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Commercial Space News

Russia's Proton Returns to Flight on Friday - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Aug-2015 (Updated: 28-Aug-2015 11:24 PM)

UPDATE, August 28, 2015, 11:25 pm EDT:  the upper stage firings were successful and Inmarsat-5 F3 has been successfully delivered into geostationary orbit.

UPDATE, August 28, 2015, 8:00 am EDT:   Liftoff took place as planned and the three-stage Proton-M rocket appears to have performed flawlessly. The Briz-M upper stage is now making the first of five firings to place the satellite into geostationary orbit.  It will take 15 hours and 31 minutes for the satellite to reach its destination.

ORIGINAL STORY, August 27, 2015: Russia plans to launch an Inmarsat satellite using its Proton-M rocket on Friday, August 28.  It is the first Proton-M launch since a May 2015 failure destroyed a Mexican communications satellite.  The once reliable Proton, the largest of Russia's current fleet, has suffered a number of failures in recent years, but typically returns to flight after a few months, as is true this time.

U.S.-based International Launch Services (ILS) markets the Proton globally and will broadcast Friday's launch of Inmarsat-5 F3 on its website.   The launch of the Proton-M with a Briz-M upper stage is scheduled for 14:44 Moscow Time, which is 12:44 British Summer Time (in London where Inmarsat is headquartered), which is 11:44 GMT, which is 7:44 am EDT.  (Note that ILS incorrectly tweeted today, Thursday, that the launch is at 12:44 GMT. As Inmarsat's website attests, it is at 12:44 BST, or 11:44 GMT).

The May 16, 2015 Proton failure 497 seconds after launch was attributed to an old design flaw that affects the turbopump for the rocket's third stage steering engine.  In investigating this accident, Russia engineers determined that the same flaw caused a failure almost three decades ago, in 1988, that previously was thought to have been caused by a manufacturing defect. This year's failure doomed Mexico's MexSat-1 (Centenario) communications satellite, the second of three in that series.  The third is scheduled for launch on a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket in October 2015.

At the time of the MexSat-1 failure, the President of Inmarsat, Rupert Pearce, issued a statement sounding highly displeased since it was the third time the company's Global Xpress system was encountering delays because of Proton failures.  Ironically, Pearce expressed relief that the company had another satellite under construction and a "potential" SpaceX launch in the second half of 2016 in case Proton was delayed for a long time or this return-to-flight failed.   A month later, SpaceX suffered its own launch failure and has not announced when it will resume launches.

Russia is developing a new series of rockets, Angara, to replace Proton and other Soviet-era launch vehicles, several of which have failed in recent years.  The May 16 Proton failure came on the heels of a Soyuz failure that placed the Progress M-27M spacecraft in the wrong orbit from which it quickly reentered.'s fact sheet on Russian launch failures since December 2010 lists them.

Assuming all goes well, the Inmarsat-5 F3 satellite will reach geostationary orbit 15 hours and 31 minutes after liftoff, Inmarsat explains.  Once operational, it will join two previously launched satellites in providing Ka-band global high speed broadband network connectivity -- the Global Xpress service.  This satellite will cover the Pacific Ocean region.  Inmarsat-5 F1 covers the Indian Ocean region, while Inmarsat-5 F2 covers the Americas and Atlantic Ocean region.  Both were launched by Proton rockets, in December 2013 and February 2015 respectively.

NASA Assures Congress Orb-3 and SpX-7 Investigations Are Similar

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2015 (Updated: 27-Aug-2015 10:04 AM)

NASA told Congress this week that it is not giving SpaceX special treatment in the investigation of the Orb-3 and SpX-7 launch failures, but that the investigations are quite similar.  It said the perception that NASA's role in studying the SpaceX failure is less intense is the result of a misunderstanding.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote to NASA earlier this month asking a series of questions about NASA's role in finding the causes of the two failures:  the October 28, 2014 failure of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket with a Cygnus capsule loaded with supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) and the June 28, 2015 failure of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule also full of supplies for the ISS.  Both launches were under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract between NASA and the two companies.  The Antares/Cygnus launch was Orbital's third CRS launch, Orb-3.   SpaceX's launch was its seventh under the CRS contract -- SpaceX CRS-7 or SpX-7.

