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What's Happening in Space Policy January 26-30, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2015 (Updated: 25-Jan-2015 02:42 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of January 26-30, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

On the off chance you haven't been watching the weather forecasts, the week starts off with a major winter storm for the Northeast, so if you're headed in this direction for meetings, be prepared for delays.  The Washington, DC area is not expected to get much snow (a few inches) but it may as well be the two feet they're forecasting for New England when it comes to impact. This area just does not do well in snow.

Tomorrow in warmer climes -- Houston -- NASA and its Commercial Crew Transportation Program (CCtCAP) partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will hold a news briefing at Johnson Space Center to provide an update on their progress in developing crew transportation systems to service the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.  The 11:00 am Central Time (12:00 noon Eastern) briefing will be broadcast on NASA TV. 

Or head to Cocoa Beach, FL for the three-day (Tuesday-Thursday) NASA Advanced Innovative Concepts (NIAC) 2015 symposium.  If you can't make it in person, it will be webcast.  

Back here in DC, on Tuesday, when it may still feel like the Arctic, the Secure World Foundation will hold a really interesting seminar on "Space and the Arctic: Why Space Capabilities are Important for Sustainable Arctic Development" from 12:00-2:00 pm ET.  Please RSVP in advance if you plan to attend.

An hour before that, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold its 114th Congress organizational meeting, postponed from last week.  The House Appropriations Committee holds its organizational meeting on Wednesday.  The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) have interesting hearings on broad topics this week.  It is not clear whether national security space issues will come up at all, but they may, and the hearings seem interesting nonetheless.   One SASC hearing  is on the impact of sequestration on national security with the military service chiefs (the sequester comes back into effect in FY2016 unless the law is changed) and the other is on global challenges with three former Secretaries of State (Kissinger, Shultz and Albright).  The HASC hearing is on how to improve DOD's ability to respond to technological change.

If you're interested in a career in space policy and in the D.C. area on Tuesday, don't miss the panel discussion on that topic Tuesday evening at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.  Five young professionals who are climbing that ladder of success right now will be there to offer their perspectives and advice.

We also want to note that this week begins the anniversaries of the three fatal spaceflight accidents:  Apollo 1 (or Apollo 204) on January 27, 1967; Challenger, January 28, 1986; and Columbia, February 1, 2003.   NASA usually holds a remembrance event around this time, but we have not heard when/where/what it will be this year.

The meetings that we do know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, January 26

Tuesday, January 27

Tuesday-Thursday, January 27-29

Wednesday, January 28

Wednesday-Thursday, January 28-29

Thursday, January 29

What's Happening in Space Policy January 19-23, 2015 - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jan-2015 (Updated: 20-Jan-2015 08:58 AM)

UPDATE, January 20:  New House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mac Thornberry will lay out his agenda for the 114th Congress at 10:00 am ET this morning (Monday) to the American Enterprise Institute. It will be webcast.

UPDATE, January 19:  The White House announced today that astronaut Scott Kelly will be one of the many guests sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday's State of the Union address.  Whether or not the President will mention Kelly and his upcoming year-long mission to the ISS or anything else about the space program is unclear, but it raises that possibility.

January18, 2015: Here is our list of space policy related events coming up for the week of January 19-23, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session for part of the week (Monday is a holiday -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and on Tuesday will meet in joint session to hear President Obama's State of the Union Address.

During the Week

The list of events this week is somewhat short, but they are important events that will set the stage for what transpires in months to come.

The two committees that set policy for NASA will hold their organizational meetings this week:  the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Tuesday and the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee on Wednesday.   Committee and subcommittee members are usually formalized at these meetings and the chairs and ranking members often use the opportunity to lay out their priorities for the year.  The Senate committee will now be run by Republicans instead of Democrats since Republicans won control of the Senate in last year's elections.  Sen. John Thune (R-SD) will be chairman and Sen. BIll Nelson (D-FL) is the ranking member.   In space policy circles. a lot of attention is being paid to the selection of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to chair the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee and what that may mean especially for NASA's earth science program.   Cruz told the Houston Chronicle his overall priorities for oversight of the U.S. civil space program, starting with reauthorization of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) and returning NASA to its "core priority of exploring space."

