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Commercial Space News

What's Happening in Space Policy January 1-6, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jan-2017 (Updated: 01-Jan-2017 01:33 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 1-6, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2017 and, on Tuesday, to the 115th Congress.  Under the Constitution, a new session of Congress begins on January 3 of each year.  The second session of the 114th Congress officially will end and the first session of the 115th Congress will begin at 12:00 pm ET that day.

The House will meet at 11:00 am on Tuesday for legislative business to end the 114th Congress (to adjourn "sine die" -- without a day for that Congress to reconvene) and then will meet at noon to convene the 115th Congress.  They will begin with a recorded quorum call followed by the election of the Speaker of the House (Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to win that vote) and swearing in of the other members.  The House will be composed of 241 Republicans (a net loss of six seats) and 194 Democrats (a net gain of six seats).  Several pieces of legislation are scheduled for floor action this coming week, but none related to the space program judging by their titles. They can't be officially introduced and assigned bill numbers until the 115th Congress convenes, but the House Majority Leader's website lists their titles. 

The Senate will meet on Tuesday in pro forma session at 11:55 am ET to close the 114th Congress.  The Senate website doesn't say so, but presumably it also will convene for the 115th Congress at noon and swear in its members.  The Senate will be composed of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who remained an Independent throughout his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Angus King of Maine). That is a net loss of two seats for Republicans and a net gain of two seats for Democrats. The two Independents caucus with the Democrats so it is essentially a 52-48 split.

The only hearing on either side of the Hill that we've seen posted is on foreign cyber threats to the United States.  That's before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday at 9:30 am ET.  Not really space-related, but certainly of broad interest.  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre III, and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command/Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Services Adm. Michael Rogers are the witnesses.

On Friday, the House and Senate will meet in joint session at 1:00 pm ET to count the Electoral College votes officially, bringing the 2016 presidential election to an end.  On December 19, the electors cast their votes.  Donald Trump received 306, Hillary Clinton 232, making Trump the winner.  Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.9 million, but in the U.S. system, it is the Electoral College vote that determines the outcome.  Trump will be sworn in at noon ET on January 20.  Barack Obama remains President until then.

Outside the Beltway, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will hold its winter meeting in Grapevine, TX.   This is where the world's astronomers and astrophysicists get together and discuss recent discoveries and future plans.  Always fascinating, but usually one has to be there to learn about it in real time. The sessions and press conferences are not publicly webcast.  Only a few are webcast for the media (a special password is required; instructions for obtaining it are on the conference's website).  However, some archived webcasts are made available later.

NASA will hold a press conference at Johnson Space Center on Wednesday to discuss two upcoming spacewalks -- the first is on Friday -- to upgrade the International Space Station's electrical power system.  NASA TV will cover the press conference and the spacewalk.

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

Tuesday, January 3

  • 115th Congress convenes

Tuesday-Saturday, January 3-7

Wednesday, January 4

Friday, January 6

State Department Legal Advisor: The Outer Space Treaty -- 50 Years On

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2016 (Updated: 14-Dec-2016 11:23 PM)

The foundational document that sets international law for conducting space activities -- the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) -- is about to turn 50.  State Department Legal Advisor Brian Egan discussed the relevance of the Treaty today and its future at the 11th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law last week.  The annual symposium is held under the aegis of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL).

Officially named the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the OST was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 19, 1966, opened for signature on January 27, 1967 and entered into force on October 10, 1967.

Article VI, which requires that governments authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities, like companies, puts it at the center of today's debate over commercial space activities.  Specifically the question is how to ensure that proposed U.S. entrepreneurial ventures like private space stations, satellite servicing, habitats on the Moon, and asteroid mining comply with those obligations.   Experts at the December 7 Galloway space law symposium debated many of those issues.  Egan focused his comments on the relevance of the OST today and the outlook for the next 50 years.  

He noted that the Commercial Space Launch and Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, also called the Space Resource Exploitation and Utilization Act) enacted last year generated confusion internationally.  Some countries concluded that the United States was abrogating its obligations under the OST by granting property rights to space resources obtained by U.S. companies.  "In fact it is just the opposite," he stressed, because CSLCA clearly states that such rights must be consistent with U.S. international obligations and are subject to authorization and continuing supervision by the U.S. government as required by Article VI.

