Space Law News
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 24-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
Commercial space policy is at the top of the list this week. The FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) and its working groups meet on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. Those will be preceded by two associated meetings of interest -- one tomorrow (Monday) afternoon to discuss voluntary industry standards and another Tuesday morning on a Civil Space Traffic Management system.
Tomorrow's meeting is of ASTM International, a standards setting body, that will discuss whether it should create a new technical committee to develop voluntary consensus standards for commercial spaceflight. Last year's Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) called for the development of such standards and COMSTAC has had a working group on the topic for some time. Tuesday morning, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), in conjunction with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the Satellite Industry Association, will hold an "industry day" (actually half a day) to discuss a Civil Space Traffic Management System. The meeting is open to the public and has an interesting agenda that includes Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. Space Traffic Management (STM) is a step beyond Space Situational Awareness (SSA). While definitions vary, generally speaking SSA is knowing where everything is in orbit and where it's going, thereby enabling "conjunction analyses" to warn satellite operators if a collision is likely. STM - with an emphasis on "management" -- would empower some entity to require those operators to take action to avoid a collision. Rep. Jim Bridenstine has proposed that FAA/AST be assigned that role. CSLCA called for a study by an independent organization on alternative frameworks for STM. To date, FAA/AST has focused on the SSA portion. FAA/AST is part of the Department of Transportation, which sent a report to Congress last month concluding it is feasible for them to take over DOD's role of providing SSA data to commercial and foreign entities (CFEs). All of this likely will be discussed on Tuesday.
Separately, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is beginning a new Aerospace Security Project and its first meeting (tomorrow afternoon) is also looking at commercial space. Loverro will be at that one, too, along with Scott Pace of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and representatives of DigitalGlobe, Planet, and Boeing. That discussion will focus on how the military can better leverage commercial space capabilities.
Elsewhere in the country, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) will hold its annual Von Braun Symposium in Huntsville, AL. This year's theme is "Exploring the Universe and Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space." Among the sessions is one on Wednesday morning where Scott Pace (GWU) and Ann Zulkosky (Lockheed Martin) will discuss "After the Election -- What's Next for Space?" The symposium will be webcast. Note that all times on the agenda are Central Daylight Time.
There are quite a few space science meetings, too. The NASA Advisory Council's Heliophysics Subcommittee meets via telecon on Tuesday from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm ET. Heliophysics is the study of the Sun and its influence on Earth -- space weather -- and NASA and the National Air and Space Museum will have a panel discussion on the impact of space weather on human and robotic exploration missions at the same time (1:00-2:30 pm ET). The full NAC Science Committee meets Wednesday and Thursday (also via telecon). The NSF-NASA-DOE Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC) meets at NSF in Arlington, VA on Thursday and Friday.
The American Society for Gravitational and Space Research meets in Cleveland from Tuesday-Saturday. It will hold a pre-conference workshop Tuesday morning entitled "Nanoracks and Blue Origin." Some of the conference sessions will be webcast, including a luncheon talk on Wednesday by former Senate staffer Jeff Bingham on evolving U.S. civil space policy and the role of the International Space Station. NASA's Julie Robinson and Brian Motil have a session right after that on "15 Years of Microgravity Science on the ISS" that also will be webcast. Lots of interesting sessions throughout the week.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, October 24
Monday-Thursday, October 24-27
Tuesday, October 25
Tuesday-Thursday, October 25-27
Wednesday, October 26
Wednesday-Thursday, October 26-27
Wednesday-Saturday, October 26-29
Thursday-Friday, October 27-28
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 16-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
At 7:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) tonight, China will launch a two-man crew aboard the Shenzhou-11 (SZ-11) spacecraft from the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert (where it will be 7:30 am Monday), They are headed to the new Tiangong-2 space station with docking expected in two days. They will remain aboard for 30 days, doubling the duration of China's longest human spaceflight mission to date. Tiangong-2 is small, 8.6 metric tons (MT), compared to the 400 MT International Space Station (ISS), but it is a precursor to a larger 60 MT space station the Chinese plan to have in place in the early 2020s.
ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe. It has been permanently occupied by multinational crews rotating on 4-6 month shifts since the year 2000 and is regularly resupplied via cargo missions launched by two U.S. companies (Orbital ATK and SpaceX) and the Japanese and Russian space agencies. The next cargo mission, Orbital ATK's OA-5, was scheduled for launch tonight from Wallops Island, VA at 8:03 pm EDT. At press time, however, Orbital ATK announced that the launch of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being postponed for 24 hours because of a bad ground support cable. The new launch time is Monday at 7:40 pm EDT. Cygnus OA-5 will deliver supplies, equipment and scientific experiments to the three crew members currently aboard (one each from NASA, JAXA and Roscosmos). Cygnus is being launched with a new version of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket. This is the first flight of Antares since an October 28, 2014 failure. If launched tonight, Cygnus was to arrive at ISS Wednesday morning, but with a Monday launch, arrival at ISS will be delayed a few days. Three new ISS crew members are being launched to ISS on the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft early Wednesday morning EDT. They are taking the 2-day route to ISS arriving on Friday. NASA and Orbital ATK said at a press conference yesterday that if the OA-5 launch was delayed to Monday, as now has happened, they would have the Cygnus spacecraft loiter in orbit for a few days to allow the Soyuz MS-02 crew to dock first. The Cygnus arrival is now scheduled for Sunday, October 23. The Soyuz MS-02 crew (one American, two Russians) will restore the ISS to its usual crew complement of six.
The European Space Agency (ESA)-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission already had an important event today. The spacecraft is carrying a small lander, Schiaparelli, and they made the trip to Mars together. They are three days away from Mars now and it was time for them to separate. Separation occurred at approximately 10:30 am EDT, but was followed by a nail-biting period of time when ESA was not receiving telemetry from TGO. That problem appears to be resolved now and the mission is proceeding as scheduled. On Wednesday, Schiaparelli will land on Mars and TGO will enter orbit. ESA will provide live coverage of those events and hold a press conference on Thursday.
To recap only these events (all EDT):
Many other events are on tap this week in addition to those launches and arrivals. Among them is the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division on Planetary Sciences (DPS) in Pasadena, CA. This year it is combined with a meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress. Exciting discoveries and other results from planetary exploration missions are the staple of this conference. It starts today and runs through Friday.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA) is having an interesting discussion on Tuesday morning at the Newseum in Washington, DC. CSBA challenged teams from four prominent Washington think tanks to develop alternative strategies and rebalance DOD's major capabilities in light of today's security challenges. They could choose from over 1200 pre-costed options provided by CSBA to add to or cut from the projected defense program for the next 10 years. They will present their conclusions at the meeting. It will be interesting to see if they recommend any changes to the national security space portfolio. The event will be webcast.
On Friday, the State Department and the Secure World Foundation will hold a day-long seminar at the State Department on International Best Practices for Space Sustainability. It features four panels of top experts from around the world (your SpacePolicyOnline.com editor is lucky enough to moderate the industry panel). Hopefully you followed the instructions and registered by last Friday as required for this event (for security checks etc.).
And last but not least of our highlighted events for the week, the final 2016 presidential debates is Wednesday night from 9:00-10:30 pm EDT. It will be nationally televised (check local listings). The election is on November 8.
All of those events and others we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list or for schedule changes.
Sunday, October 16
Sunday-Friday, October 16-21
Monday, October 17
Tuesday, October 18
Wednesday, October 19
Thursday, October 20
Friday, October 21
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 9-14, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
The week starts tonight (Sunday) with the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R). Don't expect the space program to come up at all, but these debates are important elements of the presidential election, the foundation of our democracy. Everyone should be paying attention! This one is a town-hall format at Washington University in St. Louis from 9:00-10:30 pm ET (nationally televised, check local listings).
Tomorrow, October 10, is a Federal holiday (Columbus Day), so government workers, at least, will have a day off to recuperate. This is a holiday that many businesses do NOT observe, however, choosing instead to close on the day after Thanksgiving. So whether you get to sleep in tomorrow or not depends on where you work.
