Space Law News
Here is our list of space policy-related events coming up during the week of September 15-20, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
This may be the last week Congress is in session prior to the November elections if they can complete action on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the initial part of FY2015, which begins on October 1. None of the 12 regular appropriations bills has cleared Congress yet, so some action must be taken to avoid a government shutdown.
The White House also is hoping Congress will authorize it to take certain military actions in Syria. Whether that authorization will be attached to the CR or not is an open question. The White House plan was to add the Syria authorization to the CR knowing that is the one piece of legislation that Congress must pass imminently, but the issue is highly controversial and could derail the CR. House Republican leaders were poised to pass a CR last week before the Syria authorization issue arose, but are now debating whether to deal with the Syria authorization and FY2015 government appropriations issues separately or in a combined bill. Stay tuned.
It is conceivable that there might be Senate action on a NASA authorization bill in the coming week. The House passed its version in June. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has a markup session scheduled for Wednesday for a long list of bills. At the moment, the NASA authorization is not on the list, but that could change. Stay tuned on this one, too.
NASA has made no further announcement about when the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) award will be made. Expectations were high that it would be announced at the end of August, but it wasn't. Another "stay tuned" situation.
One certainty is that the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will reach Mars on Sunday, September 21. Hopefully it will enter orbit as planned. NASA will hold a pre-arrival news conference on Wednesday at 1:00 pm ET. It will provide coverage of orbital insertion as well, but that will be included in our next issue of "What's Happening."
The next cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX CRS-4, is also coming up this week. The launch itself is currently scheduled for early Saturday morning (2:16 am ET) and NASA plans five pre-launch events on Thursday and Friday. Launch dates are not nearly as reliable as arrival dates, however, so don't set your alarm clock yet.
This entire week, beginning today (Sunday), is National Aerospace Week. Established by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), its goal is to recognize the contributions that the aerospace industry makes to the U.S economy and global competitiveness.
The full list of events that we know about as of Sunday afternoon is provided below.
Sunday-Saturday, September 14-20
Monday, September 15
Monday-Wednesday, September 15-17
Tuesday, September 16
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 16-17
Wednesday, September 17
Wednesday-Friday, September 17-19
Thursday, September 18
Thursday-Friday, September 18-19
Saturday, September 20
Space law expert Joanne Gabrynowicz warned a House subcommittee yesterday (September 10) that a proposed bill to grant property rights to materials mined from asteroids could face legal and political challenges if passed in its current form.
Gabrynowicz, a Director of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and Professor Emerita of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, testified to the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
The title of the hearing suggested that the main topic would be issues posed by the ASTEROIDS Act (H.R. 5063) introduced by Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA). The other four witnesses were space scientists, however, and the hearing was more about the status of NASA’s planetary science program than legal issues of property rights in space.
Key points stressed by Gabrynowicz were that --
Posey countered that if the United States does not act quickly, other countries, such as Russia and China, will take the lead and may not give the issues “thoughtful consideration.”
In response to questions from Rep. Kilmer, two of the planetary scientists on the witness panel – Jim Bell, a professor at Arizona State University and President of The Planetary Society and Mark Sykes, CEO and Director of the Planetary Science Institute – conveyed their views that asteroid mining is not likely for many years (Bell said decades) and its cost-effectiveness still must be determined.
Posey took issue with the time scale, saying at least one company is ready to do it now. He cited a letter from Planetary Resources, Inc. that was entered into the record of the hearing, but is not yet posted on the committee’s website or the company’s.
Bell and Sykes said that water is the most likely substance to be mined since it is needed to support human space exploration. The two disagreed on the ease of reaching asteroids of interest in the mining context, with Sykes enthusiastically explaining the abundance of asteroids and their closeness to Earth, but Bell cautioning that those with water might be further away, perhaps in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Sykes stressed the need for a survey to locate and characterize more asteroids. (Congress has played a critical role in directing NASA to conduct surveys to find asteroids and comets – collectively called Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) – that could threaten Earth. NASA is currently under congressional direction to detect, track, catalogue and characterize 90 percent of NEOs equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter by 2020. NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group recently issued a finding that the agency has no plan to achieve that goal and a space-based NEO survey telescope is needed.)
