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What's Happening in Space Policy August 18-29, 2014 - UPDATED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Aug-2014 (Updated: 17-Aug-2014 11:30 PM)

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's Frank Rose Presses Case on Chinese ASAT Test

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Aug-2014 (Updated: 14-Aug-2014 11:58 PM)

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.

Space Data Association and USSTRATCOM Reach Data Sharing Agreement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Aug-2014 (Updated: 11-Aug-2014 11:25 PM)

The Space Data Association (SDA) has reached a data sharing agreement with U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to enhance space situational awareness.  SDA's members include several of the world's major commercial satellite operators who share certain data with each other to avoid in-orbit collisions.  USSTRATCOM is the first non-satellite operator to sign an agreement with the group.

SDA was founded by three of the largest commercial communications satellite operators -- Intelsat, Inmarsat and SES -- after the 2009 collision between an operating Iridium communications satellite (Iridium 33) and a defunct Russian military communications satellite (Cosmos 2251).  The collision added to the population of space debris in low Earth orbit, which had increased significantly two years earlier following a Chinese antisatellite (ASAT) test that created about 3,000 pieces of debris. 

The Chinese ASAT test and the Iridium-Cosmos collision raised the profile of the problems posed by space debris and the need for countries and companies to work together to ensure that Earth orbit will remain usable in the future.  Space Situational Awareness (SSA) refers to the goal of knowing where everything is in Earth orbit and where it's going. (Some definitions add the goal of knowing what each satellite is doing).  It is one element of President Obama's 2010 National Space Policy. 

SDA created a mechanism for its members to share data on the locations of their satellites and any plans to reposition them that avoids revealing sensitive information yet contributes to SSA and the broader goal of "space sustainability."   For several years it has been seeking agreement with the Department of Defense to access data from the Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC), which tracks objects in Earth orbit for the U.S. government, predicts when they will decay from orbit, and conducts "conjunction analyses" to determine if a collision is likely.  JSPoC is part of the Joint Functional Component Command for Space (JFCC Space) under USSTRATCOM.  It is currently tracking more than 17,000 objects in Earth orbit of which approximately 4,000 are functioning payloads or satellites, 2,000 are rocket bodies, and 11,000 are debris/inactive satellites according to its space-track.org website.  

In addition to concern about physical collisions between space objects, there is growing concern about electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radiofrequency interference (RFI), particularly intentional jamming of satellite frequencies by countries that object to certain programming or otherwise choose to interfere with the transmissions.

SDA called the agreement a "critical milestone" that allows the two organizations to formally collaborate on SSA issues including EMI and RFI.  The agreement creates "a framework to exchange data," SDA President Ron Busch said in an August 8 press release, and is an acknowledgment by USSTRATCOM that "collaboration can enhance" SSA.

The Secure World Foundation (SWF) is a champion of SSA and space sustainability.  Brian Weeden, SWF's technical advisor and a former Air Force officer who worked at JSPoC, said via email that "This agreement could be a major step forward, but as always the devil is in the details and right now we don't have many details."  

SDA announced the agreement in a press release; USSTRATCOM does not appear to have made a public announcement.

 

 

What's Happening in Space Policy August 11-15, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Aug-2014 (Updated: 10-Aug-2014 05:19 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for August 11-15, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  Congress will return on September 8.

During the Week

Lots going on this week, even though it's August and everyone should be on vacation or getting the kids ready to go back to school (smile)!  Tough to say what's of greatest interest.  The Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) workshop is definitely on the list.   (Siding Spring is the name of the observatory in Australia where the comet was discovered.)Thanks to the organizers for arranging for it to be livestreamed so anyone can tune in.  The comet will fly within 130,000 kilometers of the Martian surface on October 19 and spacecraft in orbit around or on the surface of Mars should be able to get a close look and  the workshop is to discuss those opportunities. Not TOO close of course!  There's a bit of concern that systems on orbiting spacecraft could potentially be damaged by the comet's dust.  NASA's Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are in orbit already along with ESA's Mars Express.  NASA's newest Mars probe, MAVEN, will arrive just before the comet, as will India's Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM).  NASA already has been adjusting the orbits of its spacecraft so they will be on the opposite side of Mars during the 20 minute period when the dust is expected to be most intense. 

Michael Lopez-Alegria's talk at the ISU-DC Space Café on Tuesday evening also should be good.   A former astronaut, he has been President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) for the past two years and is about to move on to new horizons.  His insights comparing the commercial and government space sectors and dealing with the White House and Congress should be thought provoking.

