.S. launch that is on schedule, as of today at least, is NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2). Launch is scheduled for very early in the morning of July 1 (2:56 am Pacific time, 5:56 am Eastern). OCO-2 is a replacement for the original OCO, which was lost in a launch failure in 2009.
What's on tap in Congress when it returns is up in the air. The House is passing appropriations bills, but the process in the Senate remains stuck. Whether any agreement will be reached to allow progress once the Senate returns on July 7 remains to be seen. The new fiscal year begins on October 1, which may seem a long time away, but Congress will be in recess all of August, so there are few legislative days available to get work done.
In short, the space business and the space policy business is in an uncertain period. Keep checking back here for updates!
Sunday, June 29
Tuesday, July 1
Thursday, July 10
Wednesday, July 16
Thursday, July 17
Thursday-Friday, July 17-18
SpaceX is asking permission to amend its lawsuit against the Air Force for awarding a block-buy contract to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) in light of statements made in a letter from Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to the head of the defense department's acquisition office.
McCain sent a letter to Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics on June 20 asking about the price the Air Force pays for Russian RD-180 engines that are used in ULA's Atlas V rocket. McCain said that he is "aware of claims that the engines have been sold by NPO Energomash to RD Amross at a much lower price than RD Amross charges ULA for them." He asked nine detailed questions about RD-Amross including pricing data between Energomash and RD Amross, between RD Amross and ULA, and between ULA and the Air Force. Energomash manufactures the RD-180 engines. RD-Amross is a joint venture between Energomash and United Technologies that supplies the engines to ULA.
In its proposed amendment to the lawsuit it filed in April, SpaceX asserts that it learned from McCain's letter that there are questions about the prices the Air Force pays for RD-180s and whether ULA met the requirement to provide certified cost and pricing information as part of its bid for the contract, which was awarded in 2013. SpaceX is suing the Air Force because it was a sole-source award, rather than allowing competition.
"Based on Senator McCain's letter, it appears that ULA failed to provide certified cost and pricing data for the RD-180 engines and/or the Air Force failed to rationally assess whether it was paying a fair and reasonable price for those engines," the SpaceX amendment states. If ULA had provided that data, the Air Force "would have been forced to confront the fact that at least one of its suppliers is fleecing the United States taxpayer."
SpaceX wants to be able to compete for national security space launches. The Air Force requires potential launch providers -- "new entrants" -- to proceed through a certification process. SpaceX is still in that process. ULA therefore insists that SpaceX was not, and is not, certified to compete for the contract that was awarded last year.
SpaceX filed the lawsuit in the U.S Court of Federal Claims. Yesterday's filing asks the Court to allow it to amend the filing even though certain deadlines have passed because it only became aware that ULA may not have fulfilled the requirement for providing certified cost and pricing data due to McCain's letter.
Here is our list of space policy events coming up in the next week, June 23-27, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
The House has S. 1681, the Senate-passed version of the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, on the suspension calendar for this week. The Senate Intelligence Committee confidently predicted that the House would accept its version of the bill and that is looking likely. Bills considered under suspension of the rules typically are non-controversial and the sponsors expect to achieve a two-thirds aye vote easily. The Senate bill differs in many ways from the House version. For example, it is only for FY2014 while the House-passed bill was for FY2014 and FY2015. If the Senate bill is enacted, it gives Congress another opportunity to weigh in on intelligence issues legislatively in FY2015, which begins October 1. The Senate bill also requires Senate confirmation of the Director and Inspector General of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which designs, builds and operates the nation's signals and imagery reconnaissance satellites (the bill also requires Senate confirmation of the Director and Inspector General of the National Security Agency). No other space-related bills are on the House agenda as of today (Sunday) and the Senate has only consideration of various nominations on its public schedule. The fate of the appropriations bills that include NASA, NOAA, and the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation remains in limbo in the Senate.
The House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on the National Research Council's (NRC's) new report on the future of human space exploration on Wednesday. The co-chairs of the NRC committee, Mitch Daniels and Jonathan Lunine, will testify. So far the report has gotten positive responses from Congress via press releases, but this hearing is an opportunity for Members to get their viewpoints on the record and ask questions that highlight their areas of interest. The NRC committee's lack of enthusiasm for the Asteroid Redirect Mission, support for human missions back to the lunar surface, and identification of humans on Mars as the "horizon goal" are all in line with the views of most Members of the House SS&T Committee. One point on which there may be disagreement is the NRC committee's endorsement of space cooperation with China, which Congress has prohibited by law.
Those and other space policy-related events for the upcoming week that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, June 23
Monday-Tuesday, June 23-24
Tuesday, June 24
Wednesday, June 25
Thursday, June 26
The House passed the FY2015 defense appropriations bill today (June 20) with the $220 million added to begin building a replacement for Russia's RD-180 rocket engines intact. Also today, the Obama Administration imposed sanctions against seven Ukrainians and, along with Europe, is readying other sanctions aimed at specific Russian economic sectors including defense.
The availability of RD-180 engines for the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket has come into question since the deterioration of relationships with Russia because of its actions in Ukraine. The House now has passed both a FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4435) and a companion FY2015 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 4870) that provide $220 million for the Air Force to begin a program to develop a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the RD-180. The White House disapproves of the additional funding, arguing that it is premature to commit that much money while options on how best to obtain a new U.S. engine are still being evaluated, but there seems to be agreement that a new U.S engine is needed to end America's reliance on Russia. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) also wants a U.S.-built engine and recommended $100 million in its version of the FY2015 NDAA (S. 2410). SASC also adopted a McCain amendment that prohibits the purchase of additional RD-180 engines after the current contract expires.
U.S. national space policy requires that the government support two families of launch vehicles to ensure access to space, especially for national security satellites, in case one experiences a long hiatus because of a failure. The Atlas V is one of the two (Delta IV is the other). NASA and NOAA also use Atlas V and two of the three competitors for NASA's commercial crew program (Boeing and Sierra Nevada) plan to launch their spacecraft using the Atlas V.
ULA insists that it is "business as usual" with Energomash, the Russian company that manufactures the RD-180s. The question is whether the evolving situation in Ukraine and potential sanctions against Russia's defense sector could disrupt that relationship. ULA President Michael Gass said on Wednesday that the company is positioning itself to be able to respond to any eventuality.
Major media outlets including the New York Times report that a "senior administration official" briefed them today that the United States and Europe are readying tougher sanctions targeted against Russia's finance, energy and defense sectors because of continued Russian involvement in Ukraine. According to the reports, the administration is accusing Russia of covertly arming Ukrainian separatists and redeploying "significant' Russian troops along the Ukrainian border despite a cease-fire declared by Ukraine today and ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Kiev on a peace plan. The U.S. Treasury Department today imposed sanctions against seven Ukrainians who are viewed as separatist leaders.
Details of the potential sanctions against Russia's economic sectors have not been made public. President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russian President Putin earlier this month that he risked tougher sanctions if Russia did not withdraw Russian troops from the Ukrainian border and end its support for Ukrainian separatists. Although Russia initially withdrew some of it troops, they reportedly now are redeploying.