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) will retain their leadership positions on the full House SS&T committee and its Space Subcommittee respectively.  Smith said last year that CSLA will be one of his top priorities in this Congress.  A prohibition on the FAA enacting new regulations on commercial human spaceflight expires this year, so that is certain to be a topic for debate.  How the October 2014 Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash will affect the outcome is an open question.

On Tuesday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR).  While he won't be able to talk about the President's upcoming budget request for FY2016, which will not be released until February 2, he should be able to explain how the agency will spend the extra half billion dollars Congress provided for the current fiscal year above the President's request, and provide updates on ongoing programs.   He and members of his NASA Advisory Council (NAC) had frank exchanges about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) last week and perhaps he will try once more to convince the space community that moving an asteroid -- or part of an asteroid -- from one place in the solar system to another is critical to achieving the long term goal of sending humans to Mars.   That is the part of the mission NAC members question.   NASA says it will announce in "mid-January" its choice of whether to move an entire small asteroid (Option A) or pluck a boulder off of a larger asteroid (Option B) and move just that part.  It is mid-January already.  Perhaps Bolden will make the announcement at the MSBR meeting, though we have not heard any rumors to that effect.  The decision was supposed to have been announced last month, but was delayed at the last moment.

Also on Tuesday, President Obama will present his annual State of the Union Address.  There is no indication that the space program will be mentioned, but it should be interesting nonetheless to see what the President has in mind as he faces his last two years in office with a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans.  During his first two years, Democrats controlled both chambers.  Democrats lost the House in 2010 and he faced a split Congress for the next four years.  Now they have lost the Senate as well and Republicans made significant gains in the House.   Expectations are low that Washington gridlock will come to an end.  Senate Democrats may be as effective in the minority as the Republicans were for four years and the President wields the veto pen.

Tuesday, January 20

Wednesday, January 21

Cruz Lays Out Space Agenda, First Up is CSLA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jan-2015 (Updated: 14-Jan-2015 07:34 PM)

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) laid out his agenda on space issues today, issuing the transcript of an interview with the Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger as a press release.  Cruz is set to chair the Senate Commerce Committee's Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee, which oversees NASA.

One of his subcommittee's first priorities will be reauthorization of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), he said.  He expressed support for SpaceX's "substantial investments" in Texas, which has a rocket development and testing facility in McGregor and is building a launch site near Brownsville.  "I am an enthusiastic advocate of competition and allowing the private sector to innovate," he told Berger.

He also signaled support for the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, which he labeled "critical to our medium- and long-term ability to explore space, whether it's the Moon, Mars or beyond."  As for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), he was noncommittal:  "The [ARM] mission has at times seemed to have had a changing and shifting focus."  He said he wants to hold hearings "to help NASA articulate and formulate its priorities for space exploration, whether to an asteroid, the moon, Mars or beyond."

A number of articles have been published in recent days expressing concern about the fate of science, especially climate change science, under his stewardship.  He is a climate change skeptic.  He is chairing an authorization subcommittee, which has an important policy role, but it would be difficult for him to get a law enacted to curtail that research.

Berger did not ask him about that, but in response to a question about whether he was interested in space while growing up, Cruz criticized the Obama Administration for losing sight of NASA's "core mission" and vowed to refocus NASA on "its core priority of exploring space."  "We need to get back to the hard sciences, to manned space exploration and to the innovation that has been integral to the mission of NASA.  We should not be allowing NASA to have its resources diverted to extraneous political agendas and apart from exploring space."

What he means by that is not entirely clear.  Some speculate he was referring to climate change science, while others thought it might mean science overall or perhaps a reference to geopolitical competition.  Cruz made clear that he does not like the United States being reliant on Russia for launches to the International Space Station (ISS) and complained that the Obama Administration has provided "insufficient" responses to his questions about the consequences if Russia "shut off the Soyuz." He also said he did not  want U.S. dependence on RD-180 engines.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden told the NASA Advisory Council today that he has met Cruz once and he was "cordial," but Bolden does not know if Cruz will be as active on NASA issues as was Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).  Nelson chaired the subcommittee in the last Congress when Democrats controlled the Senate.  Bolden and Nelson are close friends.  Nelson flew on the space shuttle in 1986 (STS-61C) when he was a Congressman and Bolden was the pilot of that mission.  Nelson is widely credited with getting Bolden the job as NASA Administrator.  He is now the top Democrat on the full Senate Commerce Committee.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 12-16, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jan-2015 (Updated: 11-Jan-2015 05:32 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 12-16, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The week starts off with the berthing of the SpaceX CRS-5 (SpX-5) Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station at about 6:00 am ET Monday morning.  It may seem anticlimatic compared with Saturday's SpX-5 launch -- or rather the attempted landing of the Falcon 9 first stage on an autonomous drone ship.   While that didn't go as planned, as a test it certainly was a success as a step towards reusability.

