Space Law News
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 27 - July 1, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session part of the week. The House is in recess for the July 4 holiday.
During the Week
The House left town early last week in disarray after Democrats staged a gun control sit-in. It already was scheduled to be off this week and will return on July 5. The Senate is taking only a short July 4th breather. It will be in session Monday-Thursday and return on July 6. On Monday it will resume consideration of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that includes NASA and NOAA. Both chambers will meet the first two weeks of July and then take a 7-week recess for the political conventions and their usual August recess, returning on September 5-6. They don't have a lot of time to get appropriations bills completed before the fiscal year ends on September 30.
Orbital ATK will have the second and final qualification test for the solid rocket boosters for the Space Launch System on Tuesday at its Promontory, Utah test site. NASA TV will cover the 2-minute test live and a media teleconference shortly thereafter will be available on NASA's News Audio site.
Up at the International Space Station (ISS), Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Oleg Skripochka will test out a new manual docking system for Russia's Progress cargo spacecraft on Friday (VERY early Eastern Daylight Time). Progress MS-01 (Progress 62 in NASA parlance) is currently docked to the Pirs module. It will undock and then be redocked using the manual system, a backup in case the automated Kurs system doesn't work properly. The Progress MS series is the latest version of that cargo spacecraft, in use since 1978, and Russia is also getting ready to launch the first Soyuz MS, the latest variant of that spacecraft. The first Soyuz was launched in 1967. The Soyuz MS-01 launch is now scheduled for July 6 EDT (July 7 local time at the launch site) after a delay reportedly related to its new Kurs system. The Kurs system for Progress MS and Soyuz MS is the same and the NASA press release said the test would verify software and a new signal converter for the manual docking system "in the unlikely event the 'Kurs' automated rendezvous in either craft encounters a problem." Progress MS-01 will undock for a final time on July 2 and reenter (burning up on the way down -- SpaceX's Dragon is the only ISS cargo spacecraft designed to survive reentry).
NASA's Juno spacecraft is getting closer and closer to Jupiter, with orbital insertion next Monday (July 4). There will be three briefings that day, but two pre-arrival briefings will be held this Thursday at JPL. They will be webcast.
Thursday also is Asteroid Day, "a global awareness campaign" with events around the world to learn about asteroids "and what we can do to protect our planet ..." It is an independent effort founded by Britain's Brian May (the Queen guitarist and astrophysicist), B612's Danica Remy and Rusty Schweickert, and film director Grigorij Richters and with support from the European Space Agency (ESA). Thursday is June 30, the anniversary of the 1908 Tunguska (Russia) event, the most destructive meteor airburst of modern times.
To close out the week, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC is celebrating its 40th anniversary and has invited the public to a family friendly "All Night at the Museum" from 9:00 pm Friday to 10:00 am Saturday with special guests stopping by, all night films and lots of other fun activities. The official re-opening of the renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight gallery is at 8:30 pm ET. That and other Friday evening activities will be covered by C-SPAN.
Those and other events we know about as of Saturday afternoon are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additional events we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Tuesday, June 28
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 28-29
Tuesday-Thursday, June 28-30
Wednesday, June 29
Thursday, June 30
Friday, July 1
Friday-Saturday, July 1-2
For the first time in 7 years, the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held a hearing on commercial space transportation issues on Wednesday. Several Members were in attendance, some of whom acknowledged constituent interests in these issues, but there was no special focus other than getting an update from government and industry experts.
Congress assigned the Department of Transportation (DOT) the dual roles of both facilitating and regulating the commercial space launch industry in the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), which has been amended several times, most recently in 2004. All the legislation originated in the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee (and its predecessors), not T&I. The SS&T website clearly states that it has jurisdiction over “commercial space activities relating to the Department of Transportation…”
For the first 10 years, commercial space launch activities were handled in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, but in 1995 it was delegated to the FAA (part of DOT). FAA thereupon created the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).
FAA/AST is under the jurisdiction of House SS&T, but the House T&I committee oversees the FAA itself and some of the issues involve other parts of the FAA. For example, for FY2017, in addition to the $19.8 million request for AST, FAA is requesting $2.953 million for commercial space transportation safety-related activities as part of the Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) budget and $2 million for integrating commercial space launches into the National Air Space in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) budget. Thus, T&I does have an oversight interest.
Subcommittee chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) noted that the FAA Tech Center in his district is involved in space debris modeling and subcommittee ranking member Rick Larsen (D-WA) is from the Seattle area where a number of traditional and entrepreneurial space companies are headquartered or have facilities. Larsen even noted that the NewSpace2016 conference was underway in Seattle as the hearing was taking place. He and full committee ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) seemed to have the keenest interest in these issues and Larsen said he hoped the subcommittee would have another hearing early in the next Congress.
The five witnesses were: George Nield, FAA/AST Associate Administrator; Gerald Dillingham, Government Accountability Office (GAO); Mike Gold, chairman of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC); Michael Lopez-Alegria, COMSTAC Vice Chair; and Taber MacCallum, World View Enterprises.