As commercial launches, they were licensed by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and the accident investigations conducted pursuant to AST regulations.  Accordingly, the companies themselves are in charge of the investigations, not the FAA or NASA.

Smith basically wanted to know why NASA set up an Independent Review Team (IRT) in the wake of the Orb-3 accident, but did not for SpX-7 and whether that implied that SpaceX was being given preferential treatment.

NASA's August 24 response, signed by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, was that although it may not seem so on the surface, NASA's handling of both launch failures is similar.   The major difference is that Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK following a merger with ATK earlier this year) is only providing Antares launch services to NASA under the CRS contract while SpaceX's Falcon 9 may also be used for other NASA launches, such as the upcoming launch of the Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite, under a different NASA contract, NASA Launch Services II (NLS II).  Furthermore, Falcon 9 will be used for SpaceX's launches of crew to the ISS under the commercial crew program.  Antares will not.

Bolden's argument is that NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP), which administers the NLS II contract, and commercial crew program have sufficient insight into SpaceX's activities to satisfy the function of an IRT.

NASA chose to establish an IRT for the Orb-3 failure and "[w]hile it may not have been as visible, we chose to do a similar thing for the SpaceX failure, conducting an independent review, but using existing mechanisms that were already in place," Bolden wrote.  Because of this "misunderstanding," many of the questions posed by Smith were "written under an incorrect premise...."

The five page letter, plus enclosures, goes on to respond to the "spirit of those questions," concluding that NASA is, in fact, conducting independent reviews of both failures and of the Orbital ATK and SpaceX "approaches to return to flight."  One of the enclosures is an August 3 memorandum for the record from NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, stating that "I have been closely observing the inclusion of NASA in the [Falcon 9 failure] investigation and have determined that NASA LSP should serve the function of an independent review team for NASA for this investigation."

Orbital ATK determined that a malfunction of the NK33/AJ-26 Russian rocket engines on Antares caused the Orb-3 failure, although the official report has not been released yet.  It will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket for its next Cygnus cargo launch (OA-4) to ISS in December.  Antares is expected to return to flight, outfitted with different Russian rocket engines, in March 2016. 

SpaceX made a preliminary finding that the SpX-7 failure was due to a bad strut in the rocket's upper stage, but the investigation is ongoing and the company has not announced when the Falcon 9 will return to flight or what it will launch.   SpaceX has a long list of customers, both commercial and government, for Falcon 9 launches. 

The next Falcon 9 NASA launch is Jason-3, which was supposed to go in July after several earlier satellite-related delays.   During a media telecon today on NASA's studies of sea level rise, JPL's Josh Willis said the launch could take place later this year or early next, depending on when the Falcon 9 resumes service.  He said the launch would take place as soon as possible, but only when it can be done safely.  Jason-3 is a cooperative program between NOAA and Europe's EUMETSAT, with participation by NASA and its French counterpart, CNES.  NASA and CNES built the first two in the series and a predecessor, Topex-Poseidon.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 24-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Aug-2015 (Updated: 23-Aug-2015 03:33 PM)

Summer will be over before we know it, but for now, our list of upcoming space policy events still spans the next couple of weeks while "business" is slow.   Congress returns on September 8, the day after Labor Day.

During the Week

This week starts off with the docking of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) HTV5 (Kounotori5) cargo spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS).   The spacecraft was successfully launched on Wednesday and has been catching up with ISS ever since.   JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui is aboard ISS and will be at the controls of Canada's robotic Canadarn2 tomorrow morning (Monday) to capture it.   That event is expected about 6:55 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV coverage begins at 5:15 am EDT.  JAXA's coverage begins at 6:05 am EDT.  Installation of HTV5 onto the Harmony node will follow at about 9:45 am EDT.  The crew surely will be happy to get those 9,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and science experiments following the three cargo mission failures (one U.S. Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus, one Russian Soyuz/Progress, and one U.S. SpaceX Falcon/Dragon) since last October.   It should be noted, of course, that there also have been five successful cargo missions (three Russian Progresses and two U.S. SpaceX Dragons) during that time, which, if anything, demonstrates just how much resupply from Earth is needed to sustain the crew and their work.