Congressional committee activities for the 114th Congress get off to a start this week.  Many House committees, including the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), are holding their organizational meetings to adopt rules, lay out majority and minority agendas, and complete administrative tasks.   Rep. MacThornberry (R-TX) takes over the HASC gavel this Congress from Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), who retired.   Over in the Senate, SASC is holding an actual hearing with a single witness -- Henry Kissinger -- expounding on global challenges and U.S. national security.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will chair SASC in this Congress.   Space topics do not usually arise in hearings like these on broad, top level national security issues, but U.S. dependence on Russia for rocket engines, the overall state of national security space assets, or perceived threats posed by China's space activities might come up depending on where the conversation goes.

Down at Stennis Space Center, MS, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and two of its committees -- Science  and Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) -- will meet this week.  A joint session Monday afternoon between the Science and HEO committees might be particularly interesting.  Then, on Tuesday morning HEO Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier will provide the HEO committee with an update on HEO activities overall and Michele Gates and Lindley Johnson will present an update on the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  Later in the day, Alan Lindenmoyer will offer NAC-HEO "lessons learned" from the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.  The meetings are available virtually via WebEx and telecon (click on the links to those meetings below or on the right menu for instructions).

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

Monday, January 12

Monday-Tuesday, January 12-13

Tuesday, January 13

Wednesday-Thursday, January 14-15

Thursday, January 15

Friday, January 16

Senate Commerce Names Subcommittee Chairs: Ted Cruz for NASA, Marco Rubio for NOAA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2015 (Updated: 08-Jan-2015 09:55 PM)

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today announced who will chair its subcommittees in the 114th Congress.   Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair the subcommittee that oversees NASA, while Marco Rubio (R-FL) will chair the one with jurisdiction over NOAA.

The Senate is now in Republican hands, so all committee and subcommittee chairs are Republican and ranking members are Democrats (though there are two Independents, who usually vote with Democrats, who might also hold committee leadership positions).   The full Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is chaired by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who announced the six subcommittee chairs today.  The two of most interest to the space policy community are the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, which includes NOAA, and the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, which includes NASA and added "competitiveness" to its title this year.

Cruz was the top Republican on the Science and Space subcommittee last year, so his ascension to chair is not unexpected.   He did not play a prominent public role in NASA matters in the last Congress, and is known mostly for his advocacy of reduced government spending overall and opposition to almost anything that the Obama Administration supports.  Bill Nelson (D-FL) chaired the subcommittee in the previous Congress, when it was controlled by Democrats, and is an ardent NASA supporter, having flown on the space shuttle in 1986 when he was a Member of the House of Representatives.  Nelson is now the top Democrat on the full Senate Commerce Committee.

Like Cruz, Rubio was the top Republican on the Oceans/Atmosphere subcommittee in the last Congress and now becomes chair.   All of NOAA's activities are within the jurisdiction of the subcommittee and historically it has focused more on fisheries and coastal issues than on space.

GAO Decision on Sierra Nevada Bid Protest Expected Monday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Jan-2015 (Updated: 04-Jan-2015 06:21 PM)

The Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) decision on Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) protest of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract awards to Boeing and SpaceX is expected tomorrow, January 5, 2015.

GAO has 100 days from the date the protest was filed to make its ruling.  That time period expires tomorrow.

SNC filed the protest on September 26, 2014 noting in a press release that it was the first time the company had taken such action in its 51-year history.   It said there were "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process."   Among them was the fact that NASA would spend "up to $900 million more ... for a space program equivalent to what SNC proposed" even though price was the primary evaluation criteria in the CCtCAP solicitation.