For the space program, this week's big event is the launch of Orbital ATK's re-engined Antares rocket on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). Launch schedules are always subject to change, but at the moment it is planned for 9:13 pm ET on Thursday night (two pre-launch briefings will take place the day before). Antares launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA. It is a night launch. Weather permitting, it should be viewable for a good-sized segment of the East Coast. This is the first Antares flight since an October 28, 2014 failure that destroyed that rocket and a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with cargo for ISS. This mission is designated OA-5, for Orbital ATK-5, although it is the sixth operational flight in this series. Orbital ATK names its cargo spacecraft after deceased astronauts. This one is named after Alan Poindexter who died in 2012 from injuries sustained in an accident. He flew on two space shuttle missions (STS-122 as pilot, STS-131 as commander) that delivered modules to the ISS as part of its construction.
Also on Thursday night, Women in Aerospace (WIA) will hold its annual awards dinner in Arlington, VA. Six distinguished women will receive awards -- including a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for Molly Macauley -- and Patti Grace Smith, who passed away earlier this year, will also be recognized.
The annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS 2016) will be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Wednesday and Thursday, with pre- and post-events the prior and following days. The website does not indicate if any of the symposium will be webcast. If we find out that it will be, we'll post the link in our calendar item about this event. Looks really interesting, so hopefully it will be livestrearmed.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, October 9
Monday, October 10
Tuesday, October 11
Wednesday, October 12
Thursday, October 13
Friday, October 14
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 3-7, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.
During the Week
Happy World Space Week! In 1999, the United Nations declared October 4-10 as World Space Week to commemorate the beginning of the Space Age -- October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik -- and the entry into force of the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty (October 10, 1967). Space agencies and other organizations around the world hold events to celebrate the occasion. A list is on the World Space Week website.
Among the various specific space policy events coming up this week, we know of only one that has officially declared itself a World Space Week event, however. That is the International Space University-DC (ISU-DC) U.S. alumni chapter, which is holding its next Space Cafe on Wednesday, October 5, at the The Brixton in Washington, DC. The speaker is Dennis Stone, who is the World Space Week Association President and Project Executive of NASA's Commercial Space Capabilities Office at Johnson Space Center.
There are many other events that could be, though, including one on Tuesday, the 59th anniversary of Sputnik, that might create quite a bang. Blue Origin will conduct a test of its in-flight escape system for the New Shepard reusable rocket, activating it 45 seconds after launch. Blue Origin President Jeff Bezos said the rocket, which has flown four times already, was not designed to withstand the forces it will experience and is not expected to survive the test (though there is a small chance it might). Assuming it does not, he said the impact with the desert floor of the still almost fully fueled rocket "will be most impressive." The test will be webcast beginning at 10:50 am ET.
Rice University's Baker Institute will hold a panel discussion entitled "Lost in Space 2016" tomorrow night (Monday) with a panel of space policy analysts and practitioners. It is a reprise of a panel four years ago at the time of the last presidential election. The panel will be webcast (5:30-7:30 Central/6:30-8:30 pm Eastern) and includes Mark Albrecht, Leroy Chaio, Joan Johnson-Freese, Neal Lane, Michael Lembeck, Eugene Levy, and John Logsdon, with George Abbey as moderator. An impressive line-up.
Speaking of the election, Tuesday night (almost certainly NOT in commemoration of Sputnik's 59th anniversary) is the one and only Vice Presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence. Fireworks are not expected, but it should be interesting nonetheless. It is from 9:00-10:30 pm ET and will be nationally telecast (check local listings).
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events Of Interest list.
Monday, October 3
Monday-Tuesday, October 3-4
Tuesday, October 4
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 4-5
Tuesday, October 4 - Monday, October 10
Wednesday, October 5
Wednesday-Thursday, October 5-6
Wednesday-Friday, October 5-7
Thursday, October 6
The Senate and House both passed a FY2017 Continuing Resolution (CR) today that will keep the government operating through December 9, 2016. Without it, government agencies would have had to shut down at midnight Friday, September 30, the end of fiscal year 2016. The President is expected to sign the bill.