Egan noted that Article IX is also important in the context of innovative commercial space activities.  It requires that signatories to the Treaty avoid "harmful contamination" of the Moon and other celestial bodies and adopt "appropriate measures for that purpose."  The U.S. government recently approved an application by Moon Express to land a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon after it voluntarily agreed to comply with international planetary protection guidelines established by the international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).  He stressed that the approval was specific to this one short-duration mission and the State Department's ability to authorize more extensive missions in the future requires "a more robust authorization framework ... to enable conditional approval where necessary."

Importantly, as the next 50 years of the OST unfold, the approach to avoiding harmful contamination of celestial bodies may evolve, Egan said.  The "open-textured" nature of the OST "accommodates such developments" by avoiding precise definitions of terms like harmful contamination that may change over time.

"Eilene Galloway was prescient about this need for flexibility in anticipation of the unforeseen -- and unforeseeable -- developments.  In a paper she delivered in the Hague in 1958, she cautioned that unless we study legal problems 'in conjunction with the developing facts of science and technology ... our interplanetary thinking will be earthbound by tradition and precedent at a time when creative predictions should enable us to keep international law in pace with scientific achievement.'"

Egan concluded that the Treaty "does not attempt to answer every legal question directly, or speak to any activity specifically" but is a "framework" to address "new capabilities and activities ... and the legal questions such activities inevitably generate.  If the preparations for future space activities underway in the United States and other nations are any indication, the Treaty will serve this function well into its second half century and beyond."

Dennis Burnett, IISL Treasurer and the lead organizer of the Galloway Symposium, pointed out that this was the first official statement on the OST by a State Department Legal Advisor in more than 30 years.

Galloway Symposium Tees Up Space Issues for the 115th Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2016 (Updated: 14-Dec-2016 11:23 PM)

The Galloway Space Law Symposium last week focused on two topics likely to be at the top of the list of civil and commercial space issues in the 115th Congress – what the incoming Trump Administration has in mind for NASA and how to ensure that new types of commercial space activities comply with U.S. obligations under the Outer Space Treaty.

The 11th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law, sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), took place at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. on December 7.  

Trump and NASA.  Trump’s position on NASA and the space program overall is largely unknown, but the opening keynote speaker, former Congressman Bob Walker, has written and spoken about what it might be.  He is not officially a member of the Trump transition team, but is an adviser to it and a respected voice in Republican space circles.

Walker originally was working for the presidential campaign of Ohio Governor John Kasich, but after Kasich withdrew he was tapped with little notice to write up the broad outlines of a Trump space policy just before the election.  He and Peter Navarro co-authored two op-eds, on civil and national security space respectively, in Space News.  Walker also spoke to a meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in October.

At the Galloway Symposium, he reiterated what he had said in those other forums while stressing that he was not officially speaking for the Trump transition team.  He is proposing a space policy that is –

  • Visionary:  NASA should not focus on a single deep space human destination like Mars, but on human exploration of the entire solar system by the end of the century in order to drive technology development.
  • Disruptive:  move Earth-centric research to other government agencies; turn the ISS over to a quasi-public company and use it as a public research facility with refurbishment done with commercial and international assets. 
  • Coordinating:  reinstate the White House National Space Council to better coordinate U.S. space activities to take advantage not only of U.S. government resources, but those available from commercial and international partners.
  • Resilient:  make national security space assets more resilient by having larger constellations of satellites that are serviced robotically; increase investments in hypersonics.

Based on his interactions with the Trump campaign and transition teams, he said he anticipates a Trump Administration where Vice President Mike Pence essentially serves as Prime Minister while Trump is a “national figure” doing what he believes is necessary to move the country forward.

Just prior to the symposium Trump called for cancellation of Boeing’s contract to build a replacement Air Force One aircraft because it is too expensive.  Asked what that may forebode for another Boeing program, NASA’s Space Launch System, Walker said he viewed Trump’s comments as part of a negotiation – setting the parameters of a new deal to reduce costs.  He urged the audience to remember that Trump is not a politician, but a real estate deal-maker whose premise is that the government needs to do a better job of interacting with the private sector to get what it needs at the best price.

Walker did not speculate on who might be the next NASA Administrator, but firmly asserted that he is not interested in the job.  (He is a very successful lobbyist with the Wexler|Walker firm.)