NASA’s Planetary Science Program
Much of the hearing focused on the state of NASA’s planetary science program. The discussion covered familiar ground, with NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green and other witnesses reviewing NASA’s ongoing and planned missions followed by complaints from non-NASA witnesses and subcommittee members about recent cutbacks in the planetary science budget and some Republican subcommittee members adding their objections over how much NASA spends on earth science instead.
Philip Christensen, Regents Professor at Arizona State University (ASU) and co-chair of the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, stressed three themes:
Bell pointed out that while the planetary science program seems healthy today, that is only because of investments made in the last decade and the pace will not be maintained at today’s funding level.
Since FY2013, NASA has been requesting about $1.3 billion per year for planetary science compared to $1.5 billion in the past.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who represents the district that includes Marshall Space Flight Center where the Space Launch System (SLS) is being built, asked Green about the potential of using SLS for robotic planetary science missions. SLS’s primary purpose is for sending humans beyond low Earth orbit, but SLS advocates are seeking other uses for the Saturn V-class rocket. Congress has been adding money to NASA’s budget to send a probe to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and using SLS for that mission is an oft discussed possibility. Green replied that SLS could provide a “great capability” for missions to the outer planets and “could fit well” with the Europa mission. He explained that SLS could reduce trip times to the outer planets by half.
Rohrabacher, a critic of SLS, countered that he did not find that a compelling justification for SLS considering its cost of about $1 billion per year while planetary science funding is being cut.
The availability of plutonium-238 (Pu-238) needed to power spacecraft that cannot rely on solar power because they travel too far from the Sun or land on planetary bodies with day/night cycles was another topic discussed. Green assured the subcommittee that NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are working well together on reestablishing Pu-238 production and there is a sufficient supply for the next mission that will require it – the Mars 2020 mission. It is not so much an issue of Pu-238 itself, he said, but the ability to produce the pellets that are needed.
Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)
Subcommittee chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) stressed at the outset of the hearing that planetary science efforts to find and characterize asteroids should not be confused with the Obama Administration’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). He does not support the latter.
The White House announced the ARM program last year. The concept is to send a robotic probe to an asteroid and use it to change the asteroid’s orbit, redirect it into lunar orbit where it would be visited by astronauts who would return a sample to Earth. ARM has gained little support in Congress or the space community. Asteroids are “small bodies” in planetary science parlance, and NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) recently issued a finding that ARM’s “benefits for advancing the knowledge of asteroids and furthering planetary defense strategies are limited and not compelling.”
Sykes called ARM a “poorly conceived and designed” mission that does not advance human exploration, science, planetary defense, or In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) of asteroids. He said NASA’s $1.25 billion cost estimate for ARM “strains credulity” considering that the robotic OSIRIS-REx mission, which will be launched in 2016 to return a small sample of an asteroid to Earth, cost $1.05 billion itself. Rohrabacher thanked Sykes for his frank assessment.
(ARM is a much more complicated mission that involves not only sending a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid, but developing the technologies to move the asteroid into a different orbit and then sending astronauts to obtain a sample. NASA does use $1.25 billion as its current, informal cost estimate for ARM, but it does not include costs for activities NASA was pursuing anyway, such as the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft needed for the astronaut portion of the mission, or launch costs for the robotic portion of the mission. A formal cost estimate will not be made until the program is further along.)
The House leadership has decided to postpone a vote on the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) while deciding how to handle a White House request to add authorization for the President to provide arms to Syrian rebels.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced the CR yesterday and a vote was planned for tomorrow. However, President Obama now wants Congress to include language authorizing his plan to arm Syrian rebels as part of a strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The President will speak to the nation tonight at 9:00 pm about that strategy.
Officially, appropriations bills are only supposed to provide funding, not authorizations. Some members of the House reportedly are objecting to including the Syria authority on that basis, but others point out the CR already contains two authorization measures (reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and an Internet tax matter) so adding another should not be a problem. It is theoretically possible to pass the Syria authorization as a separate bill, but with Congress anxious to complete legislative business in the next two weeks, and the CR the only "must pass" bill on its docket, the White House and its congressional supporters want everything included in one bill to ensure swift action.