The hearing covered a potpourri of issues.
FAA’s Dual Role to Facilitate and Regulate. DeFazio made it clear that he has long been skeptical that one agency can successfully facilitate and regulate an industry at the same time, an issue that has been debated since the 1984 CSLA was enacted. He argued that the Department of Commerce should be in charge of facilitating and promoting the industry, while FAA regulates it. Nield explained that having a dual role does not mean that one company is favored over another or that public safety is compromised. He pointed out that commercial space launch companies have a perfect record so far in terms of public safety, with no deaths or injuries to the general public.
DeFazio, however, pressed Nield on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) finding in the 2014 Scaled Composites/Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo accident that FAA/AST did not allow its staff to ask questions of Scaled if they were not directly related to public safety in order to “reduce the burden” on Scaled. While no member of the public has died as a result of commercial space launches, DeFazio insisted, someone did die in that case. Nield replied that FAA/AST’s responsibility is public safety. DeFazio then asked Dillingham for GAO’s view and Dillingham said that GAO has expressed concern in the past about the dual role and further study is needed.
Article VI and Mission Authorizations. Gold pleaded – literally – with the subcommittee to resolve the problem with U.S. compliance with Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty, which requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the space activities of non-government entities, like companies. Gold currently works for SSL, which is developing satellite servicing technologies, and previously worked for Bigelow Aerospace, which wants to build habitats in orbit, on the Moon and elsewhere. No U.S. government agency has been assigned responsibility for authorizing or supervising such activities, leaving them in regulatory limbo. A recent report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy recommended that DOT be assigned that role and issue “mission authorizations” for companies wanting to engage in those and other new types of commercial space activities such as asteroid mining. Gold exclaimed “I come to you today begging you for a resolution” so the United States can be a global leader in these emerging industries. He asked the subcommittee to deal with the issue “with alacrity” and direct the FAA/AST to update its regulations to include mission authorizations.
Regulating Commercial Human Spaceflight Passenger Safety. Current law prohibits the FAA from promulgating new regulations for the safety of passengers (“spaceflight participants”) on commercial human spaceflights until 2023 -- often referred to as a "moratorium" on regulations or a "learning period" for industry. Until then, companies are required only to provide for “informed consent” where customers are told the risks and they make their own decisions on whether to fly. This is a controversial issue with some arguing that commercial human spaceflight is akin to scuba diving or skydiving where the government does not get involved, while others find it more comparable to commercial airline travel where there is considerable government regulation.
MacCallum wants the informed consent regime made permanent so companies like his – which will be offering stratospheric balloon trips -- are assured of the regulatory regime under which they will have to operate. He recommended that a parallel “extended license” regime be created where passenger safety would be regulated by the FAA, but it would be required only for companies offering services that fall under common carrier definitions – routine flights from one point on Earth to another. Other commercial space companies could voluntarily choose to get an extended license if they thought it would give them a competitive advantage because customers might feel safer flying with an operator who had such a license.
Larsen asked if the FAA could do that now and MacCallum said he believed so, but Nield said the law currently restricts the FAA to only working with industry on developing voluntary standards, not developing any new regulations. Lopez-Alegria, who previously was President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), spoke in favor of voluntary industry standards instead of government regulations. CSF is working with its member companies, although he explained how difficult it is to get a group of very disparate companies with very different vehicle designs to work on the issue, although he believes the discussions are going in the right direction.
Calculating Maximum Probable Loss for Third Party Indemnification. Dillingham pointed out that FAA/AST has not responded effectively to GAO recommendations dating back to 2012 to update the methodology it uses to calculate how much insurance commercial space launch companies must purchase to cover third-party (general public) claims in case of a launch accident. It is important because the government could be liable for a greater amount of losses if the FAA does not require companies to purchase a proper amount.
He stressed that this is becoming increasingly important as more spaceports are being licensed around the country, including inland sites like one in Midland, Texas. A three-tiered system was established in 1988 where companies must purchase insurance up to $500 million, the government then is liable (subject to appropriations) for claims between that floor and an inflation-adjusted ceiling (currently $3.06 billion), and the company is liable for any amounts above that. The “up to $500 million” is what is at issue. The FAA calculates the Maximum Probable Loss (MPL) for each launch and the company must buy that much insurance, which may be significantly less than $500 million. If the MPL is calculated to be $100 million, for example, the government’s liability would be from $100 million to $3.06 billion, not $500 million to $3.06 billion. Dillingham said the methodology is “dated by a few decades” and although Congress required FAA to review and update it and submit a report by April 2016, no report has been submitted.
Rep. John Duncan (R-TN), asked why the government indemnifies the industry at all now that the industry is mature. Nield replied that the industry believes it is essential in order to compete with other countries that do provide such indemnification. Dillingham agreed saying that while the United States has a $3.06 billion cap on what the government will pay, in Russia, for example, there is no cap. The government will pay any amount above what insurance covers.