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

Monday, August 11

Monday-Tuesday, August 11-12

Monday-Thursday, August 11-14

Tuesday, August 12

Wednesday-Thursday, August 13-14

What's Happening In Space Policy August 3-10, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2014 (Updated: 03-Aug-2014 06:23 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of August 3-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.   Congress is in recess until September 8.

During the Week

It may be a little quiet in Washington this week with Congress gone and many people on vacation, but there's a lot going in space policy elsewhere in the country, world, and the depths of outer space.

Three annual conferences are taking place -- Utah State University's Smallsat Conference in Logan, Utah;  AIAA's Space 2014 in San Diego; and the Mars Society's international convention in League City, Texas -- and the biennial COSPAR meeting is in Moscow.  Two of them -- Smallsat and COSPAR -- actually began yesterday.

NASA participation in the COSPAR conference, where the world's space scientists get together to share results and plans for the future, was one of the activities exempted from the White House's directive to government agencies to limit their cooperative activities with Russia because of the geopolitical situation.  According to an April memo from NASA's Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations to NASA Center Directors, NASA employees are allowed to participate in multilateral meetings that may involve Russians as long as the meeting takes place outside Russia.   COSPAR and the upcoming International Council of Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS) both are in Russia this year, however:  COSPAR in Moscow and ICAS in St. Petersburg in September.

COSPAR was almost immediately exempted from that restriction, though, apparently thanks to the efforts of the National Academy of Sciences' Space Studies Board (SSB) and especially its former chair Len Fisk, who is now the official U.S. representative to COSPAR.  COSPAR is part of the International Council of Science and the SSB is the U.S. National Committee to COSPAR.  NASA reports that 35 NASA employees are attending COSPAR, but that a decision on whether any may attend ICAS next month has not yet been made.  ICAS is where aeronautical engineers get together to "facilitate collaboration in aeronautics."

Meanwhile, in the depths of space, this week will see at long last the end of Rosetta's 10-year journey to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  The European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft will orbit the 4-kilometer diameter comet and, in November, send a lander (named Philae) to the surface, a first-time feat.  ESA's Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany is expected to confirm Rosetta's arrival at about 11:45 Central European Summer Time (CEST), or 09:45 GMT (5.45 am ET) on August 6.  It began its journey on March 2, 2004 and has travelled more than 6.4 billion kilometers to reach the comet, which is currently about 404 million kilometers from Earth (Rosetta made three passes by Earth and one by Mars to get gravity-assist boosts).  The one-way signal travel time is 22 minutes 27 seconds.  A day-long series of press briefings is planned on August 6 that will be livestreamed.

Those events and everything else we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 2-7

Saturday, August 2 - Sunday, August 10

  •  COSPAR (Committee on Space Research of the International Council of Science), Moscow, Russia

Monday-Thursday, August 4-7

Tuesday, August 5

Wednesday, August 6

Thursday-Sunday, August 7-10

U.S. Readies More Sanctions, Accuses Russia of INF Treaty Violation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jul-2014 (Updated: 29-Jul-2014 12:16 AM)

The United States and its major European allies announced on Monday they are finalizing more sanctions against Russia in the wake of the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine on July 17.  The United States also reportedly formally accused Russia of violating a treaty prohibiting development of new medium range cruise missiles.  The extent to which these developments might impact U.S.–Russian space relationships is unclear.

Sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration over the past several months following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula have largely skirted civil space cooperation.  The United States relies on Russia for transporting American astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian rocket engines are used to power two U.S. launch vehicles – Atlas 5 with its Russian RD-180 engines, and Antares and its Russian AJ-26 (NK-33) engines.

Although NASA, along with other government agencies, was directed to limit cooperation with Russia, the ISS was specifically exempted and other NASA programs were given waivers.  Three Russian cosmonauts, two American astronauts and one German astronaut are currently living together aboard the ISS, which is jointly operated by the United States and Russia.

The shoot-down of the commercial Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) airliner as it transited Ukrainian airspace at 33,000 feet on July 17, 2014, and Russia’s refusal to accept responsibility despite Western insistence that Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine used a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile system in that horrific tragedy, pushed the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy to announce today (July 28) they will impose new sanctions imminently.  Specifics were not released.  The New York Times said Europe will finalize its sanctions package tomorrow (Tuesday), with the United States following suit thereafter.