Tomorrow also is the first day of the three-day Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meeting at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.  These "AGs" -- assessment groups or analysis groups but NOT "advisory" groups -- apparently no longer are officially part of NASA's advisory process, but are still an opportunity for members of the relevant science community to get together and interact with each other and NASA officials.   The meeting is available virtually via WebEx and telecon.  Among the many interesting sessions, Bob Pappalardo will talk about plans for the Europa mission on Monday at 3:15 pm ET and Alan Stern is scheduled to talk about the New Horizons Pluto mission on Tuesday at 1:30 pm ET.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is scheduled to speak at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) luncheon on Tuesday.  (The event is listed on MSBR's website, but the link to the flyer is inactive.  We assume that's a glitch and the event is going on as planned, but you might want to check with MSBR to be sure).  Edwards is the top Democrat ("ranking member") on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and a strong NASA supporter, especially of projects at Goddard Space Flight Center near her district.  Her interest in space goes much further, though.  Never mind just trying to convince her colleagues to fund NASA's "Journey to Mars," she has said publicly that she wants to go there herself.   Right now, though, she is focused on her current job representing Maryland's 4th congressional district and running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

On Friday, the Earth Science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council will meet telephonically.  An agenda is not yet posted on the subcommittee's website, but the Federal Register notice says it is an annual performance review of the Earth Science program as required under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  The public is welcome to listen in.

Those events and others coming up the first week of September that we know about as of today, August 23, are listed below.

Monday, August 24

  • HTV5 arrival at ISS, grapple 6:55 am ET, installation 9:45 am ET (times are approximate)   Watch on NASA TV (5:15 am ET) and JAXA's YouTube site (6:05 am ET)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

  • OPAG, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD (available via WebEx and telecon)

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4


What's Happening in Space Policy August 17-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Aug-2015 (Updated: 16-Aug-2015 06:38 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events.  This edition covers the next three weeks, through Labor Day Weekend when "summer" unofficially ends for those of us in the United States.  Labor Day is the first Monday in September. This year it is September 7.  Congress and the regular routine of business return on September 8.

During the Week

This coming week leaves lots of time for summer fun, with just one event on our calendar at the moment -- the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) launch of the HTV5 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  The launch has been delayed twice already because of weather and JAXA cautions that more weather delays are possible. For now the launch is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19, at 7:50 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV will provide coverage beginning at 7:00 am EDT.  The cargo capsule is named Kounotori (white stork) so this is sometimes referred to as Kounotori-5.

This is the fifth Japanese cargo mission to ISS and a Japanese astronaut is aboard ISS to welcome it.  Kimiya Yui arrived on July 22 with his Soyuz TMA-17M crew mates Kjell Lindgren (NASA) and Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos). The other three ISS crew members are Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos), Mikhail Kornienko (Roscosmos), and Scott Kelly (NASA).  Kelly and Kornienko are not quite mid-way through their "year in space."  Yesterday was day 141 according to Kelly, who regularly tweets (@StationCDRKelly) about his experiences.  Whenever it launches, HTV5 should arrive at the ISS five days later.

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

Wednesday, August 19

  • JAXA launch of HTV5, Tanegashima, Japan, 7:50 am EDT (NASA TV coverage begins at 7:00 am EDT)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

Orbital Buys Second Atlas V for Cargo Launch, Antares Progressing to Return to Flight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Aug-2015 (Updated: 12-Aug-2015 10:05 AM)

Orbital ATK revealed today that it has purchased a second Atlas V rocket to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  The company already planned to use Atlas V for a December launch and now will use a second in 2016 along with two or three launches of its revamped Antares rocket.  An October 2014  Antares failure was the first of three failed cargo launches to ISS in less than a year that disrupted cargo deliveries, although NASA insists that U.S. ISS operations are unaffected. 