Aviation Week reported in October that an internal document signed by Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, concluded that SNC's design had "the lowest level of maturity" and "more schedule uncertainty" than its competitors and "the longest  schedule for completing certification."  The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on December 23, 2014 that part of SNC's protest is based on those comments because schedule was not one of the main criteria in the solicitation.  SNC is asserting that Gerstenmaier "overstepped his authority by unilaterally changing the scoring criteria" according to the WSJ.

The protest was filed 10 days after NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX --  $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX -- to develop commercial crew transportation systems to service the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA has been supporting all three companies in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the program and was expected to be able to support only two in the CCtCAP phase.  

Pursuant to regulations governing contract protests, NASA issued a stop- work order to Boeing and SpaceX once SNC filed the protest, but reversed course and lifted the stop-work order a few days later on the grounds that it was acting within its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.  SNC filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to have the stop-work order reinstated, but the court ruled in NASA's favor.

If GAO decides SNC's protest has merit, NASA may have to go through the solicitation process all over again with consequent potential delays in the availability of commercial crew systems.  NASA is hoping that at least one of the systems will be available by the end of 2017, two years later than its original plan because Congress did not provide all of the requested funding for the program.   Some members of Congress continue to question why, for example, NASA is funding two companies instead of one.

NASA has been dependent on Russia to take crews to and from the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011 and must continue to rely on Russia until a new U.S. system is available.  By law, the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft must be designed to service the ISS as a backup in case the commercial crew program fails, but the first crewed launch of Orion is not scheduled until 2021.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 1-9, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Dec-2014 (Updated: 31-Dec-2014 02:43 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events coming up for the first week-and-a-half of the New Year and any insight we can offer about them.   The 114th Congress convenes at noon on Tuesday, January 6.

During the Weeks

The New Year gets off with a bang in 2015 with three major conferences, a SpaceX launch that could demonstrate the Falcon 9 first stage returning to land on a barge, the beginning of a new Congress, and meetings of three NASA advisory groups.

The three conferences are:

Special sessions (e.g. Town Halls, lectures, plenaries) will be held at each. The conference organizers have varying policies on webcasting, so check at the links provided to determine if these events can be viewed remotely.

SpaceX's fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX CRS-5 or SpX-5, was postponed from December 19 to January 6 because a Falcon 9 static fire test did not go as planned.  Launch on January 6 is at 6:18 am EST.  While SpaceX cargo resupply missions to the ISS have become somewhat routine, SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk has been using them -- with NASA's concurrence -- to test the reusability of the Falcon 9 first stage.  On two missions already, the first stage has returned vertically to "land" on the ocean -- tipping over into the water, of course, at the end.   On this flight, SpaceX will attempt to land it on a specially designed barge as the next step towards reusability.

Later that day,  back in Washington, the 114th Congress will convene with the House and Senate both in Republican hands.   Will that mean less gridlock?   Post-election vibes suggest that in the Senate, at least, liberal Democrats may take pages from the playbook used by Tea Party Republicans to demonstrate that the minority party wields power, too, so there are no sure bets.

NASA's advisory bodies -- or "analysis groups" (AGs) in some cases -- also get off to a fast start.  Two of the AGs are first up:  the ExoPlanet Exploration Analysis Group (ExoPAG) this weekend (January 3-4) and Small Bodies Analysis Group (SBAG) on January 6-7.  AGs are not officially allowed to give advice to NASA because they are not chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  Only FACA-chartered bodies are supposed to give "advice," but non-FACA groups can provide input that seems a lot like advice.  ExoPAG provides input to the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Astrophysics Subcommittee and SBAG provides input to NAC's Planetary Science Subcommittee.  Both of those subcommittees report to NAC's Science Committee.  Another NAC Science subcommittee, Heliophysics, meets on Friday, January 9. 

These and other meetings scheduled for January 1-9, 2015 are listed below.

Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4

Sunday-Thursday, January 4-8

Monday-Friday, January 5-9

  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) SciTech 2015, Kissimmee, FL

Monday, January 5

  • SpaceX CRS-5 (SpX-5) pre-launch briefings, NASA Kennedy Space Center, FL (watch on NASA TV)
    • 12:00 noon EST, Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) Earth science instrument
    • 1:30 pm EST, science briefing
    • 4:00 pm EST, mission status briefing

Tuesday, January 6

  • SpaceX CRS-5 launch, Cape Canaveral, FL, 6:18 am EST (watch on NASA TV beginning at 5:00 am EST); post-launch briefing approximately 90 minutes after launch
  • 114th Congress convenes, noon EST, The Capitol, Washington, DC

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 6-7

Thursday, January 8

  • SpaceX CRS-5 arrives at ISS.  NASA TV coverage of grapple begins at 4:30 am EST (grapple is approx. 6:00 am EST) and of berthing at 8:15 am EST.

Thursday-Friday, January 8-9

Friday, January 9

Orbital Sciences to Use Russian RD-181 for Antares

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Dec-2014 (Updated: 17-Dec-2014 10:54 PM)

Orbital Sciences Corporation confirmed via Twitter a story published by Aviation Week & Space Technology that it has chosen a different Russian engine, RD-181, for its Antares rocket.  The last Antares launch, powered by Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26), exploded 15 seconds after liftoff on October 28.

Orbital confirmed after the launch failure that it would use a different engine for future Antares rockets, but as recently as last week, Orbital Chairman, President and CEO David Thompson declined to publicly identify the engine despite rumors that it would be Russian.

Aviation Week's Frank Morring posted a story yesterday quoting Orbital's vice president for space launch strategic development Mark Pieczynski as saying the RD-181, built by Energomash, "is about as close as you could possibly get to replacing the current twin AJ-26 engines in Antares, so it minimizes the redesign of the core."  The first set of RD-181s is expected in the summer of 2015, Morring reported, with a second set arriving in the fall.

Orbital has announced plans for recovering from the October 28 launch failure, which destroyed the Cygnus spacecraft that was carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Orbital's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA.  The contract requires Orbital to deliver 20 tons of cargo to ISS by the end of 2016.  To fulfill the contract, Orbital will use another company's rocket for at least one launch of Cygnus while getting the reconfigured Antares ready for launch in 2016.  That other company is the United Launch Alliance (ULA).  Orbital is buying one ULA Atlas V launch, with an option for one more.

In tweets yesterday and today, Orbital (@OrbitalSciences) said that the RD-181 is the "only propulsion system that enables us to complete cargo commitments to @NASA under #CRS contract by end of 2016."  It also disputed reports on some media outlets that the value of its order for the engines is $1 billion.  "Total possible value (including options) of #RD181 order significantly below the $1 billion being reported by some media outlets."

One of those media outlets is Russia's Sputnik News, formerly RIA Novosti.  It reported today that the order is for 60 RD-181 engines, citing another Russian newspaper, Izvestiya.  According to that account, an official from Russia's space agency Roscosmos said there is a firm contract for 20 engines with a commitment to deliver a total of 60.  A subsequent story from Sputnik News quotes Orbital's Barron Beneski as saying the $1 billion figure is incorrect and "The full value if all the options were exercised would be significantly less." 

Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting the purchase of a different Russian engine, the RD-180, for use in ULA's Atlas V rocket.  Atlas V is used for many U.S. national security spacecraft and U.S. dependence on Russia for those engines became a significant issue after Russia's actions in Ukraine.  The final version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibits the Secretary of Defense from awarding or renewing a contract to procure rocket engines designed or manufactured in Russia for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  Atlas V and Delta IV are the two EELVs, so the language does not affect Antares. 

Morring quotes Orbital's Ron Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of the company's Launch Systems Group, as saying the company "coordinated with all relevant congressional staffs" and notes that the ISS program itself is dependent on cooperation with Russia.  ISS is an international partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries.  NASA has been dependent on Russia to launch crews to the ISS since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.

What's Happening In Space Policy December 15-31, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2014 (Updated: 14-Dec-2014 06:03 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events for the rest of 2014 as the holidays approach.  This edition covers December 15-31, 2014.   The Senate will be in session tomorrow, at least, but the expectation is that the 113th Congress will come to a close very soon.