The White House released a read-out of a telecom among the leaders of the five countries discussing several global hot spots including Ukraine, Gaza, Iraq and Libya.  On this topic, it said only that all agreed on the need for “coordinated sanctions measures on Russia for its continued transfer of arms, equipment, and fighters into eastern Ukraine, including since the crash, and to press Russia to end its efforts to destabilize the country…”

At the same time, also according to the New York Times, President Obama formally notified Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States has concluded Russia violated the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers.  Multiple sources reported the news this evening, with most citing the New York Times as breaking the story.  President Obama’s letter to Putin is not yet posted on the White House Web site.

Check back here as more details of these actions are made public.

What's Happening in Space Policy July 28-August 1, 2014 - UPDATED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jul-2014 (Updated: 27-Jul-2014 05:31 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming events for the week of July 28-August 1, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session this week.

During the Week

The House and Senate do not currently have any space policy-related hearings or actions on their public agendas during this last week of legislative work before their August recess.  The "August" recess actually extends until September 8, so it's a full five weeks.   Despite early rumors last week that they would take up a FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) before the break, House Speaker John Boehner made it absolutely clear on Thursday that he would not bring a CR to the House floor until they return in September.  He said the CR would last until early December.  

The memories of last year's 16-day government shutdown have not faded and a lot of people are hoping the same scenario does not play out again.  Many politicians are saying they don't want a shutdown, but whether they will feel the same way after five weeks with their constituents is the big question.  Analysts of last year's shutdown argue that one factor that fueled it was constituent angst -- primarily over Obamacare -- directed at their representatives during the August break. (A lot of people blame Congress for not working hard enough and point to the number of days they are in session in Washington.   It is important to remember that most of the time they are not in Washington, they are still working, just back in their districts.  The August "recess" doesn't mean they are on vacation for five weeks.  Indeed, in this election year, they will be interacting with the people whose votes they need and listening carefully to their concerns.)

In any case, for space policy aficionados, most of the action will be in Cleveland, OH with the AIAA's Propulsion and Energy 2014 Conference, or Hampton, VA at NASA's Langely Research Center where the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees are meeting.  All of the NAC meetings are available via WebEx and telecom.  Instructions are provided in the individual entries on our calendar. 

In Washington, NASA's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) meets Tuesday-Thursday (available via WebEx/telecom).  Also on Thursday, American University (AU) and Explore Mars Inc. are holding an interesting panel discussion at AU on "Is It Time To Search for Life on Mars?"  Thought we were already searching for life on Mars?   Go to the panel and find out why they titled their event as they did.  They've got a great lineup of speakers -- and a reception afterwards.  It appears as though it will be webcast (there's a Ustream link on the event's website).

Here's the list of events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.

Monday-Tuesday, July 28-29, 2014

Monday-Wednesday, July 28-30, 2014

Tuesday, July 29

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 29-30   

Tuesday-Thursday, July 29-31

Wednesday-Thursday, July 30-31

Thursday, July 31

 

Correction:  An earlier version of this article had incorrect dates for the meeting of the NAC Human Exploration and Operations Committee.  The correct dates are July 28-29 (not July 29-30).

 

Rumors Start about a Continuing Resolution as Congressional Clock Ticks Down

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jul-2014 (Updated: 22-Jul-2014 09:59 PM)

Rumors are circulating that Congress may try to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded after September 30 before they leave for their August recess. Nothing has been decided yet, however. 

The House is moving through the 12 regular FY2015 appropriations bills at a fairly fast clip, but none of them has passed the Senate.  Hopes that three of the bills could be bundled together as a "minibus" and passed by the Senate died last month over a disagreement about the rules for considering amendments during floor debate.  The three bills include two that fund space activities: Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), of which NASA and NOAA are part, and Transportation-HUD bill, which funds the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation.  The third bill is the Agriculture appropriations.

Congress will be in session this week and next.  Then it will recess for the month of August.  When they return, the House is scheduled to be in session for only 10 days in September and the first two days of October before recessing to campaign for the November elections.   The Senate website does not show how many days it plans to be in session once it returns. 

FY2014 ends on September 30.  If funding bills -- individually or as a CR -- are not passed by then, the government would have to shut down the unfunded activities.  Last year, most of the government was shut down for 16 days.  Ninety-eight percent of NASA workers were furloughed.

The shutdown, led by Tea Party Republicans, was over Obamacare and government-wide funding levels.  At the time, many Washington pundits argued that the Tea Party lost a lot of support because of the shutdown, but a year later that is not so clear.  The Hill reports today that passing a CR before the August recess "could be a way to squelch any talk of a shutdown before it begins."