Government departments and agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded through a set of 12 appropriations bills that provide money one fiscal year at a time. A U.S. fiscal year is October 1 - September 30. If the bills are not passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, their operations must cease other than exceptions for life and safety, for example.
When the 12 regular appropriations bills are not passed in time, Congress typically passes a CR that funds the departments and agencies at their previous year's levels for a set period. In this case, that is through December 9. By then, Congress must either pass another CR or, hopefully, the full year appropriations bills. This CR actually includes the full-year FY2017 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill, leaving 11 of the 12 regular bills to be passed later.
The CR also includes funding to combat the Zika virus domestically and internationally, to respond to flooding in Louisiana and other states, and several other specialized needs.
Details of the legislation, H.R. 5325 as amended, are posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee's website. (Note that previous action on H.R. 5325 is not relevant. That bill, which began as the FY2017 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, simply is being used as the legislative vehicle for the CR. The original text was deleted and this new text was substituted.)
The bill's full title is "Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act."
The President's FY2017 requested funding levels for NASA and NOAA are not so different from their current funding levels that a short-term CR like this one is not expected to make much difference on a day-to-day basis.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 26-30, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
It's quite a week coming up!
For the country: the first of the three presidential debates is tomorrow (Monday) and Congress hopefully will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating after Friday when fiscal year 2016 ends. The House and Senate are still working on the details of their separate versions of the CR, but they have five days left. Typically they leave appropriations deals to the last minute with the expectation that a hard deadline makes people more willing to compromise. The alternative is a government shutdown, which is not an appealing prospect in an election year. Word is the CR will keep the government open through December 9, by which time Congress must pass either another CR or, better yet, the actual FY2017 appropriations measures. Typically Congress combines all 12 regular appropriations bills into a single "omnibus" measure, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly would prefer several smaller "minibuses" dealing with two or three of them at a time. The exception may be the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, which the House wants to include in the CR this week. We'll see if the Senate is willing to go along with that.
For the space policy community: the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico. IAC is the BIG international conference that combines annual meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL). IAC will webcast all the plenary sessions. The one that has generated the most buzz is on Tuesday when Elon Musk will lay out his plans for making humanity a multiplanet species. It's at 1:30 pm local time in Guadalajara, which is on Central Daylight Time. So that's 2:30 pm Eastern.
Two congressional hearings of note are also scheduled for this week, both on Tuesday (most congressional hearings are webcast on the respective committee's website). In the morning, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee asks "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" and four witnesses will give their answers: Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Mark Stokes from the Project 2049 Institute; Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation; and Jim Lewis from CSIS.
That afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hear from three eminent experts on the topic of "National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization." The witnesses are John Hamre, former Deputy Secretary of Defense; Adm. James Ellis, Jr. (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Marty Faga, former Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and former President and CEO of the MITRE Corporation. The great advantage of being "former," of course, is that one can speak freely. Should be especially interesting.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, September 26
Monday-Friday, September 26-30
Tuesday, September 27
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 27-28
Wednesday-Friday, September 28-30
Thursday, September 29
Thursday-Friday, September 29-30
Correction: An earlier edition of this article listed the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA as the location of the National Academies Workshop Planning Committee meeting on September 27-28. It will be held in Washington, DC, not at Beckman. The workshop itself, scheduled for December 5-6, will be held at Beckman.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 19-25, 2016 (through next Sunday) and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
On Friday, Resources for the Future (RFF) will hold a memorial service for Molly Macauley at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., from 3:30-5:30 pm ET. All of Molly's friends and colleagues are welcome to attend, but RFF would appreciate an RSVP so they know how many people to expect. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Molly, a renowned space economist and integral part of the space policy community for three decades, spent almost all of her career at RFF before her tragic death on July 8.
It will be a busy week before that.