Commercial Space and the Outer Space Treaty.   The issue that dominated the day was how to ensure U.S. compliance with its obligations under the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, especially Article VI that requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities, like companies.

It is a deeply complex set of arguments that turn as much on domestic law and politics (the relative roles of the Executive and Legislative Branches, and how minimal a minimal set of regulations can be yet still be effective) as on international space law (whether or not the treaty is self-executing, or the definition of “activities”).

The goal of the Obama Administration, Congress and industry is to find a solution that empowers U.S. companies to engage in new types of commercial activities that range from building private space stations to satellite servicing to placing habitats on the Moon to mining asteroids.  That means creating a legal and regulatory environment where the State Department – guardian of U.S. treaty obligations – can say “yes” or “yes, with the following conditions,” rather than “no” to a proposed commercial activity.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has been a leader in Congress on these issues.   He chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.  In a morning keynote, he recapped his proposed solution – legislation and a minimal set of regulations to provide the certainty companies say they need in order to attract investors.  Later in the day, a panel of three space lawyers debated the issues:   Diane Howard, Assistant Professor, Commercial Space Operations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Laura Montgomery, recently retired as Manager of the FAA’s Space Law Office and now in private practice; and Matthew Schafer, Director of Space Cyber & Telecom at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Law School.

Other panels of speakers also addressed aspects of the debate, which is too complex to summarize here (we will post a separate story later).   In a nutshell, earlier this year it appeared that consensus was developing between government and industry to designate FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) as the government entity to authorize and continually supervise commercial in-space activities.  That would be an expansion of its current role in granting permits and licenses for launches and reentries.

This fall, however, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of the Space Subcommittee of House SS&T, called for a total regulatory rethink and said he planned to hold hearings next year.  About the same time, Montgomery, an attorney who spent more than 20 years at the FAA working commercial space issues, also came forward with a different interpretation of what is required to comply with the treaty.

All of these ideas were debated at the Galloway Symposium.  There was no resolution and Babin’s hearings, whenever they take place, likely will elucidate where the various parties stand. Some commercial activities, like space mining, may be decades away.  Others, like private space stations or satellite servicing, loom larger, arguing for a near-term decision at least on what government office should be designated as the responsible entity for whatever laws or regulations are to come.

As an example of the gulf between the various points of view, Montgomery said “as a former regulator, I can say that the only thing worse than ambiguity is clarity” because while “you’d think … [with] clarity, you’re going to know exactly what to do, until you find out you don’t want to do the thing they make you do.”   Responding to that comment, Chris Hearsey, Director of Legislative Affairs for Bigelow Aerospace, which wants to build space stations and habitats, said on the next panel that businesses “don’t want ambiguity.”  “I can’t tell Mr. Bigelow how he can plan his missions, I can’t tell him what to tell customers unless we know what the boundaries are for us.”

What's Happening in Space Policy December 11-31, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Dec-2016 (Updated: 11-Dec-2016 12:22 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for December 11-31, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess for the rest of the year.

During the Weeks

Congress has completed its legislative business for the year.  Officially the 114th Congress ends at noon on January 3, 2017 when the 115th Congress begins, but no more legislative activity is scheduled between now and then.

With the holidays looming, few other space policy events are scheduled for the rest of the year, so this edition of “What’s Happening” covers through the end of 2016.

This coming week still has a few important events, most notably, perhaps, the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in San Francisco.   It begins on Monday, but today (Sunday), an associated public lecture is scheduled (it will be livestreamed) about how Mars landing sites are selected.  In this case, it is the Mars 2020 landing site.  The lecture is at noon Pacific Time (3:00 pm ET) and features a NASA astrobiologist (Michael Meyer), a CalTech geologist (Bethany Ehlmann), and a high school student (Alex Longo).

AGU will livestream 75 of its more than 1800 scientific sessions during the week-long meeting and NASA TV will broadcast several press conferences and other events in which the agency is engaged.  Unfortunately, Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting on the status of the National Academies’ Decadal Survey on Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) isn’t on either list.

Speaking of Earth science, on Monday morning, weather permitting (and the forecast isn’t very good), NASA will launch a constellation of eight microsatellites using Orbital ATK’s air-launched Pegasus rocket.  The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) will measure ocean surface winds in and near the eyes of hurricanes to improve hurricane intensity forecasts.  NASA TV will cover the launch.

The Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will meet Tuesday-Wednesday at the Academies’ Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  Sessions on the first day are closed, but almost all day on Wednesday is open and will be available by WebEx.

On a completely different topic, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance will hold a briefing on Capitol Hill on developing a space-based sensor layer for missile defense on Wednesday. Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, Director of Space Programs for the Air Force Acquisitions Office, and Richard Matlock, Program Executive for Advanced Technology at the Missile Defense Agency, are the speakers.

After that, the calendar is empty till the New Year begins.  Unless some new events emerge, we will not publish a “What’s Happening” article until January 1.  We wish all of you a happy and restful holiday season.  (And we’ll still be here posting news stories as needed.)

The events we know about through December 31 are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for additional meetings we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday, December 11

Monday, December 12

Monday-Friday, December 12-16

  • AGU Fall Meeting, Moscone Center, San Francisco (some sessions and press conferences will be livestreamed by AGU or NASA)

Tuesday, December 13

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 13-14

Wednesday, December 14

DOD IG Exonerates DOD in Assertions Made by Former ULA Official

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Dec-2016 (Updated: 09-Dec-2016 12:54 AM)

The Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General (IG) issued his report on the investigation into assertions by a former United Launch Alliance (ULA) executive that, among other things, implied that DOD had tried to slant an acquisition towards ULA.  The IG concluded there was no wrong doing on the part of DOD. 

The IG is appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate in accordance with the Inspector General Act of 1978.  Glenn Fine is DOD's Acting IG.

In March 2016, Brett Tobey, then ULA's Engineering Vice President, spoke to a group of students at the University of Colorado-Boulder.  He made a number of frank statements about ULA's competition with SpaceX and the competition between Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne on building an engine for ULA's new Vulcan rocket.  ULA President Tory Bruno disavowed the statements and Tobey resigned. 

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), however, demanded an investigation into whether Tobey's statements had substance.

One statement in particular that raised eyebrows was that the Air Force had tilted a launch service solicitation in ULA's direction and was upset that ULA subsequently decided not to bid on that contract (for a GPS III launch).   The implication was that the government acquisition process was not being followed appropriately.  Other statements concerned the long-running debate over how many Russian RD-180 engines ULA would be allowed to obtain for its Atlas V rockets, a topic on which McCain had strong views.  (It since has been resolved.)

In its December 8 report, the DOD IG concluded there was no wrongdoing on the part of DOD. 

It investigated four of Tobey's assertions:

  • that McCain had said ULA was "hiding five RD-180s" to transfer them from national security space (NSS) to commercial launches to influence legislation;
  • that DOD gave an unfair advantage to ULA in awarding launch service contracts;
  • that the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (USA/ATL), and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lockheed Martin, had a conversation on how to "silence" McCain on the RD-180 issue; and
  • that DOD was "unhappy" that ULA did not bid on the GPS III launch because it had given ULA an advantage over other contractors.

The IG noted that Tobey "recanted" these assertions during its investigation and "characterized [them] as postulation."   It quotes Tobey as saying "The tone of my presentation was that of more of an op-ed than even a rational argument or article" and that because it was a student audience, he decided to provide "drama" and "got into an excessively casual tone of discussion with them."  He did not know his remarks were being recorded and would "go viral" and be "quoted in sound bites that make them very damaging to ULA.  And for that, I'm very sorry."

After a 7-month investigation, the IG said it found no evidence that ULA improperly transferred rocket engines from NSS to commercial launches, that DOD gave an unfair advantage to ULA over competitors, or that the USD/ATL and the Lockheed Martin CEO had a conversation about silencing McCain.  It also found that DOD awarded contracts to ULA "in accordance with DoD and Federal regulations."

AIA Wants More Aerospace Exports, Ex-Im Bank Solution, End to Sequester Threat

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Dec-2016 (Updated: 06-Dec-2016 07:14 PM)

Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) President David Melcher laid out his organization's priorities for next year at a luncheon today.  Among his top 10 priorities are clearing the way for aerospace and defense exports, resolving the quorum issue at the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, and repealing the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and its sequester provisions.