 

What's Happening in Space Policy July 20-25, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jul-2014 (Updated: 21-Jul-2014 11:41 AM)

This week's list of upcoming space policy events starts with tonight -- Sunday, July 20, the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.  At 10:39 pm EDT, NASA TV will replay footage of the historic moment of hatch opening and other events.  More commemorative Apollo 11 45th anniversary events are planned throughout the week, as listed below.

During the Week

Apollo 11 45th anniversary:   Commemorative events continue tomorrow (Monday) when the Operations and Checkout  building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) will be renamed in honor of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, who passed away in 2012.  His Apollo 11 crewmates, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, will participate in the ceremony, along with Armstrong's backup for the mission, Jim Lovell.   The event begins at 10:15 am EDT.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and KSC Director Bob Cabana -- both former astronauts -- also will be there, along with a live video hookup with the two NASA astronauts who are aboard the International Space Station (ISS) right now, Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman.  

On Thursday, July 24, the anniversary of Apollo 11's return from the Moon, the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will have a live video hookup with Swanson and Wiseman at 11:00 am EDT followed by an event that showcases ISS research and features a panel discussion with three leaders in the ISS research field (12:00-2:00 pm EDT).  Then, at 3:00 pm PACIFIC time (6:00 pm Eastern), NASA will hold a panel discussion at Comic-Con International in San Diego.  That features Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin, Jim Green, the head of NASA's planetary science division, JPL's Bobak Ferdowsi, best known as the "Mohawk guy" from the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, and astronaut Mike Fincke.  A media availability with the panel members follows the discussion.

Other Events:   On Wednesday, the Marshall Institute will hold a panel discussion on the national security launch industrial base.  Josh Hartman, who was one of the members of the "Mitchell panel" that recently reviewed options for dealing with the possibility that the supply of Russia's RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas V rocket could be disrupted, will talk about "issues and opportunities," along with Scott Pace of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.  That's from 9:00-10:30 am EDT at the Army Navy Club in Washington, DC. 

NASA's Ames Research Center in California is the venue for the "Exploration Science Forum" from July 21-23, and NewSpace 2014, the annual conference of the Space Frontier Foundation, begins on July 24 in San Jose, CA.

Lots of other events are on tap, as listed below based on what we know as of Sunday afternoon, July 20.

Sunday, July 20

Monday, July 21

Monday-Wednesday, July 21-23

Tuesday, July 22

Wednesday, July 23

Wednesday-Thursday, July 23-24

Thursday, July 24

Thursday-Saturday, July 24-26

What's Happening in Space Policy July 13-18, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2014 (Updated: 14-Jul-2014 09:49 AM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week, July 13-18, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

Hopefully this week will get off to a roaring start -- literally -- with the launch of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Orb-2 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Delayed a number of times, as of mid-afternoon today (Saturday) Orbital's Antares rocket is scheduled to lift off from Wallops Island, VA at 12:52 pm ET tomorrow (Sunday, July 13) sending the Cygnus spacecraft to the ISS.  If the launch does, in fact, take place tomorrow, Cygnus should arrive at the ISS on Wednesday.  Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline for up to date information on the launch.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2015 defense appropriations bill this week (subcommittee markup is on Tuesday, full committee on Thursday).  One of the more interesting space policy-related issues will be whether it allocates any funding for the Air Force to begin a program to develop an alternative to Russia's RD-180 rocket engines.  The House version of the bill adds $220 million to do so even though the White House opposes the addition because it is "premature."   The Senate Armed Services Committee recommended $100 million in FY2015 in its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but that bill has not passed the Senate yet.

U.S. dependence on Russian rocket engines is among the topics to be explored at a joint hearing on Wednesday before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  The hearing on Options for Assuring Domestic Access to Space features witnesses from DOD, NASA, GAO and RAND, as well as the chair (retired AF Maj. Gen. Howard Mitchell) of a recent Air Force review of alternatives to the RD-180 and the very recently retired head of NASA's Space Launch System and Orion programs (Dan Dumbacher).  It's somewhat interesting that NASA will be represented by Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot instead of Administrator Charlie Bolden, who would be closer in rank to the other agency witnesses:  Gen. William Shelton, Commander of Air Force Space Command, and Alan Estevez, Principle Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  Lightfoot, however, is a former director of NASA's rocket-building Marshall Space Flight Center so knows rockets inside and out.

Lots of other interesting events coming up this week.  The full list of events that we know of as of Saturday afternoon is shown below.

Sunday, July 13

Monday, July 14

Tuesday, July 15

Wednesday, July 16

Thursday, July 17

Thursday-Friday, July 17-18