The Senate plans to bring a Continuing Resolution (CR) to the floor tomorrow (Monday) for a cloture vote. If it gets 60 votes, the Senate can proceed to debate, and, hopefully, pass it. Word is that it will keep the government funded through December 9. The bill reportedly has controversial policy provisions ("poison pills") that could delay its approval, but rumors are that once it passes, the Senate will adjourn until after the elections instead of remaining in session through the end of the month. That would put the House in the position of either agreeing to the Senate bill or allowing the government to shut down on October 1, which would not play well in the upcoming elections. A budget deal was crafted last fall by then-House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Obama that set the spending limit for FY2017. The draft CR reportedly sticks to that agreement, but very conservative House Republicans disapproved of the deal and are not happy at the prospect of passing a CR that adheres to it (because it spends too much on non-defense programs), so there is indeed a chance that a government shutdown could occur. We think it is only a very small chance in an election year, but as we've said many times, trying to predict what Congress will do is risky.
The Air Force Association is holding its Air, Space, Cyber conference at National Harbor, MD (outside Washington, DC) Monday-Wednesday. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James kicks it off tomorrow morning. There is no indication on the conference's website as to which sessions might be livestreamed, but James tweeted an invitation yesterday for everyone to listen to her talk, so presumably hers will be, at least. Hopefully AFA will make iivestreaming information available soon. [UPDATE: the link to watch James, from 10:20-11:15 am ET, is http://www.afa.org/airspacecyber/streaming. Two other sessions Monday afternoon also will be livestreamed as noted at that site. The list of livestreamed sessions for the rest of the conference are not posted yet.]
While that's underway, on Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Gen. John Hyten to become Commander of U.S. Strategic Command. He currently is Commander of Air Force Space Command. He seems to be well liked and respected on the Hill, so apart from the usual Senate challenges on getting any nomination approved (usually for reasons completely unrelated to the nominee), it should go smoothly.
On the civil space side, it's Mars, Mars, Mars this week. Explore Mars holds a seminar on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning on "Humans to Mars: Why, How, and When." On Wednesday afternoon, Lou Friedman, former executive director of the Planetary Society, will discuss his new book "Human Spaceflight From Mars to the Stars" at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. From Thursday-Sunday, the Mars Society holds its annual conference at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
The Senate Commerce Committee will markup its "NASA Transition Authorization Act" on Wednesday that, among other things, seeks to protect NASA's human spaceflight program -- which is aimed at sending humans to Mars in the 2030s -- from any major changes as the result of the upcoming presidential transition. Congress directed NASA to build a new, big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and a crew spacecraft to go with it (Orion) in the last NASA authorization act that became law (in 2010). It has diligently ensured that the Obama Administration (through NASA) implements those programs, often providing more funding than the President requested. They want to make sure a new President doesn't disrupt that effort the way President Obama did when he came into office and cancelled President Bush's Constellation program. The NASA authorization bill is one of several bills the committee will markup that day, including the STEM education-related INSPIRE Women bill that the House passed earlier this year.
SLS is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and its Director, Todd May, will address the Space Transportation Association on Capitol Hill on Thursday. Also speaking to STA on Thursday is the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Naoki Okumura.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for other events we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Wednesday, September 19-21
Tuesday, September 20
Tuesday-Friday, September 20-23
Wednesday, September 21
Wednesday-Thursday, September 21-22
Wednesday-Friday, September 21-23
Thursday, September 22
Thursday-Saturday, September 22-24
Thursday-Sunday, September 22-25
Friday, September 23
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) used a teleconference meeting of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) today to explain why he believes legislation is indeed necessary to ensure that the U.S. government complies with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty in authorizing and continually supervising U.S. companies engaged in non-traditional commercial space activities. His draft legislation was the topic of the teleconference, a timely discussion coming just one day after Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) expressed a very different point of view.
The COMSTAC meeting was announced weeks ago with the single purpose of discussing Bridenstine's draft legislation. COMSTAC advises the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Its members represent many of the companies involved in both traditional and non-traditional space businesses. Mike Gold, Vice President of Washington Operations for SSL (formerly Space System Loral), chairs the committee, which reports to FAA/AST Associate Administrator George Nield.
The purpose of the telecon was to allow government experts -- from Bridenstine's office and executive branch agencies -- to explain to COMSTAC's industry members what the draft legislation would do and why, and get their input.