The company plans to use an Atlas V to launch Cygnus in December 2015, the first Cygnus launch under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA since the October 2014 failure.   Today's press release said only "early December," but NASA officials have publicly stated that the launch is scheduled for December 3. Orbital ATK refers to it as the "OA-4" mission.  Two successful Antares/Cygnus CRS cargo missions were flown by Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orb-1 and Orb-2) before its merger with ATK earlier this year.  The third in the series, Orb-3, was the failure.

In 2016, Orbital ATK will carry out "at least three more CRS missions: two (or possibly three) will be launched by Antares rockets ... and one more will be launched aboard Atlas V," according to Orbital ATK Space Systems President Frank Culbertson. 

The Antares return-to-flight mission is expected in the first quarter of 2016 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, VA.  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said last week that repairs to the MARS facility, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, are almost complete.  Virginia Space, Orbital ATK and NASA are equally sharing the $15 million cost of the repairs.  McAuliffe said that a new arrangement has been negotiated with Orbital ATK regarding repair costs and insurance coverage for future missions.

The October 2014  Antares failure was caused by one of the Russian NK33 rocket engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26) and Orbital ATK is replacing them with a different Russian engine, RD-181.  Two engines are needed for each Antares rocket and Orbital ATK President and CEO David Thompson said during an investor teleconference last week that the engines were delivered in June and are being integrated into the Antares airframe now.  The retrofitted Antares will roll out to the pad in January for a "hot fire" engine test, Thompson added, although today's announcement said it could take place late this year or in January.  No announcement was made about exactly when the launch is planned, but March has been mentioned elsewhere.

Under the original CRS contract, Orbital ATK and its competitor, SpaceX, are each required to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the ISS by the end of 2016.   NASA awarded extensions to both companies' contracts to cover launches in 2017.  Thompson said last week that Orbital ATK was awarded two of them.  Orbital ATK has upgraded the Cygnus capsule so it can carry more mass so it anticipates that it can meet its contractual requirements using fewer launches than previously planned.

NASA and its ISS partners are recovering from a spate of cargo launch failures:  the October 28, 2014 Antares failure, a Russian Progress M-27M failure on April 28, 2015, and a SpaceX CRS-7 failure on June 28, 2015.   The Russians have since successfully launched another Progress.  A date for SpaceX Falcon 9 launches to resume has not been announced.

The next cargo mission to the ISS will be Japan's HTV5, which is scheduled for August 16, 2015.  Europe no longer launches its ATV cargo vehicle, so Japan's HTV, Russia's Progress, and the two U.S. capsules -- Orbital ATK's Cygnus and SpaceX's Dragon -- are the four vehicles used to deliver cargo at the present time.

GAO: Air Force Needs Incremental Approach to Launch Services Acquisition

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Aug-2015 (Updated: 11-Aug-2015 02:38 PM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said today that in this changing launch services environment, the Air Force needs to take it slow in planning competitive launch services procurements before committing to something without adequate knowledge.

The GAO looked at the Air Force's plan to acquire future launch services under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.   Since 2006, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) has been a monopoly in providing EELV launches using the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, but with the certification of SpaceX to offer EELV launch services in the future, a competitive environment has reemerged.

GAO explains that the Air Force currently acquires launch services from ULA under a cost-reimbursement, rather than fixed price, contract.  The cost-reimbursement contract requires ULA to give the Air Force cost and performance data that the Air Force can use to monitor contractor performance and identify risks that can affect schedule and cost.  In the new competitive environment, however, the Air Force plans to move to firm fixed price (FFP) contracts where that data will not be available.  That creates a good news, bad news situation where the price for launches may be less with FFP contracts, but the Air Force will have "significantly less insight into program costs and performance."  GAO also worries that FFP contracts will not give the Air Force the flexibility it needs to change launch schedules, noting that "satellite delays have historically been an issue..."