Lt. Gen. Melcher (Ret.) took the reins of AIA after a 32-year career in the Army and 7 years in industry.  After leaving the Army in 2008, he joined ITT Corporation and became the first chief executive of Excelis after it was spun off from ITT in 2011.  He remained there through its acquisition by Harris Corporation in May 2015.  A month later he became President and CEO of AIA, succeeding Marion Blakey, who is now head of Rolls Royce North America.  

Melcher said that he met with Donald Trump during the campaign to discuss AIA's position papers on key issues for the next President (as well as with senior advisers to the Clinton campaign).  He said the President-elect "listened carefully to our views on the need to beef up investments in defense capabilities and to spur high tech innovation."  Melcher praised Trump's pick of Gen. James Mattis (Ret.) as his nominee for Secretary of Defense: "I count General Mattis as a friend and I think he's an outstanding choice."

The bulk of Melcher's comments were directed toward the aerospace and defense industries broadly, rather than specific agencies or programs.  Exports were a major theme. 

AIA is seeking a resolution to the stalemate over the Export-Import Bank.  AIA was one of the leaders in getting Congress to reauthorize the bank, but has been unable to convince the Senate to confirm new members of its Board.  The Bank should have five Board members and three are required as a quorum to approve loans of more than $10 million.  There are only two Board members now.  Senators who oppose the Bank are blocking new nominees, hamstringing what it can do.

He also called on the government to ease barriers to exports of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) created by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).  He asserts that  the United States could lose its leadership "in a potential $80 billion market."

A "21st Century Commercial Space Competitiveness Strategy" that encourages "commercial space export opportunities" that will "ensure we have a healthy space industrial base" is also needed, he said.

Getting rid of the 2011 BCA and its spending caps is another priority.   "BCA has set a spending level far below what's required to secure our nation and our allies.... Let's fund our military based on clear eyed assessments of where power and presence are necessary, and not tie this to arbitrary limits."

Melcher laid out four "megatrends" identified by senior representatives of AIA member companies -- a veritable who's who of the U.S. aerospace industry ranging from Aerojet Rocketdyne to Virgin Galactic (but with notable exceptions like SpaceX and Blue Origin).   These megatrends are "strong headwinds that affect policy making in Washington" and need attention:  the state of deficit politics, smart regulations, U.S. leadership in a global economy, and transition to a digital global economy.

The United States needs to "make a conscious decision to invest in national security, civil space, aeronautics and 21st century air transportation systems" if it wants to be innovative, job-creating, and inspirational.

What's Happening in Space Policy December 5-9, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Dec-2016 (Updated: 04-Dec-2016 11:35 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of December 5-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This is make or break time for Congress to pass an appropriations bill or bills to keep the government operating past Friday.  The existing Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds agencies at their current (FY2016) levels, expires at midnight December 9. The House has no votes scheduled for Friday, so it apparently expects to complete action earlier in the week. The Senate schedule has not been announced.

The election put Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House so congressional leaders have decided to wait until the Trump Administration is in place to make final FY2017 appropriations decisions.  However, some key Republicans are insisting that Congress pass a full-year appropriations bill for DOD to match the funding levels recommended in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  That bill just passed the House on Friday and is expected to pass the Senate early this coming week. Congress can pass a full-year FY2017 appropriations bill for DOD and an extension of the CR for other agencies or any other combination it chooses, but it must do something by Friday or some parts of the government will have to close down. The existing CR provided full-year funding for activities in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill, so perhaps Congress will do the same for defense.  It really is up in the air at this moment.   All the other agencies, including NASA and NOAA, likely will end up with another CR.  There is some debate as to whether to extend it through either March or April, with the later date advocated by the Senate which expects to be busy holding hearings and votes on Trump cabinet nominees in the early months of next year.

Congress might also pass a new authorization bill for NASA this week. The 2016 NASA Transition Authorization Act was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in September and negotiations are ongoing with the House on a final bill.  The latest rumors are that it could reach the Senate floor for consideration early this week, but it still would have to pass the House and time is getting short.  Nonetheless, it is quite common for Congress to pass a flurry of legislation in its closing days.  Congresses last for 2 years and at the end all pending legislation is dead.  The next Congress must begin again, with its new set of Members, so there is an advantage to completing work before the 114th Congress ends and the 115th begins.