Bridenstine, Nield and Gold have been in the forefront of an ongoing debate over how to create a U.S. regulatory system that facilitates new space ventures like private space stations or asteroid mining while complying with U.S. obligations under the Outer Space Treaty (OST). Article VI of the OST requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities, like companies.
Until recently, private sector space activities fell under existing regulatory authorities established by law: FAA (launch and reentry), the Federal Communications Committee (spectrum use), or NOAA (commercial remote sensing). No agency has yet been designated, however, to regulate new commercial space ventures to put space stations in Earth orbit, send spacecraft to the Moon, Mars and asteroids, perform on-orbit satellite servicing, or a host of other non-traditional space businesses. Many of those companies argue that potential investors want to know what the regulatory environment will be before putting their money on the table. They want the government to make decisions now.
Moon Express, which plans to launch a lunar lander next year, recently received government approval using the interagency payload review process currently implemented by FAA/AST, but it took 7 months and is only for that one launch. It did not set a precedent for future such endeavors by Moon Express or other companies.
Bridenstine has been a leader in Congress in drafting legislation to address these issues and advocates for the FAA to be assigned the role of issuing "mission authorizations" for non-traditional space activities. He personally participated in the telecon today along with Christopher Ingraham, his staffer working on these issues. Bridenstine explained that his top concern is that a U.S. company will proceed with a plan to put a spacecraft on the Moon or conduct on-orbit servicing or some other new type of activity only to have a "near-peer" country like Russia or China complain at the last minute that the United States is violating the OST. That would put the United States "in a difficult position," he argues. Therefore he sees the need for "airtight" legislation that sets up a process by which the government authorizes and supervises these private companies. Once a company has gone through the process, the United States can unequivocally demonstrate to the international community that it has, in fact, complied with the treaty.
The Obama Administration has been open to working with these new companies, but he wonders if that will remain true over the long term future. He insisted that Congress "needs to exert its authority and power so that whatever administration comes next or is in place 50 years from now, the process exists" and is not subject to a new administration's "whims." He also worried that without a legislative solution, it could become a matter of "executive branch regulation by default." That opens the possibility of some agency saying no, with no recourse for the private sector.
Others participating in the telecon brought up another concern -- that an agency other than FAA, with less experience in a broad range of commercial space businesses, might decide that it wants to regulate these new commercial space activities and "fill the void." Several mentioned that the FCC apparently is indicating such an interest. Ingraham said that he has heard over the past few months that FCC wants to regulate on-orbit servicing and space traffic management, for example.
The State Department and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) have been closely involved in these issues. OSTP's Ben Roberts stressed that the Obama Administration's interest is not to add regulations or burden companies, "but to make it easy for us to say yes." Section 108 of the last year's Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) required OSTP to submit a report on how to deal with these issues and recommend a solution. It sent the report to Congress earlier this year along with draft legislation to implement it. It proposed that the FAA's parent, the Department of Transportation (presumably delegating it to FAA), be assigned the role of issuing mission authorizations for these new types of commercial endeavors using an "enhanced" payload review process. Roberts said today that OSTP is not wedded to that proposal, however. "We're not tied to a particular solution," but need a mechanism that allows the government to authorize such activities "clearly and crisply," he said.
It is the State Department that must explain to other countries how the United States is fulfilling its treaty obligations and thus has a keen interest in these issues. Brian Israel of State's Office of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, said one problem State has today is that under the interagency process for payload reviews it can only can say "yes" or "no," not "yes, but." Although it may agree with what an applicant wants to do, it cannot set conditions, approving the application as long as a company takes certain actions. For example, the State Department could say yes to the Moon Express application because it is launching a technology demonstration mission with limited capabilities and the company proactively agreed to abide by international planetary protection requirements, but that might hold true for a future application, he said.
A number of the COMSTAC members expressed reservations about various provisions in Bridenstine's draft bill, however. Bridenstine assured them that additional input is welcomed. He also acknowledged that there is little time left in this session of Congress to get such legislation passed and he may wait until the next session to introduce it.