Funding for FAA/AST. Gold passionately argued for more funding for FAA/AST warning that “it’s only a matter of time until safety suffers” because the office is underfunded. “COMSTAC at every meeting has endorsed the need for more funding. When have you seen companies asking for more funding for their regulators before?” He worries that both the safety and competitiveness of the U.S. industry is at stake. The Obama Administration is requesting $19.8 million this year, a $2 million increase over its current funding. The Senate has passed the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill with that level and the House Appropriations Committee ultimately recommended that level after an amendment was adopted during markup. Dillingham said GAO also was concerned about whether FAA/AST could fulfill all its tasks, at one point finding that it was not performing 10 percent of required safety inspections. He said GAO recommended that FAA provide more detail in its budget request to justify additional funds and the FY2017 request does that.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 20-25, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate is scheduled to continue debate on the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this week, which funds NASA and NOAA It got off to a rocky start last week when a Democratic filibuster over gun control in the wake of the Orlando tragedy held up action for about a day (as its name implies, the bill also funds the Department of Justice), but agreement was reached to allow votes on gun control amendments and debate on the bill resumed. The House schedule for the coming week still was not posted as of Sunday afternoon. The House meets only in pro forma session tomorrow, then will meet for legislative business Tuesday-Friday before taking off a week plus a bit for the July 4 holiday.
On Wednesday, the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee will hold a rare hearing on commercial space transportation. The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is under the jurisdiction of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, but T&I has jurisdiction over the rest of the FAA and some commercial space transportation-related activities are handled by other parts of the FAA. For FY2017, for example, in addition to the $19.8 million for AST, FAA is requesting $2.0 million as part of a $20 million request for Air Traffic Management (ATM) in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) account and $2.953 million for commercial space transportation safety in the Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) account. The ATM funding is for integrating commercial launches into the National Air Space, a growing issue with the rise in the number of orbital and suborbital launches -- and in the case of the Dragon spacecraft, landings -- that require aircraft to avoid certain areas. FAA/AST head George Nield, COMSTAC's Mike Gold and Michael Lopez-Alegria, GAO's Gerald Dillingham, and Taber MacCallum from World View Enterprises are the witnesses. World View Enterprises plans high altitude (stratospheric) balloon flights for tourists and counts Alan Stern and Mark Kelly as members of its executive team.
Speaking of launches, NASA Wallops Flight Facility Director Bill Wrobel will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on Tuesday. Wallops is getting ready for the return to flight of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket, although that has been delayed to August.
Still speaking of launches, China reportedly is getting ready for the first launch of yet another new rocket from a brand new launch site, possibly on Saturday. China had inaugural launches of two new rockets last year, both at the smaller end of the capability scale (Long March 6 and Long March 11) from existing launch sites. The upcoming launch is the first from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. China has not officially announced a launch date, but there are rumors it will be on June 25 (which might be June 24 Eastern Daylight Time depending on the launch time). China has big plans for Wenchang, which will also be the home of the new Long March 5 rocket, expected to achieve its first launch later this year. Long March 7 is a mid-sized rocket (13.5 metric tons to LEO), while Long March 5 will be China's most capable rocket ever at 25 metric tons to LEO. (The largest U.S. rocket is the Delta IV, which can place 28.4 metric tons into LEO.) The newer Long March rockets use more environmentally friendly fuel and are intended eventually to replace the older models (Long March 2, 3 and 4).
Also on Saturday, Politicon 2016 will be starting in Pasadena, CA. The Planetary Society (TPS) has a panel discussion scheduled for 2:00 pm Pacific Daylight Time on "How We Get to Mars." A June 16 tweet from TPS's Director of Advocacy Casey Dreier identifies the panelists as TPS CEO Bill Nye, former Hill staffer Bill Adkins (now President of Adkins Strategies, LLC), and former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (now General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association).
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are shown below. Check back throughout the week for new items added to our Events of Interest list that we learn about later.
Tuesday, June 21
Tuesday-Thursday, June 21-23
Wednesday, June 22
Saturday, June 25
The House passed the FY2017 Defense Appropriations Bill ( H.R. 5293) today by a vote of 282-138. No space-related amendments were adopted so those provisions remain as they were in the House Appropriations Committee's version of the bill. The Obama Administration threatened to veto the bill as reported from committee in part because it cuts funding for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.
The House bill addresses several national security space issues -- from SBIRS to AEHF to weather satellites -- but steers clear of the fractious RD-180 rocket engine controversy in terms of how long they may be used and how many may be purchased (a battle which may finally be over). However, it does require that in future competitions, the award is to be made to the provider that offers the best value -- not necessarily the best price -- to the government. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) argues that it cannot compete with SpaceX on price, but its 100 percent mission success rate is a valuable factor that should count in its bids. (Mission success means that the satellite was placed into the intended orbit, even if problems may have occurred during the launch.)
A separate controversy has arisen this year, however, over how many EELVs the Air Force may buy in FY2017. The request was for $1.501 billion to buy five EELVs, but the House committee decided two were "early to need."