One bill that made it through the Senate last week and might be voted on in the House this week -- although it is not on the schedule yet -- is the Weather Forecasting and Research Innovation Act.  The version that passed the Senate is a compromise with the House and incorporates provisions of H.R. 1561, which passed the House in 2015, S. 1331, which cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in 2015, and two other bills (S. 1573 and H.R. 34).  Among many other things, it reforms NOAA's satellite procurement efforts.

The House is scheduled to consider the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Act (H.R. 2726, as amended) tomorrow under suspension of the rules. The Apollo 1 Memorial Act is not on the list as of today, but the schedule notes that additional bills will be added to the suspension calendar (which is used for relatively non-controversial bills that are expected to easily win two-thirds of the votes and therefore get expedited consideration). 

So it will be a very busy week just with congressional activity, but there are many other interesting events, too.  For brevity's sake, we will mention only one -- Wednesday's Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law in Washington, DC.   This is the 11th Galloway symposium and they just keep getting better every year.  It's free, but seating is limited so pre-registration is REQUIRED.   Bob Walker, a former congressman who was a space policy adviser to the Trump campaign and presumably is still advising the transition effort (though not officially part of the "landing party" at NASA), and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), are both on the agenda, plus panels on topical space law issues and a luncheon speech on the "Next 50 Years of the Outer Space Treaty," which turns 50 next year.

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

Monday-Tuesday, December 5-6

Tuesday, December 6

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 6-7

Wednesday, December 7

Wednesday-Thursday, December 7-8

Wednesday-Friday, December 7-9

Friday, December 9

Senate Floor Action on New NASA Authorization Act Could be Imminent

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Nov-2016 (Updated: 29-Nov-2016 07:25 PM)

Senate and House negotiators reportedly are close to agreement on a final version of a FY2017 NASA authorization act.   Senate floor action on a draft compromise bill could come as early as tomorrow.

NASA's most recent authorization law was enacted in 2010 -- the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.  It provided funding recommendations only through FY2013, but the policy provisions remain in force.  NASA's authorization committees in the House and Senate have been working on a new bill for several years to update policy and provide authorization direction, but without success.  Last year the House passed a FY2015 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 810,(which was very similar to a bill in passed for FY2014), but the Senate did not take it up.  A House bill for FY2016-2017 (H.R. 2039) never reached the floor after clearing the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a party line vote.  Significant cuts to NASA's earth science program were a major partisan sticking point.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved a FY2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act (S. 3346) in September.  It avoided the issue of NASA's earth science activities by not mentioning them.  It also recommended authorization funding levels only for FY2017, which is already underway, using a combination of figures approved separately by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

A draft of a revised version of the bill reportedly reflecting compromise with the House is now circulating and rumors are that the Senate may take it up as early as tomorrow. obtained a copy of the new draft.  A quick glance suggests that it is similar to what cleared the Senate committee, while incorporating elements of H.R, 810 and H.R. 2039 plus new provisions.  These are a few highlights of the 114-page draft.  

  • Authorizes $19.508 billion for NASA for FY2017, the same total as approved by the House Appropriations Committee, but allocated differently;
  • Requires a study of alternatives to the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) for demonstrating the technologies needed to send humans to Mars, but does not terminate the program;
  • Supports the Space Launch System, Orion, the International Space Station (ISS), and a stepping-stone approach -- including intermediate destinations such as the surface of the Moon, cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Lagrangian points and Martian moons -- to human journeys to Mars, in cooperation with international, commercial and academic partners where practical, including the "peaceful settlement of a location in space or on another celestial body and a thriving space economy in the 21st century";
  • Prohibits acquisition of non-U.S. (e.g. Russian) crew transportation services to the International Space Station (ISS) unless there are no U.S. alternatives and the non-U.S. provider is a "qualified foreign entity";
  • Establishes as policy that the United States should maintain an uninterrupted capability for human space flight in and beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) once such a capability is demonstrated;
  • Requires an independent study of a potential 2021 human flyby of Mars, a particular interest of House SS&T chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX);
  • Supports utilization of ISS through at least 2024 (already codified in law in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act) with an evaluation of continuing it at least through 2028;
  • Requires a plan to transition in a step-wise manner from the current ISS regime that relies on NASA sponsorship to one where NASA is one of many customers;
  • Requires a plan to meet NASA's projected communications and navigation needs for LEO and deep-space missions for the next 20 years;
  • Allows NASA to provide third-party indemnification for commercial service providers for NASA launches and reentries that are "unusually hazardous or nuclear in nature" under certain conditions;
  • Allows NASA to provide for medical monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of former U.S. government astronauts or payload specialists for conditions associated with their spaceflights, but none are required to participate;
  • Directs NASA to contract with the National Academies for one study on astrobiology as it relates to the search for life in the solar system and extrasolar planetary systems and another assessing NASA's robotic Mars exploration program;
  • Directs NASA to report to Congress on how public private partnerships could be used to advance astrobiology as well as efforts to detect, track and catalog Near-Earth Objects (NEOs);
  • Prohibits NASA from terminating science operations of SOFIA;
  • Requires a study from NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) analyzing the requirements for radioisotope power system material needed for robotic planetary missions; and
  • Requires an assessment from OSTP on how to protect the Apollo landing sites.