House Republican leaders reportedly will wait until after tonight's speech to decide how to proceed. If the House does not include the language in its version of the CR, the Senate could add it and send the bill back to the House, but with every exchange, the possibility grows of other issues arising and setting back agreement. As noted yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz wants to add language to block executive action on immigration, so the fate of the CR remains up in the air.
Congress must pass an appropriations bill to fund all or part of FY2015 by midnight on September 30 or there will be another government shutdown like last year. As introduced, the CR would fund the government at its current level through December 11, 2014.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced a stop-gap Continuing Resolution (CR) today (September 9) to fund the government through December 11, 2014. The bill could be voted on in the House as early as Thursday.
The CR (H. J. Res. 124) generally continues funding for the government at current levels and does not include "highly controversial provisions" according to the committee's press release. Rogers called it a "temporary, imperfect measure" and said what is really needed is passage of the 12 regular appropriations bills. The House has passed seven of them, but none has passed the Senate.
The bill keeps total government spending at its current level of $1.012 trillion, but some changes are made within that total to fund new activities. Most are related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis. The amounts appropriated in the FY2014 appropriations bills (including for NASA, NOAA and DOD) are reduced by 0.0554 percent presumably to pay for those new activities.
Two space-related provisions would allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extension of the authorization for the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank through June 30, 2015. Despite the press release's assertion that the CR does not contain highly controversial provisions, reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank is a topic of strong debate. The bank helps finance U.S. exports of manufactured goods and services. From a space policy standpoint, organizations like the Aerospace Industries Association argue that Ex-Im bank financing is critical to support exports of satellites, for example, and reauthorization is needed. Opponents argue that it distorts the free market by the government picking winners and losers. The bank's current authorization expires on September 30.
The House and Senate are both hoping to complete must-pass legislative business by the end of next week or shortly thereafter so members can return to the campaign trail. That does not necessarily mean smooth sailing for the CR. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), for one, has said that he wants to include language to block President Obama from taking action on immigration using executive action. Cruz is widely criticized or praised, depending on one's point of view, for last year's 16-day government shutdown. Whether he would attempt that again in an election year is an open question. He has been quoted in recent days as saying he does not want another shutdown, but that was before his comments today that "we should use any and all means necessary to prevent the president from illegally granting amnesty."
Here is our list of space policy-related events on tap for the week of September 8-12, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns to work on Monday.
During the Week
Congress returns from its summer break this week. Between now and the end of the fiscal year (FY) on September 30, the House is scheduled to be in session for eight days and the Senate for ten. That is certainly enough time for them to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating when FY2015 begins on October 1 if agreement can be reached. Republican leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill insist that they do not want another government shutdown like last year, so that bodes well, but one never knows until a bill is passed and signed into law. House Speaker Boehner has said he plans to pass a bill to fund the government through early December -- past the November election. "Possible" consideration of a CR is on the House schedule this week.
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SST) Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on the ASTEROIDS Act introduced by Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA). The bill would grant property rights to materials mined from asteroids by U.S. companies (though not property rights to the asteroid itself). Four scientists and one expert on space law will testify. The issue of property rights in space has been debated vigorously for decades on a theoretical basis, with opinions strongly held on what is or is not allowed under the terms of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States and 101 other countries are party. The legislation and this hearing provide an opportunity to address the issue from a more focused perspective.
The first meeting of the National Research Council's new Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable (STIGUR) is on Thursday. Note that it is at the NAS building on Constitution Avenue, not the Keck Center on 5th Street. Chaired by Lockheed Martin Chief Technology Officer Ray Johnson, STIGUR is a forum for dialogue about NASA's space technology efforts.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.
Monday, September 8
Monday-Friday, September 8-12
Tuesday, September 9
Tuesday-Friday, September 9-12
Wednesday, September 10
Thursday, September 11
Friday, September 12
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing next week on the ASTEROIDS Act, which was introduced in July by Rep. Bill Posey (R- FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA).
The goal of the legislation is to establish and protect property rights for commercial exploration and exploitation of asteroids. Two U.S. companies promoting such activities are Planetary Resources, headquartered in Kilmer's Redmond, WA district, and Deep Space Industries of Houston, TX. Posey's district includes Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Five witnesses have been announced for the hearing, four of whom are scientists and one is a space lawyer. The scientists are:
The fifth witness is Joanne Gabrynowicz, an internationally recognized space lawyer who for many years before her retirement headed the National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law at the University of Mississippi and was editor of the Journal of Space Law. She is currently a member of the NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Protection Subcommittee that advises the agency on matters concerning the prevention of forward or back contamination of solar system bodies.