Added to that, the future of the competitive launch services industry is uncertain and "the ability of the domestic industry to sustain two or more providers in the long-term, while desirable, is unclear."

The recommendation, therefore, is to move slowly and not make commitments to future acquisition rounds until the Air Force has gained experience with the first one, now underway.  The Air Force should "use an incremental approach to the next acquisition strategy until data is available to make an informed decision." 

In a letter included as an appendix to the GAO report, DOD concurred: "The Air Force is implementing a phased approach to its EELV efforts, to include awarding launch services on a case by case basis."

GAO did the study in response to a congressional requirement in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act. 


What's Happening in Space Policy August 9-31, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Aug-2015 (Updated: 09-Aug-2015 01:10 PM)

With the relatively lazy days of summer upon us, the August weekly editions of "What's Happening" will cover multiple weeks.  The Senate has joined the House in recessing through Labor Day.  They return September 8.

During the Month

Some notable events have come to our attention since last week's edition.  John Sloan from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is the featured guest at the ISU-DC Space Cafe this Tuesday, August 11.  His topic is AST's international outreach, interesting in and of itself, but questions about AST's progress in responding to the NTSB's report on the SpaceShipTwo accident may also come up (though the answer may simply be that we all have to wait for the official response, which is due 90 days from when the report was received).

Another event that may be especially interesting is Thursday night's debate between Bas Lansdorp, President of Mars One, and two MIT graduate students (Sydney Do and Andrew Owens) who did a technical feasibility analysis of the plan that concluded it would have a "bleak outcome" as we wrote last fall.   The debate is part of the Mars Society's annual convention, which will be held at Catholic University in Washington, DC from August 13-16.  The Lansdorp/MIT debate is August 13 from 8:00-9:30 pm ET and is open to the public.

Coming up a week from Sunday is Japan's launch of HTV5, the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  We don't list routine cargo missions to ISS unless there is something non-routine going on and considering the recent failures of ISS cargo missions, HTV5 definitely qualifies.  NASA officials told the NASA Advisory Council at the end of July that some ISS supplies will be down to a 45-day margin by the time HTV5 launches on August 16.  NASA likes to maintain a 6-month margin.  The situation will be much improved once HTV5 arrives.  Launch is at 9:01 am Eastern Daylight Time (10:01 pm local time at the launch site in Tanegashima, Japan).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, August 9, are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 8-13

Monday, August 10

Tuesday, August 11

Thursday-Sunday, August 13-16

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

NASA Extends Contract for Russian Transport to ISS; Shireman is New ISS Program Manager

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Aug-2015 (Updated: 05-Aug-2015 11:56 PM)

NASA notified Congress by letter today that it has signed a contract with Russia for additional seats on Soyuz spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   The letter blamed congressional underfunding of the commercial crew program for the necessity to continue reliance on Russia.  The agency also announced a new ISS program manager, Kirk Shireman, who will succeed Mike Suffredini.

Saying that the new contract with Russia costs $490 million, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden stressed, as he has in many other forums, that U.S. crew transportation systems could have been in place this year if Congress had provided the requested funding and urged full funding this year. In the letter, he writes:  "I am asking that we put past disagreements behind us and focus our collective efforts on support for American industry -- Boeing and SpaceX -- to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles" so launches can begin in 2017.

NASA is requesting $1.244 billion for commercial crew in FY2016.  The House approved $1.000 billion in its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that passed in June.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $900 million in its version of the bill, which has not been debated by the full Senate yet.  (See our fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information.)

President Obama announced the commercial crew program as part of the FY2011 budget request in February 2010.  Each year, Congress has approved less than the request because of competing budget priorities, skepticism that the commercial crew program will succeed technically and/or financially, and disagreement over how many companies NASA needed to support during the various phases of development. The request versus congressional funding so far are:

  • FY2011: requested $500 million, appropriated $321 million
  • FY2012: requested $850 million, appropriated $406 million
  • FY2013: requested $830 million. appropriated $525 million
  • FY2014: requested $821 million, appropriated $696 million
  • FY2015: requested $848 million, appropriated $805 million
  • FY2016: requested $1.244 billion, appropriated TBD ($1.0 billion passed by House; $900 million recommended by Senate Appropriations Committee).