The report accompanying the House bill did not offer a further explanation, but the Senate Appropriations Committee also denied funds for two of the EELVs and made clear why -- exasperation over delays in the new Operational Control Segment (OCX) needed for the newest version of GPS satellites, GPS III. The Senate committee also recommended dramatic changes in the OCX program, but in terms of launches, it concluded there is no point in launching GPS III satellites if the ground system is not ready. The two launches for which funding was denied are for GPS III satellites.
In its report (S. Rept. 114-263), the Senate Appropriations Committee disagreed with the Air Force's plan to launch six GPS III satellites before 2019 because of the OCX delays. OCX is "needed to launch, checkout, and ultimately integrate and operate the GPS III satellites with the legacy GPS architecture" and "will not be ready for many years. ... The committee sees no justification for launching so many satellites without a system in place to operate them."
As for OCX itself, the Senate committee recommended termination of OCX Blocks 1-2 (a reduction of $259.8 million) and add $30 million for "operational M-code risk mitigation for OCS," a net reduction of $229.8 million. OCS is the Operational Control System, the existing ground system for GPS satellites.
The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978 and the system was declared operational in 1993. GPS signals are ubiquitous around the globe for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT). A constellation of 24 GPS satellites is needed for global three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) coverage and the satellites have been upgraded several times over the years, moving through block changes with various designations. The Air Force currently has 31 operational satellites that use several versions of the GPS II series. The newest version is GPS IIF and the last of those satellites was launched in February. GPS III satellites were supposed to begin launching in 2014, but the date has slipped repeatedly. The first currently is scheduled for May 2017. Lockheed Martin is building the first eight GPS III satellites and that effort also has been beset by delays.
Because of the delays in OCX, the Air Force is working on an interim solution so that the various GPS II satellites and the new GPS III version can work as an integrated system. The Senate committee concluded, however, that the interim solution will not enable all of the capabilities of all the versions, especially the Military code (M-code), "a key warfighting need." It said the OCX program "remains in jeopardy," with a current cost estimate of $2.3 billion, 160 percent above its original estimate of $886 million. Although DOD put forward a plan with another 2-year delay, "the contractor and the Air Force believed that a more than 4-year additional delay was likely necessary."
Consequently, the Senate committee wants the Air Force and the contractor, Raytheon, to ensure the interim solution -- enhancing OCS -- works and added $30 million to enable M-Code broadcast capabilities. It wants OCX Block 0 completed, but called for terminating funding for OCX Blocks 1 and 2.
The House bill fully funds OCX and no comment about it was made in the committee's report. The schedule for Senate consideration of its version of the defense appropriations bill has not been announced.
The Obama Administration's Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the House bill said it would eliminate three, not two, EELV launch service procurements as the committee intended, and introduce cost and schedule risk for national security satellites.
Witnesses Argue Government Has Ethical Obligation for Lifetime Astronaut Medical Care--And Needs Data, Too
Three current and former astronauts, NASA's Chief Medical Officer and a medical ethicist told a congressional committee today that the U.S. Government has an ethical obligation to provide lifetime medical care to people who fly into space as part of a NASA program. In addition, the data NASA could obtain by following individuals after they leave the astronaut corps would be invaluable in determining how to protect the health of current and future astronauts.
Three men who have made multiple journeys into space provided the astronaut viewpoint: Chris Cassidy, current head of the NASA astronaut office at Johnson Space Center (JSC); Michael Lopez-Alegria, who until recently held the U.S. record for the longest continuous spaceflight (215 days) and still holds the record for the most spacewalks (10), currently President of the U.S. chapter of the Association of Space Explorers; and Scott Kelly, who just broke Lopez-Alegria's continuous spaceflight record by remaining in space for 340 days. Lopez-Alegria and Kelly are both retired from NASA now. All three are current or retired military officers as well.
Military personnel have lifetime medical coverage under the TRICARE program through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and civilian government retirees may have coverage through the Department of Labor's Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). NASA also has a voluntary Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health (LSAH) program for former astronauts.
Collectively they do not cover all former astronauts (such as those who leave NASA's astronaut corps before retirement or payload specialists who were never government employees) nor do they systematically collect data about former astronauts as they access medical care. The LSAH program is voluntary and only about 60 percent of former astronauts take advantage of it. It provides health status evaluations and former astronauts must travel to JSC to take part. If a medical condition is uncovered, NASA currently is authorized just to encourage the former astronaut to follow up with his or her personal health care provider, not to provide diagnosis or treatment.
The hearing before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on June 15 focused on two questions the situation presents: what obligation does the federal government have to individuals who fly into space on behalf of the government and society at large, and what data are not being collected that could inform the government as it designs spacecraft and missions to take astronauts further into space for longer periods of time.
The three astronauts, NASA Chief Medical Officer Richard Williams, and Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy Jeffrey Kahn, were in agreement that the government has an ethical obligation to provide lifetime medical care for astronauts who fly as part of a government program and that NASA also needs the long term data on the health effects of spaceflight to inform current and future programs.