The concept of mining asteroids involves many scientific, technical and economic considerations, but property rights is a particularly thorny issue. Under the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty, there is no national sovereignty in space so no country can "own" an asteroid. Pursuant to the treaty, governments are responsible for the actions of their non-governmental entities, such as a company, sparking debate over whether a company can own an asteroid or any part of it. Without ownership rights to minerals mined from asteroids, it is unlikely that companies would pursue asteroid mining even if such an activity could prove to be otherwise feasible.
The ASTEROIDS Act would apply only to U.S. companies and seeks to ensure that materials mined from an asteroid by a U.S. company are the property of that company. It would not confer ownership of the asteroid itself.
The hearing is at 10:00 am ET on September 10, 2014 in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.
Update: The words "research and" were added to the description of the Planetary Science Institute to better convey its mission.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the next TWO weeks, September 1-12, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on September 8.
During the Weeks
This coming Wednesday and Thursday (September 3-4), two committees that guide NASA's astrobiology and planetary science activities will meet at the same time, although offset by three hours since one is on the East Coast and the other is on the West Coast. The NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Science Subcommittee (NAC/PSS) provides tactical advice to NASA, while the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS) is an NRC standing committee that cannot formally give "advice," but provides strategic guidance. NAC/PSS is meeting at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, while CAPS is meeting at the NRC's Beckman Center in Irvine, CA. Both committees usually get briefings from many of the same NASA officials to inform their deliberations, so they have arranged to have portions of the meetings held jointly via videoconference. (The joint sessions are shown on the CAPS agenda, but not on the NAC/PSS agenda. at least as of today).
NASA has made no official announcement, but its decision on the winner(s) of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract(s) could be revealed this week. Rumors that the agency would announce its choice(s) in late August proved unfounded. NASA itself has been vague all along, saying it would happen in "late August or early September."
Next week, on September 8, Congress returns. The House and Senate will have just over three weeks to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded when FY2015 begins on October 1. House and Senate Republican leaders are vowing that there will be no government shutdown this year. The House is scheduled to be in session September 8-11, September 16-19, and September 29 - October 2 before recessing for the elections. The Senate will be in session September 8-12 and September 15-19, with its schedule for the remainder of the month TBA.
No space-related hearings have been announced for September yet, but that could change as everyone gets back into the swing of things.
Meanwhile, here are the meetings we know about for September 1-12, 2014 as of Sunday morning, August 31. Enjoy the Labor Day weekend!
Wednesday-Thursday, September 3-4
Monday, September 8
Monday-Friday, September 8-12
Tuesday, September 9
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 9-10
Wednesday, September 10
Thursday, September 11
Friday, September 12
UPDATE, August 25: Adds the two panel discussions today (Monday, August 25) at NASA re the New Horizons mission to Pluto.
August 24, 2014: Here is our list of space policy-related events for the next TWO weeks, August 25-September 5, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on September 8.
During the Weeks
The schedule is light for the next two weeks, but the National Research Council (NRC) is hard at work, with meetings of one of its study committees this week and one of its standing committees the following week. The NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Planetary Science Subcommittee also will meet the following week.
The NRC study committee -- Survey of Surveys: Lessons Learned from the Decadal Survey Process -- will meet in public session on Monday and Tuesday (check the agenda for the most recent information on exactly when the open sessions will take place). NRC Decadal Surveys are the "bibles" used by NASA and highly valued by Congress in setting priorities for NASA's space and earth science programs. (Some of the Surveys also advise additional agencies like NSF and NOAA.) The most recent versions have encountered challenges in implementation, however, because of sharply changed budgetary realities between the time the study begins and when it ends, usually about two years later. The agencies tell each Decadal Survey committee at the outset what budget "wedge" they expect to have in the next 10 years (a decade) to begin new programs. The committees use that guidance in formulating recommendations on what programs to initiate to answer the top scientific questions they identify. The most recent Decadal Surveys have included "decision rules" on what to do if there is significantly less (or more, as unlikely as that is) money than they are told and NASA, at least, has had to utilize those decision rules a lot lately. This new NRC committee is looking at how to make the next round of Decadal Surveys more effective in guiding the agencies in these ever-changing times.
