Commercial Space News
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.
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act today that they say will establish and protect property rights for commercial exploration and exploitation of asteroids.
Two U.S. companies prominently promoting the potential of asteroid mining are Planetary Resources, headquartered in Redmond, WA, and Deep Space Industries in Houston, TX.
In a statement, Posey and Kilmer said that while it may be many years before asteroids actually are mined for their resources, the research is underway now and companies need greater certainty about property rights to what they are mining. Nickel, iron, cobalt and platinum-group minerals (platinum, osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium and palladium) are specifically cited as potential minerals that might be mined on asteroids. They say that their bill will --
The major issue is whether such property rights in space are legal under international law. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States and 102 other countries are signatories, prohibits claims of national sovereignty in outer space, including on the Moon and other celestial bodies, which includes asteroids. The treaty also states that governments bear responsibility for the actions by both government and non-government entities -- such as private companies -- to ensure that they abide by the treaty's provisions.
Scholars in space law have long argued over whether the treaty prohibits exploitation of resources entirely. In 2004, the Board of Directors of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) issued a statement that "prohibition of national appropriation also precludes the application of any national legislation on a territorial basis to validate a 'private claim'" and it is the "duty" of governments to "implement the terms of the treaty within their national legal systems." The IISL statement was spurred by a company that purports to sell deeds to parcels on the Moon, but has broader applicability. The IISL issued a further statement in 2009 to clarify its position that "any purported attempt to claim ownership of any part of outer space ... or authorization of such claims by national legislation, is forbidden.... Since there is no territorial jurisdiction in outer space or on celestial bodies, there can be no private ownership of parts thereof...." It calls for a "specific legal regime" to be "elaborated through the United Nations, on the basis of present international space law."
The 1967 Outer Space Treaty is one of five space treaties negotiated through the United Nations. The United States is signatory to four of the five. A synopsis of all five treaties can be found under the "space law" tab on SpacePolicyOnline.com's home page.
A spokesman for Posey's office said that the bill repeatedly states that it should be implemented "consistent with international obligations" and does not confer ownership rights to asteroids. It only "allows those companies that mine the asteroid to keep what they bring back." The bill affects only U.S. companies engaged in such activities.
Tanja Masson-Zwaan, Deputy Director of the International Institute of Air & Space Law at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, agrees that existing treaties do not seem to prohibit ownership of extracted resources, but adds that exploitation of space resources must comply with general space law principles.
Michael Listner, founder and principal at Space Law and Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, says that the bill is "crafted with international law in mind," but the underlying caveat that property rights will be granted in accordance with international obligations could be a "showstopper." He also points out that the European Space Agency (ESA) is "planning on granting resource rights as well" and asks how claims under this legislation would be reconciled with competing foreign claims.
Marco Ferrazzani, ESA Legal Counsel, said in a July 17 email to SpacePolicyOnline.com that "the European Space Agency is working towards exploration opportunities carried out in international cooperation and in full respect of international space law, with provides for the principle of non-appropriation."
UPDATE: This article was updated on July 17, 2014 to add the quote from ESA's Marco Ferrazzani.
Orbital Sciences Corporation announced today (July 9) that it is delaying the launch of its Orb-2 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by one day because thunderstorms in the area last night delayed the roll out of the Antares rocket to its launch pad.
Launch is now scheduled for Saturday, July 12, at 1:14 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). The launch is taking place from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia.
Two pre-launch briefings scheduled for tomorrow (July 10) at 4:00 pm EDT on the science payload aboard the Cygnus spacecraft and at 5:00 pm EDT on mission status, are likely to be rescheduled for Friday at the same time, but NASA has yet to confirm that.
The one-day launch delay does not affect the arrival of Cygnus at the ISS. That is still on track for July 15 at 7:24 am EDT.
The launch has been delayed several times since its original launch date in May for a variety of 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.
A review of public-private partnerships throughout U.S. history published by NASA concludes that they are neither a panacea nor a Pandora's box in finding ways to accomplish goals as diverse as building railroads or creating the telephone industry. Eminent space historian Roger Launius examined six case studies as possible analogs to using such partnerships in the space program.
NASA's "commercial crew" and "commercial cargo" programs, though referred to as "commercial," actually are public-private partnerships (PPPs) where the federal government and the private sector each bring resources to the table and the government assures an initial market for the services.
In the report, Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce, Launius explains that PPPs are more common in U.S. history than many people realize. They "have been in use in the United States for over 200 years and thousands are operating today," he says.
He chose six to study as analogs for developing space commerce:
He concludes that "The reality is that public-private partnerships are neither a panacea for all ills of public policy nor a Pandora's box of troubles. They offer appropriate responses to problems of society, especially those that have technological infrastructure, or enormous investment challenges. There are always tradeoffs."
Looking at the applicability of PPPs to human spaceflight, in particular, Launius lists five major themes traditionally used to justify a large, publicly funded program:
He concludes the first two are important drivers for the space program overall, but not for human spaceflight, and the last two "have receded into the background as drivers for sustained public investment in the American space program." According to his analysis, "[c]ommercial activities are the primary arena that might prove successful for energizing human spaceflight." He sees a robust future for entrepreneurial activities in earth orbit and urges that NASA change how it operates and "develop more equal partnerships to accomplish its space exploration mandate."
Launius is Associate Director, Collections and Curatorial Affairs, at the National Air and Space Museum. He served as NASA's Chief Historian from 1990-2002 and is the author or editor of dozens of books on the history of space and aeronautics, baseball, and the Mormon religion.
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:
Orbital Sciences Corporation announced today that July 11 is the new launch date for its second operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Orb-2. The launch has been delayed several times for a variety of reasons.
The launch is scheduled for 1:40 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia. Orbital's Antares rocket will send a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to ISS packed with 3,000 pounds of science experiments, supplies and a number of nanosatellites that will be deployed from the ISS.
If the launch takes place on time, Cygnus will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday, July 15. ISS crew members Steve Swanson (NASA) and Alexander Gerst (ESA) will grapple the spacecraft using Canada's robotic Canadarm2 at approximately 7:24 am EDT. It then will be installed onto the ISS Harmony module at about 9:30 am ET.
NASA TV will cover all of the events live, as well as two pre-launch press conferences on July 10: a science briefing at 4:00 pm EDT and a mission status briefing at 5:00 pm EDT.
The Orb-2 launch was originally delayed in May because SpaceX had to postpone the launch of its competing Falcon 9/Dragon system. The two companies more-or-less alternate in sending their cargo ships to ISS. Orb-2 encountered additional delays after an AJ26 rocket engine failed during a test at NASA's Stennis Space Center. Antares is powered by Russian AJ26 engines and while the one that failed is for a launch in 2015, since they are the same design, the company needed to be sure the problem did not affect the engine on this rocket.
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.