Kahn chaired a 2014 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study on Ethics Principles and Guidelines for Health Standards for Long Duration and Exploration Spaceflights. His committee identified six principles, two of which he said were relevant to this discussion: fairness and fidelity (or reciprocity). Fairness "requires that equals be treated equally" -- that there needs to be a risk-benefit balance between those who take the risks of spaceflight (astronauts) and those who benefit (society). Fidelity "recognizes that individual sacrifices made for the benefit of society may give rise to societal duties in return" -- those who consent to take long term health risks for society's benefit (astronauts) are entitled to "society's commitment to minimize any harms that emerge, whenever they emerge."
Other government and non-government employees similarly engage in activities that risk their health -- the military and the nuclear industry among many others -- but Kahn said his committee tried to find occupational parallels and concluded that astronauts are in a "unique category."
Williams discussed legislation that has been drafted to provide NASA with the authority to perform not only the evaluations currently conducted through the LSAH program, but also diagnosis and treatment for former astronauts. There are 280 living former astronauts, Williams said, and the cost of monitoring and diagnosis would be about $800,000 a year. Costs for treatment are difficult to estimate, but he anticipates there would be on average only one or two cases of significant illness every 1-2 years that would be expensive (on the order of $500,000) to treat.
Lopez-Alegria, who made four spaceflights, the longest of which was 215 days, and Kelly, who made a 159-day spaceflight in addition to his record-setting 340-day mission, both discussed some of the health effects they have experienced. Lopez-Alegria said he suffers from changes in his eyesight -- Microgravity Ocular Syndrome -- a recently discovered medical condition for astronauts who make long-duration spaceflights that is not yet understood. He said about 60 percent of long duration flyers are afflicted with this condition. His written statement provides a brief, but comprehensive summary of health effects experienced by astronauts more broadly and asserts that statistically, astronauts who fly to and from the International Space Station (ISS) on Soyuz spacecraft and remain for 6 months "have a threat of mortality comparable to those of U.S. infantry combatants on D-Day and New York City firefighters on 9/11."
Kelly said that he was "pleasantly surprised" that initial data on his bone and muscle mass show little difference between his two missions, but other data, including that from the "Twins Study" with his twin brother Mark Kelly, will not be available for some time. He stressed that although his bone and muscle mass might not have changed much based on flight duration, he felt quite different returning from the 340-day mission. One difference was his skin was extremely sensitive after almost a year without coming into contact with clothing or anything else. After returning to Earth he developed a hive-like rash on "every surface of my skin that came into contact with ordinary surfaces on Earth ... like sitting or lying in bed." He also experienced flu-like symptoms and swollen legs. Although NASA focuses attention on the high risk launch and reentry phases of spaceflight, Kelly stressed, "much less attention is given to other risks astronauts face which are much more insidious, but potentially just as fatal." He cited exposure to high levels of radiation and carbon dioxide as well as the microgravity environment that causes loss of bone and muscle, vision impairment and effects on the immune system.
Lopez-Alegria polled the U.S. members of the Association of Space Explorers -- members must have made at least one orbit of the Earth -- and reported there was "unanimity" that NASA needs to be able to provide advanced monitoring, diagnosis and treatment for former astronauts. His focus, however, is on the need to gather data to inform future policies and procedures for managing health risk in space. It is "unforgivable" to not obtain these data from the only population -- current and former astronauts -- that can provide it.
Williams summarized what is in the proposed legislation, but the text was not released. He said it would give NASA the authority to provide lifetime medical monitoring and diagnosis for former astronauts for medical conditions that NASA determines are associated with human spaceflight. It would apply to all former NASA astronauts regardless if they later fly into space with private companies, for example.
The draft legislation would not, however, apply to "space tourists" who make the journey into space of their own accord and not as part of a NASA program. Lopez-Alegria, who previously served as President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a trade group that advocates for private human spaceflight, said he supports the "democratization" of space where many more people will have an opportunity to make spaceflights. Getting health data from them on a voluntary basis would be beneficial, but he does not believe the government has an ethical responsibility to them as it does for those taking part in spaceflights paid for by tax dollars on behalf of the country.
Although the draft legislation applies only to medical conditions "deemed by NASA to be associated with human spaceflight," Kahn said his committee considered the question of "causality" and determined it was "impossible to answer" and "not compelling" in determining whether lifetime medical care is provided. That is especially true since new information is obtained all the time and it may take years before the relationship between spaceflight and a particular medical condition is understood.
Kahn's 2014 IOM study is only the most recent on this topic. The first, Safe Passage, was issued in 2001 and led to language in the 2005 NASA Authorization Act that directed NASA to consider a lifetime health care program for astronauts. The House-passed 2015 NASA Authorization Act (H.R. 810) would require NASA to respond to the 2014 IOM recommendations. That bill has not been taken up in the Senate, however. The draft legislation discussed today could be included in a revised version of that bill. Despite the short legislative schedule remaining for the year, there continue to be rumors that an attempt will be made to get a NASA authorization act passed before Congress adjourns.
UPDATE, June 16, 2016: Sen. Murphy ended the filibuster at 2:11 am ET this morning after receiving assurances that votes would be allowed on his gun control amendments.