The new draft bill does not call for terminating the Asteroid Redirect Mission, but, incidentally, House SS&T Chairman Smith and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who chairs its space subcommittee, sent a letter to NASA today requesting all documents associated with a report and press release the agency issued two weeks ago concluding that the project now has the support of the scientific advisory community.

As in the Senate committee-approved bill, NASA's earth science activities are not specifically mentioned.

The draft bill contains many "sense of Congress" statements and '"findings" that are not legally binding, but express congressional views.  Among them are support for several specific space science missions (James Webb Space Telescope, Wide-field Infrared Space Telescope, a mission to Europa, and Mars 2020), satellite servicing as a "vital capability," small satellite missions, and a robust aeronautics research program.



NASA Gets First "Landing Party" Member -- Chris Shank

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Nov-2016 (Updated: 29-Nov-2016 02:04 PM)

The Trump transition team named the first member of its "landing party" for NASA today -- Chris Shank. Shank was part of the leadership team at NASA while Mike Griffin was Administrator and is currently on the staff of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee.   Mark Albrecht, who had been rumored as a candidate for the NASA landing party, instead has been assigned to DOD's transition team.

Transition teams or "landing parties" typically are named for each federal department and agency by incoming presidential administrations to do an initial review of an agency's portfolio and identify pressing issues that the new administration will have to address quickly. 

Shank is an experienced space policy professional.  From 2001-2005, he served on what was then the House Science Committee staff specializing in human spaceflight and Earth science issues.  After joining NASA as a special assistant to Griffin in 2005, he was appointed NASA's chief of strategic communications in 2008.  He left NASA in January 2009 at the end of the Bush Administration and worked first at the Applied Physics Lab and later Honeywell Aerospace.  He returned to Capitol Hill in 2011 as Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is now chairman of House SS&T, and in 2013 was appointed policy and coalitions director for the full committee.

Chris Shank.  Photo Credit:  NASA/Bill Ingalls

He has a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado and a bachelor's in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame.  Before his first stint on the committee, he served in the Air Force for 11 years, working at the Pentagon, National Reconnaissance Office and Air Force Space Command.

Landing teams usually have several  members, so additional appointments are expected.  Transition teams exist only until the inauguration, but it is not uncommon for many of their members to join the respective agency's staff thereafter.

Albrecht is another veteran member of the space policy community.  He was Executive Director of the White House National Space Council during the George H.W. Bush Administration and later was President of Lockheed Martin's International Launch Services (ILS), which at the time (1999-2006) marketed launch services on Lockheed Martin's Atlas and Russia's Proton rockets.  He currently is Chairman of the Board of U.S. Space LLC.  Prior to his tenure in the George H.W. Bush White House, he was a legislative assistant for national security affairs for then-Senator Pete Wilson (R-CA).  He has bachelor's and master's degrees from UCLA and a doctorate in public policy analysis from the Rand Graduate School.  Albrecht wrote a book, Falling Back to Earth, about his experiences on the National Space Council and at ILS, including relationships with Russia.