NASA pays Russia for "seats" on Soyuz spacecraft, a term that encompasses other services such as training, and includes launch, landing, and emergency escape ("lifeboat") capabilities while in orbit.  This contract is for 6 more seats on flights in 2018.  That yields a price per seat of about $81 million, up from $76 million for 2017.  One of Bolden's complaints is that the money should be going to American companies, not Russian.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said in congressional testimony in February that the average price per seat for U.S. commercial crew systems will be $56 million.

Boeing and SpaceX were selected for the final phase of NASA's commercial crew program last year.  The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts cover completion of development and initial flights of Boeing's CST-100 capsule aboard Atlas V rockets and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule aboard Falcon 9 rockets.  The impact of the June 28 Falcon 9 failure while launching a robotic cargo version of Dragon to ISS is not yet known.  SpaceX has not announced when the next Falcon 9 launch will take place or what it will carry.  Falcon 9 is used today not only for cargo missions to the ISS for NASA, but launches of commercial satellites for a number of customers.

Meanwhile, Mike Suffredini, who has managed the ISS program for the past 10 years, is retiring from NASA to take a position in the private sector.  NASA announced today that he will be succeeded by Kirk Shireman, who is currently Deputy Director of Johnson Space Center.  Suffredini has been ISS program manager since 2005 and saw the ISS through recovery from the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy, completion of construction in 2011 (the same year the space shuttle program ended), and the first years of full operational capability.  Shireman was Suffredini's deputy for eight of those years (2006-2013).

Will Space Be A Topic at Thursday's Republican Presidential Primary Debate? - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Aug-2015 (Updated: 07-Aug-2015 12:04 PM)

UPDATE, August 7, 2015:   No space policy questions arose at the debate.

ORIGINAL STORY, August 5, 2015:  The 10 Republican presidential candidates who will debate each other in prime time on Thursday were selected by Fox News on Tuesday based on an average of five national polls.  Among them are former Florida governor Jeb Bush who recently said he is "a space guy," and Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), both of whom made statements yesterday in support of Senate passage of a commercial space bill.  While space activities rarely rise to the fore in presidential primary debates, it did happen in 2012. Perhaps it will this time, too.

Cruz is the sponsor of S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which passed the Senate yesterday (August 4).  Rubio of one of four cosponsors.

Following Senate passage, Cruz invoked the memory of President Ronald Reagan, saying the bill carried forward "President Reagan's torch" by continuing to support commercial space. The original Commercial Space Launch Act was enacted during Reagan's presidency.  In addition to provisions dealing directly with commercial space launch issues, the bill also extends the U.S. commitment to operating the International Space Station to 2024.   Reagan initiated the space station program in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  Cruz also tied the bill to his home state interests, saying that it demonstrates Texas has a "major stake in space exploration" and Johnson Space Center employees "will continue to play a vital role in the future" of human spaceflight.   Cruz has also made clear his support for space exploration during Senate hearings, arguing that exploration of space, not studying the earth, should be NASA's priority.

One provision of S. 1297 extends through 2020 the "learning period" during which the FAA cannot issue additional commercial human spaceflight regulations.  Sometimes called a "moratorium," it is set to expire on September 30, 2015.  The idea is that the commercial human spaceflight industry needs time to gain experience before decisions are  made on what, if any, more regulation is needed.

It may be that provision Rubio was referring to in his statement that "we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs."  He added that the reforms in the bill will "make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space" and "help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before."  Like Cruz and other Senators who commented on the bill, he tied it to home state interests calling it "an important win for Florida's space exploration community."

For his part, Bush championed an increase in NASA funding during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, NH, enthusing that "I'm a space guy."