ORIGINAL STORY, June 15, 2016: Several Senate Democrats began a filibuster against the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this morning, blocking action. The Department of Justice is one of the agencies funded by the bill (which also includes NASA and NOAA) and the filibuster is fueled by Democratic gun control demands most recently in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, FL this past weekend.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) started the filibuster and has since been joined by other Democrats who have been seeking more effective gun control measures especially since the Sandy Hook, CT massacre four years ago that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults.
Murphy vowed to remain in control of the floor "until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together" on how to prevent terrorist suspects (in the Orlando case) from buying guns.
The Obama Administration issued a veto threat against the bill yesterday, in part because of the money provided for the Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs in excess of what the Administration requested. The request was $1.130 billion for Orion and $1.310 billion for SLS. The bill provides $1.300 billion for Orion and $2.150 billion for SLS, an increase of $170 million and $840 million respectively, a total of $1.010 billion above the President's request.
In its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) declared that the Administration is "deeply concerned that the bill adds more than $1 billion" above the request "while underfunding other key NASA programs--an approach that would result in an unbalanced exploration program that is unable to achieve shared exploration goals."
It called on Congress to fully fund Exploration R&D, Space Technology, Aeronautics, Science, and Space Operations. (See our NASA budget fact sheet for a comparison of the President's request and the Senate Appropriations Committee's recommendations and the complicated issue of what the President's request really is.)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) brokered an agreement among Senators who have been at sharp odds over how to transition U.S. rocket launches away from reliance on Russian RD-180 engines to a new American-made engine. The Nelson amendment passed the Senate this morning by voice vote as part of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA itself then passed the Senate by a vote of 85-13.
In brief, the compromise sets December 31, 2022 as the end date for awarding contracts to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for Atlas V launches of national security satellites that would use RD-180 engines. It also limits to 18 the number of RD-180s that can be used between the date that the FY2017 NDAA is signed into law (enacted) and that end date.
Sen. Nelson's office provided SpacePolicyOnline.com with a copy of the amendment as passed.
The amendment that passed originated as one written by Nelson and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), that was then modified by one from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and has been the strongest voice for limiting the number of RD-180s to half that approved by this compromise and for a 2019 cut-off date.
The issue has pitted McCain and SASC against Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) of the Senate Appropriations Committee, creating a schism between the Senate committees that authorize DOD activities (SASC) and pay for them (Appropriations).
Durbin praised Nelson for being the "bridge over troubled waters" who was able to find a compromise between the starkly different positions.
The Nelson amendment also settles a related issue. The version of the FY2017 NDAA that emerged from SASC (S. 2943, S. Rept. 114- 255) would have prevented the Air Force from awarding launch contracts to bidders that use rocket engines from Russia, basically making ULA's Atlas V ineligible for future contracts. The defense appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S. 3000, S. Rept. 114-263) conversely said that awards could be made to any certified provider regardless of the rocket engine's country of origin. The compromise states that contracts may be awarded to any certified launch service provider, but Russian engines may be used only for launches in the phase 1(a) and phase 2 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) procurements. Phase 2 runs through 2022. (The Government Accountability Office has a useful report that explains the EELV procurement strategy and its different phases.)
The amendment does not specify RD-180s, but instead bounds the use of Russian rocket engines generally for national security launches. ULA is currently the only company that offers national security launch services using rockets powered by Russian engines, but the language would apply to any company offering such services. Orbital ATK, for example, uses Russian RD-181 engines for its Antares rocket, which launches cargo spacecraft for NASA to the International Space Station. If it were to bid for EELV launches, it presumably would be subject to these limits.
Also, although the cut-off date of December 31, 2022 is for awarding contracts, the limit on the number of engines -- 18 -- refers to how many may be "used" between the date the law is enacted and that date.
The House passed its version of the NDAA last month. It permits 18 engines and allows any certified provider to win launch contracts. The two chambers must reach agreement on the NDAA overall, but while there are still some differences on this issue, it appears to be close to resolution.
Note: This article has been updated and clarified to say that December 31, 2022 is the date through which contracts may be awarded regardless of the rocket engine's country of origin, rather than the date by which they must be used.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 13-18, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate will resume consideration of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday, with the hope that it can be completed quickly. The Senate agreed to close debate on the bill on Friday and complete all debate by 11:00 am ET on Tuesday. It then will vote on germane amendments and passage of the bill. Debate over a Nelson-Gardner amendment regarding Russian RD-180 engines took up a good part of Friday, but no vote was taken. They want to set December 31, 2022 as the end date for using RD-180s, whereas Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain insists on 2019, which was set in law by a previous NDAA. The Nelson-Gardner amendment also does not mention how many engines may be procured, while McCain insists on only nine more. The RD-180 debate has been covered extensively by SpacePolicyOnline.com already and will not be repeated here.
Senate leadership wants to finish NDAA and move on to the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which funds NASA and NOAA among other agencies.
The House plans to take up the FY2017 Defense Appropriations bill this week. The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday to decide which amendments may be offered. Assuming they agree, the bill will move to floor debate promptly. The House has passed two of the 12 regular appropriations bills so far (Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch), while a third (Energy-Water) was defeated. The Senate has passed three (Energy-Water, and a single bill that combined MilCon-VA and Transportation-HUD).