The NRC standing committee that is meeting the first week of September is the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science (CAPS). Curiously, the NAC Planetary Science Subcommittee is meeting at exactly the same time (September 3-4). The meetings are on opposite coasts. Both advise NASA on its planetary science programs -- the NRC provides strategic advice while the NAC subcommittee provides tactical advice -- so they do look at the programs from different perspectives. They often get briefings from the same NASA people, though, so this must be an interesting scheduling exercise. Neither has posted their agendas yet.
Here is what we know about as of Sunday evening, August 24.
Monday, August 25
Monday-Wednesday, AUGUST 25-27
Wednesday-Thursday, SEPTEMBER 3-4
UPDATE: We've added the Ancient Earth, Ancient Aliens event on August 20, which we just found out about..
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the next TWO weeks, August 18-29, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on September 8.
During the Weeks
At last, things have quieted down for these last two weeks of August. Perhaps what is most interesting is what's NOT on the calendar -- two U.S. spacewalks from the ISS that were supposed to take place in addition to the Russian spacewalk tomorrow. NASA is still recovering from the alarming failure last summer when water filled Luca Parmitano's spacesuit helmet while he was out on a spacewalk. NASA determined that a blocked filter caused the problem and replaced the filters on the spacesuits and added other safety features, but still has not approved routine U.S. spacewalks. Only contingency spacewalks required to address specific issues are allowed. Two were scheduled for August 21 and August 29, but NASA postponed them because of concerns about the spacesuit batteries. The next SpaceX cargo resupply flight on September 19 will deliver replacements and the spacewalks will be rescheduled. NASA officials reportedly met last week to review whether to resume routine spacewalks, but the agency has not issued any press statements to that effect yet.
The Russians have their own spacesuits, Orlan, and are not affected by the concerns about the U.S. suits. Oleg Artemyev and Alexander Skvortsov will perform a 6.5 hour spacewalk -- or extravehicular activity (EVA) -- to retrieve two experiments on the exterior of the ISS and install two new ones, and deploy a nanosatellite. NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 am ET.
That and other events during the next two weeks that we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.
Monday, August 18
Tuesday, August 19
Wednesday, August 20
Monday-Wednesday, August 25-27
State Department official Frank Rose pressed the case yesterday that the Chinese conducted another antisatellite (ASAT) test on July 23. This is only the second time the U.S. Government has accused China of conducting an ASAT test -- other analysts insist there have been others -- and Rose's comments reemphasized a statement released by the State Department on July 25 perhaps to raise the visibility of the U.S. government's concern.
The July 25 statement from the State Department asserted that China conducted a non-destructive ASAT test on July 23 and called on China to "refrain from destabilizing actions." China announced it was a missile intercept test.
Rose said yesterday at U.S. Strategic Command's Deterrence Symposium that "Despite China's claims that this was not an ASAT test; let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment, that the event was indeed an ASAT test." Russia also has ASAT weapons, he continued, citing congressional testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Rose, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, said ASAT systems are "both destabilizing and threaten the long-term security and sustainability of the outer space environment."
Rose's remarks then returned to the familiar themes that space is congested and contested and in need of voluntary, non-legally binding Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) such as those to which China and Russia agreed last year through the United Nations (U.N.) Group of Governmental Experts (GGE). He also cited the "important multilateral initiative" being pursued through development of an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities as well as efforts within the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.
The key point was his public, official insistence that China conducted another ASAT test. There is no disagreement that China conducted an ASAT test in 2007, destroying one of its own satellites and earning international condemnation because of the resulting cloud of orbital debris that will imperil satellites in low Earth orbit indefinitely. China conducted "missile intercept" tests in 2010 and 2013 that some Western analysts also assert were ASAT tests, but the U.S. Government has not publicly placed them in that category. This is only the second time that the U.S. Government has accused China of an ASAT test. Rose allowed that this was a "non-destructive" test even though the rest of his comments stressed the grave consequences of debris-generating ASAT systems.