People were allowed to send in questions to Fox News that they want the candidates to answer.  At least one is about space policy.   Michael Listner, founder and principal of Space Law & Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, tweeted today that he submitted one.

Whether or not it or any other space policy question gets asked is problematical, of course. The two-hour debate has 10 candidates and three co-moderators.  How many questions can be reasonably asked and answered in that time span with so many participants will be interesting to watch.  The debate airs on Fox News Channel and is being conducted in partnership with Facebook.  It is being held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 10 candidates who made the cut to be in the prime time debate at 9:00 pm EDT are (in order of their standing in the polls yesterday from highest to lowest):

  • Donald Trump (billionaire businessman)
  • Jeb Bush (former Florida governor)
  • Scott Walker (current Wisconsin governor)
  • Mike Huckabee (former Arkansas governor)
  • Ben Carson (commentator and retired neurosurgeon)
  • Ted Cruz (Senator from Texas)
  • Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida)
  • Rand Paul (Senator from Kentucky)
  • Chris Christie (current New Jersey governor)
  • John Kasich (current Ohio governor)

Seven other Republican presidential candidates who ranked lower in the polls will appear in a separate one-hour debate at 5:00 pm EDT.  They are:

  • Rick Perry (former Texas governor)
  • Rick Santorum (former Senator from Pennsylvania)
  • Bobby Jindal (current Louisiana governor)
  • Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett Packard)
  • Lindsey Graham (Senator from South Carolina)
  • George Pataki (former New York governor)
  • Jim Gilmore (former Virginia governor)

During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidate Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, laid out bold goals for the space program, and he and Mitt Romney responded to questions about the space program in one of the televised debates.

Senate Passes Commercial Space Bill, Extends ISS to 2024

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2015 (Updated: 30-Sep-2015 08:52 AM)

The Senate passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, S. 1297, today (August 4) by unanimous consent.  The broadly cast bill not only deals with several issues directly related to commercial space launch, but also extends operation of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2024.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, was approved by the committee on May 20 and formally reported from committee on July 22.  Cosponsors include Republican Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Democrats Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).  

Cruz said the bill carries forward "President Reagan's torch" by making a commitment to continued support of the commercial space sector.   The original Commercial Space Launch Act was enacted in 1984 during Reagan's presidency.   It also extends the U.S. commitment to ISS operations through 2024.   President Reagan initiated the space station program in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  Cruz also tied the legislation to Texas interests, noting that it "recognizes that Texas has a major stake in space exploration" and the ISS commitment signifies that Johnson Space Center employees "will continue to play a vital role in the future" of human spaceflight.

Nelson, the top Democrat on the full committee, said the bill will "help clear the way for the commercial space companies to grow and thrive on Florida's Space Coast and across the nation" and help "with our push to explore Mars."

In addition to the extension of ISS to 2024, the bill --

  • extends to 2020 the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight whereby the FAA cannot promulgate new regulations except under certain circumstances (sometimes called a "moratorium," it currently expires on September 30, 2015);
  • extends FAA's authority to indemnify commercial space launch companies from third party liability claims for certain amounts of money until 2020 (current authority expires on December 31, 2016);
  • establishes a new "Government Astronaut" category of passenger on commercial spaceflights separate from crew and spaceflight participants;
  • asks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with NASA and other government agencies, to assess and recommend approaches for the oversight of commercial space activities; and
  • asks for a report on how to streamline the process for obtaining licenses and permits for innovative launch vehicles, such as hybrids that use both aircraft and rockets.

The House passed a related bill, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, H.R. 2262, on May 21.  There are many differences between the House and Senate bills, and the House bill passed against strong Democratic objections, but there also are similarities providing a basis for conference discussions.

President Obama decided last year that the United States would continue operations of ISS to 2024, but current law says only that it will operate "at least through 2020."  That does not preclude operations beyond 2020, but some argue that the later date should also be stated in law.   Canada and Russia have agreed with the proposal to continue operations through 2024; Japan and Europe have not done so yet.