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday afternoon on "Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing and Treating Former Astronauts." This issue of lifetime health care for astronauts has been percolating for years. It concerns what ethical obligations the government has to provide medical care to astronauts once they leave the corps as well as the useful medical information NASA could gain from following them as the years pass. The issue was raised as long ago as 2001 in the Safe Passage report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM, now the National Academy of Medicine). A 2014 IOM report raised the same issues as did an October 2015 report from the NASA Inspector General. The 2005 NASA authorization act directed NASA to consider the need for establishing a lifetime health care program for NASA astronauts. NASA determined that it needs specific legislative authority to do so and has proposed legislation since then, but it has not been enacted. The House-passed 2015 NASA authorization act (H.R. 810) directs NASA to respond to the IOM recommendations, but the Senate has not acted on that bill. Wednesday's hearing will bring attention to the issue (and there are those who believe that a NASA authorization bill could still get passed by the end of the year). Scott Kelly, who just returned from a U.S. record-setting 340-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Michael Lopez-Alegria, who previously held the record for the longest continuous U.S. human spaceflight and is now President of the Association of Space Explorers, and Chris Cassidy, head of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center, are among the witnesses. The list also includes Secretary of Labor Tom Perez; the chairman of the 2014 IOM study, Jeffrey Kahn; and NASA Chief Medical Officer Richard Williams. The House SS&T committee typically webcasts its hearings.
On a totally different subject, Joan Johnson-Freese and Theresa Hitchens will discuss a paper they recently co-authored for the Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council on Toward a New National Security Space Strategy on Friday. Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College and author of several books on national security space and China's space program. Hitchens is currently a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland after serving as head of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). Mike Gruss from Space News will also participate in the discussion. (We've inquired as to whether it will be webcast. If we find out, we'll post the information on our Events of Interest list.)
It will be busy up in space this week, too. On Tuesday, Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft will depart from the ISS. Five hours later, a fire will erupt inside the spacecraft as part of an experiment called SAFFIRE to observe how fires evolve in microgravity. The robotic spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry, so it is a good candidate for such research. Miles O'Brien had an excellent segment about the experiment on the PBS NewsHour last week.
Then on Saturday, three crew members (NASA's Tim Kopra, ESA's Tim Peake, and Roscosmos' Yuri Malenchenko) will return home. NASA TV provides live coverage as usual. Landing is at 5:12 am Eastern Daylight Time.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week to see what's been added to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday-Friday, June 12-17
Monday, June 13
Tuesday, June 14
Wednesday, June 15
Thursday, June 16
Friday, June 17
Saturday, June 18
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 6-10, 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. Time is getting short. The House will meet this week and the next two weeks, then take a week off for the July 4 holiday, and meet for the first two weeks of July. Then it recesses for 7 weeks for the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions (Republican, July 18-21 in Cleveland; Democratic July 25-28 in Philadelphia) and its usual August summer break. The Senate has a similar schedule, though it is taking a shorter July 4 recess. When they return in September, they will have only three weeks to finish work on appropriations bills to keep the government open past September 30.
The Appropriations Committees in each chamber are making solid progress in reporting out the 12 regular appropriations bills, but getting them passed on the floor is a challenge. The House thought it had agreement on the Energy and Water Bill before the Memorial Day break, for example, but politics intervened and the bill was defeated. The Senate passed the Transportation-HUD bill, which funds the FAA's space office, but there is no word on when the defense bill or the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill will be taken up.
The defense authorization bill, however, is moving along. (Not sure of the difference between an appropriation and an authorization? See our What's a Markup? fact sheet.) The House already passed the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Senate will take up its version tomorrow (Monday).
Only one space-related hearing is on tap this week, and it's not really a "space" hearing in the traditional sense. The Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on private sector weather forecasting on Wednesday. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has an intense interest in commercial weather satellite data and Sandy MacDonald from SPIRE Global is on the witness list. That is one of the companies hoping to sell GPS Radio Occultation data to NOAA. NOAA chose radio occultation data for its commercial weather data pilot program. Bridenstine inserted language in NOAA's FY2016 appropriations bill requiring NOAA to establish the pilot program and now has included similar language in the House version of the NDAA to direct DOD to set up a parallel project. His goal is to have more small weather satellites instead of a few "Battlestar Galaticas" that are vulnerable to failures and enemy attack (he supports NOAA's JPSS and GOES programs, too, but doesn't want to be totally reliant on them).
Many briefings, meetings and conferences are taking place off the Hill this week. It's difficult to choose just one or two to highlight so be sure to look through the entire list below. The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Tuesday briefing on initial results from its LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave mission should be interesting. It's taking place in Spain and will be webcast, though the time is rather early (5:30 am) on the U.S. East Coast, never mind for those of you further West.