During the Week

The Senate is scheduled to be in session tomorrow for what may be the last day of the 113th Congress, though even at this late date it is difficult to say that with any certainty.   After a tumultuous few days, the House and Senate have passed and sent to the President the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 -- the "CRomnibus" -- which funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies through the end of FY2015 (September 30, 2015).  Only the Department of Homeland Security is funded under another Continuing Resolution (CR), through February 27, 2015, because of the immigration debate.   We've published many stories about the debate, the angst, the uncertainty, etc. and will not reiterate it here (type "cromnibus" into our search box and you should be able to retrieve them).  Suffice it to say that it was a very nice holiday gift for NASA -- a $549 million increase above the President's request, or $363 million more than FY2014.  The question will be whether Congress will sustain that level of funding in future years.  A one-year plus-up is nice, but it's the long haul that counts.   NOAA's satellite programs also did well.  We'll publish an article summarizing the DOD space program provisions shortly.

Outside the beltway, the highlight of this week certainly will be the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.   AGU is webcasting many of its press conferences and those related to NASA are listed below and on our calendar on the right menu.   Among them -- findings from MAVEN, Curiosity, and Rosetta are on tap for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, and a look forward at New Horizons' arrival at Pluto next year is on Thursday.

And, if all goes well, SpaceX will launch its fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.  Three pre-launch briefings are scheduled for Thursday.   Arrival at the ISS will be on Sunday if the launch goes on Friday.  NASA TV will cover it all.

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

SpacePolicyOnline.com wishes all of you Happy Holidays and a fantastic New Year!

Monday-Friday, December 15-19

Monday, December 15

  • AGU Press Conferences on NASA Topics (webcast)
    • 9:00 am PST (12:00 noon EST), Early Results from MAVEN
    • 10:30 am PST (1:30 pm EST), X-rays and Gamma Rays in Thunderstorms
    • 1:30 pm PST (4:30 pm EST), Greenland's Melt Dynamics

Tuesday, December 16

Wednesday, December 17

  • AGU Press Conferences on NASA Topics (webcast)
    • 8:00 am PST (11:00 am EST), Rosetta Comet Science Results
    • 11:30 am PST (2:30 pm EST), Arctic Heating:  15 Years of Sea Ice Loss -- and Absorbed Solar Radiation Gains
    • 2:30 pm PST (5:30 pm EST), After the Pulse Flow: Greening the Colorado River Delta

Thursday, December 18

Friday, December 19

Sunday, December 21

  • SpX-5 Arrival at ISS (if launched on Friday), grapple approximately 6:00 am EST (NASA TV coverage begins 4:15 am EST)

Senate Passes Cromnibus Assuring FY2015 Funds for NASA, NOAA, DOD - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Dec-2014 (Updated: 14-Dec-2014 02:16 PM)

Update:  Links to the text of the bill and joint explanatory statements for CJS (NASA and NOAA) and Defense have been added.

The Senate just passed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, colloquially called the "cromnibus."  It funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies -- except the Department of Homeland Security -- through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015).

Demonstrating once again that it is always darkest before the dawn, the 56-40 vote came after a 24-hour period when it looked like the Senate was in for a long debate about the bill.   Senate Democratic and Republican leaders had hoped to spend the weekend at home and come back and vote on the bill Monday, but Tea Party Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) objected late last night and consequently the Senate was in session today.  

Throughout much of the day, many worried that the Senate could not even pass a new Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until Wednesday (otherwise funding would have expired tonight).  That CR finally passed this afternoon, but it was unclear when a vote on the cromnibus would take place.

Cruz and Lee did force a vote on the constitutionality of President Obama's immigration executive order "though it was badly defeated by bipartisan opposition, 22-74" according to Politico.   Politico goes on to point out that the Cruz-Lee delay opened an opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring a number of President Obama's long-delayed nominations to the floor for a vote and now "there's little Republicans can do to stop him."

From the standpoint of funding the government, at least, it was good news.   The cromnibus -- a combination of a CR to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 27, 2015 and the rest of the government through the end of the fiscal year  -- includes a significant increase for NASA and strong support for NOAA's satellite programs.  DHS is funded only by a shorter-term CR as a signal of Republican disapproval of the President's immigration executive order.  Immigration is part of DHS's portfolio.

The text of the bill was written as a Senate amendment to a House-passed bill on an unrelated topic (H.R. 83).   The joint explanatory statement (formerly a conference report) is separated into "divisions" for each of the regular appropriations bills.  Division B is Commerce-Justice-Science (including NASA and NOAA); Division C is Defense.