Mark Albrecht.  Photo Credit:  U.S. Space, LLC

He was appointed to the DOD transition team, which already has quite a few members.  Albrecht appears to be the only one so far with a space background, although another member, Trae Stephens, is a principal at Founders Fund which has investments in SpaceX according to Space News.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 28-December 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Nov-2016 (Updated: 27-Nov-2016 03:49 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 28 - December 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House and Senate return to work this week.  They must pass an appropriations measure by December 9 to keep the government operating and there is a strong desire to complete action on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but apart from that, it appears that the plan is to wait until next year to deal with most issues.   Appropriations likely will be handled by extending the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) through March 31 and agreement on the NDAA seemed close just before Thanksgiving.  The 114th Congress could adjourn "sine die"  ("without a day" for recovening, meaning it is the end of the session) as soon as those are passed.  A slim chance remains for getting the NASA Transition Authorization Act passed, but time is running out.

The Presidential election is over -- sort of.  Officially it is not final until after the Electoral College votes on December 19 and Congress certifies that vote on January 6, 2017 (CRS has a very useful report about the Electoral College for those who are interested).  At the moment, Donald Trump is expected to win the Electoral College decisively with at least 290 votes (270 are needed to win) versus 232 for Hillary Clinton.  Clinton has decisively won the popular vote by more than 2 million (64,637,503 for Clinton versus 62,409,389 for Trump according to Cook Political Report ).  Under the Constitution, it is the Electoral College vote that determines the winner.  The race in Michigan still has not been called for either candidate, but its 16 electoral votes are not enough to change the outcome.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and plans to ask for recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.  Stein says she is doing it to ensure the "integrity" of the election process and it "is not intended to help Hillary Clinton."  Indeed, few (if any) expect the outcome of the election to change, including Clinton herself.  Her spokesman made that clear, saying they are "fully aware" that the vote margin in the closest of the states (Michigan) is much larger than any margin ever overcome in a recount.  Any recounts must be completed before the Electoral College meets.

The Trump transition team continues its work, announcing a number of White House appointments and three Cabinet nominees (Attorney General, Secretary of Education and Ambassador to the U.N.).   While there are strong rumors about who will be nominated for Secretary of Defense (national security space programs) and Secretary of Commerce (NOAA satellite programs), Trump has not made any official pronouncements.  Nothing has been said about NASA so far. 

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets in public session on Wednesday in Palmdale, CA, near NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Facility (available by WebEx/telecon). The agenda has not been posted yet, so there is no way to know what they plan to discuss, but any news about a "landing team" being assigned to NASA and the impact of operating under a FY2017 CR for 6 months instead of just 3 months are possible topics.  This is the last NAC meeting under the Obama Administration and, presumably, Charlie Bolden's tenure as Administrator.  The NASA Administrator appoints the members of NAC, so its composition could change before the next meeting.

The Ministerial Council of the European Space Agency (ESA) will meet in Switzerland on December 1-2.  The ministers responsible for space activities in each of ESA's 22 member countries get together every 2-3 years to make policy and funding decisions.  ESA says this meeting will "further the vision of a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0."   A press conference is scheduled for the end of the meeting on December 2 at approximately 13:00 CET (7:00 am ET).  One of the topics they will consider is whether to provide an increase of approximately 400 million Euros  to complete the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. The first two ExoMars spacecraft -- the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander -- were launched together in March and arrived at Mars last month.  TGO successfully entered orbit, but Schiaparelli crashed.  Schiaparelli was a technology demonstrator for a Russian lander and ESA rover scheduled for launch in 2020 (delayed from 2018).  Costs for the 2020 mission have grown, necessitating a decision by the Council on whether to proceed.   ESA's portion of the total program cost was estimated in 2008 at 1.3 billion Euros.  ExoMars originally was an ESA-NASA program, but the Obama Administration declined to fund the U.S. portion, so ESA turned to Russia instead.

Mars is but one planet in our beautiful solar system.  NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) meets Tuesday-Thursday at NASA Headquarters to discuss future exploration of that planet.  The meeting will be available remotely via WebEx and telecon.

And then there's Earth itself!  The American Astronautical Society and the American Meteorological Society will hold an event to highlight Space-Based Environmental Intelligence on Thursday evening at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, DC.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is the speaker.  He chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and crafted provisions in law to create commercial weather data pilot programs at NOAA and DOD (NOAA's is underway; the DOD provision is in the FY2017 NDAA).

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

Tuesday-Thursday, November 29-December 1

  • VEXAG, NASA HQ, Washington, DC

Wednesday, November 30

Thursday, December 1

Thursday-Friday, December 1-2