The American Bar Association's Space Law conference all day Wednesday also looks really good, including a keynote from Bridenstine before he has to rush off to chair that hearing. The conference has five panels on the American Space Renaissance Act, legal and policy issues of "active debris removal" (e.g. who decides which space objects are "debris" or not and who has the right to move or destroy them), intentional jamming of satellite transmissions, hosted payloads, and one with the intriguing title "Who is On Your Space Vehicle?" Michael Dodge (University of North Dakota), Laura Montgomery (FAA), Margaret Roberts (NASA), and Caryn Schenewerk (SpaceX) will discuss that last topic. NASA General Counsel Samara Thomson-King is the luncheon speaker.
Those are just samples of the interesting events this week. The list below contains all the ones we know about as of Sunday morning. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, June 6
Monday-Tuesday, June 6-7
Tuesday, June 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, June 7-9
Wednesday, June 8
Wednesday, June 8 - Friday, June 17
Thursday, June 9
Friday, June 10
The Government of Luxembourg is staking 200 million Euros to kick-start the nascent space resources utilization business -- prospecting for and eventually mining and selling resources extracted from the Moon, asteroids or other solar system bodies. The country's Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister made the announcement Friday flanked by former European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and former NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider spoke at a press conference in Luxembourg to discuss the country's spaceresources.lu initiative, announced in February, and how it fits into the government's overall strategy to become "one of the top 10 space faring countries in the world." Dordain and Worden are members of the government's advisory board for the initiative.
Although the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small country with a population of just 570,000, it already has a significant presence in the space business as the corporate home of the two largest global fixed communications satellite operators, SES and Intelsat. SES established its headquarters in Luxembourg in 1985 and Bettel and Schneider referenced that event several times as Luxembourg's entry into the space business.
Just as it passed a law at that time to create the legal framework for communications satellite services, Bettel and Schneider announced that they now will press forward with a new law to govern space resource utilization. Schneider said Luxembourg wants to be the European center for asteroid mining and to be the first European country to establish its own legal framework for that purpose. When asked if the new law will only cover asteroids or will the Moon, for example, also be included, Schneider replied it is "everything in outer space."
Luxembourg has a streamlined governmental structure that should allow it to move quickly. Bettel is not only the Prime Minister, but also the Minister of Communications and Media, Minister of State, Minister for Religious Affairs, and Minister of Culture. Schneider similarly wears several hats -- Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Economy, Minister of Internal Security and Minister of Defence. A constitutional monarchy, it has a unicameral legislature -- the 60-member Chamber of Deputies. Bettel said he will propose the new legislation this year and expects to pass next year.
One difference between the Luxembourg law and the space resource utilization provisions of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, also called the SPACE Act) enacted in 2015, Schneider said, is that the U.S. law applies only to U.S. companies with majority U.S. capital. The Luxembourg law will be "open to all investors" located in Luxembourg, so companies seeking international capital will be able to find it there. "I don't know why the Americans limited themselves to American capital, but we will not."
The relevant portion of CSLCA (Title IV of P.L. 114-90) applies to U.S. citizens as defined in section 50902 of title 51 of the U.S. Code -- (A) a U.S. citizen, (B) an entity organized or existing under U.S. law, or (C) an entity organized or existing under the laws of a foreign country if the controlling interest is held by (A) or (B).
Two U.S. companies focused on asteroid mining, Deep Space Industries (DSi) and Planetary Resources Inc, already have or plan to establish European headquarters in Luxembourg, Schneider said. DSi and Luxembourg announced a partnership last month to build a 3U cubesat, Prospector-X, to test technologies needed for asteroid mining (propulsion, avionics and optical navigation) in low Earth orbit. Planetary Resources, which bills itself as "the asteroid mining company," but just announced plans to build an earth remote sensing satellite, is also working with Luxembourg and Schneider said a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed soon for cooperation in both space resource utilization and earth observation.
The Luxembourg government established an advisory board that includes Dordain and Worden, who joined Bettel and Schneider at Friday's press conference. Dordain said the main goal is to attract entrepreneurs and investors to Luxembourg, bringing jobs. Worden added that his experiences in Silicon Valley (close to NASA-Ames) were a foundation for his work on the advisory board and he foresees Luxembourg becoming the Silicon Valley for space resources, a sentiment Schneider echoed.
Schneider revealed that his government has provided a 200 million Euro (approximately $230 million) line of credit to get started on creating the legal framework and for investing in new ventures. The money will be used for research and development (R&D) grants and other purposes, including Luxembourg becoming a shareholder in companies like DSi or Planetary Resources. He also made clear that the 200 million Euros is just the beginning. If more is needed, "we will be able to provide that money," he promised.
Luxembourg is a member of ESA and currently co-chairs, together with Switzerland, the ESA Council of Ministers. Schneider is Luxembourg's representative in that capacity. He noted that initially Luxembourg considered working through ESA on this initiative, but determined it would be too difficult to reach agreement with all of ESA's member states in the short term. Instead, Luxembourg will go it alone for now, but he noted that other ESA members are interested and future collaboration will be discussed at December's Ministerial Meeting. He and Bettel expressed repeatedly that it takes someone to take the risk to kick-start new ideas like this and Luxembourg wants to be that one.