Others see a need for more immediate action. In an interview after the telecon, Gold told SpacePolicyOnline.com that "there are no three words more pernicious to commercial space operators than 'continuing government supervision' and we need to take rapid action to lock in a benign light-touch regulatory approach" as exemplified in the Bridenstine draft bill. Gold, who worked for Bigelow Aerospace until recently, is a veteran of the years-long effort to get relief for commercial communications satellite companies from stringent International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) put in place at the turn of the century. He sees many parallels between the ITAR debate and this discussion.
Laura Montgomery, a former FAA attorney now in private practice, challenged this entire approach to these issues, however. She is not a member of COMSTAC, but the public is allowed to participate in these meetings. She argued that the treaty creates obligations for the government, not the private sector.
Her comments were along the same lines as those of Rep. Babin at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation breakfast yesterday. Babin argued that the OSTP proposal places the burden on companies to demonstrate their consistency with U.S. obligations, foreign policy and national security when it should be the other way around. He thinks there should be a presumption that the private sector activities are authorized and the government should only become involved if it has met certain conditions.
COMSTAC plans to continue the discussion about Bridenstine's draft legislation at its October meeting. Gold said that Observations, Findings and Recommendations (OFRs) might be adopted at that time to provide COMSTAC's formal views to FAA/AST.
UPDATE, September 15: The Senate Commerce Committee will markup the Senate version of a FY2017 NASA authorization bill on September 21 at 10:00 am ET.
Original Story, September 13, 2016: Rumors have been circulating for months that NASA's authorization committees will try to get a new NASA authorization bill enacted before the 114th Congress gavels to a close at the end of the year. Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) yesterday again exhorted the Senate to act on a NASA authorization bill the House passed last year and a Senate draft bill -- different from that one -- is circulating, but time is getting short. One goal is to provide stability to NASA during the presidential transition and passage of legislation would give Congress a chance to get its policy choices formally on the table.
The House passed a FY2015 NASA authorization bill by voice vote in February 2015. Although the funding recommendation were only for that fiscal year, which is long past, the policy provisions were adopted on a bipartisan basis. Some have been overtaken by events, but Babin, who spoke at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation breakfast meeting yesterday morning, called it a "perfectly good bill" and urged the Senate to pass it or "quickly work with the House to negotiate a compromise." He noted that the House and Senate versions of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which includes NASA, are in a "mature" stage and their funding levels could be "reconciled" into a new authorization bill.
Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but only appropriations bills actually provide money to agencies like NASA.
The last NASA authorization act was enacted in 2010. Its policy provisions remain in force, but the funding recommendations were only for three years, FY2011-FY2013.
Babin chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee. The committee approved a more recent bill for FY2016 and FY2017 (H.R. 2039), but on a strictly party-line basis because, among other things, it recommended deep cuts to NASA's earth science program that Democrats strongly opposed. No further action has occurred on that bill.
The FY2015 bill, H.R. 810 (itself is an update of a FY2014 bill that passed the House, but not the Senate), avoided highly charged partisan issues. The 128-page bill covers a lot of ground.
A 49-page staff draft of a Senate authorization bill for FY2017 is circulating that is more narrowly focused, but at a top level has similar themes. One key point on which the bills agree is that human exploration is a core NASA mission. Both bills support continued use of the International Space Station (ISS) and sending humans to Mars and other locations in deep space. Both want more details from NASA on how that will be accomplished. H.R. 810 requires NASA to develop and provide to Congress a "Human Exploration Roadmap" detailing capabilities and technologies needed. The draft Senate bill calls for a "strategic framework" and a "critical decision plan." Both require that the role of international and commercial partners be included.
One focus of the draft Senate bill not included in H.R. 810 is stability at NASA during the presidential transition. It includes a "sense of Congress" section that "the United States, in collaboration with its international and commercial partners, should sustain and build upon our national space commitments and investments across Administrations with a continuity of purpose..." As discussed at a recent hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation subcommittee that oversees NASA, there is bipartisan concern that NASA's programs could be disrupted again as they were when President Obama took office and cancelled the Constellation program begun under his predecessor, George W. Bush.
It should be noted that passage of a new NASA authorization bill may not provide any such assurance, however. Congress passed two NASA authorization laws supporting Bush's Vision for Space Exploration and its Constellation program to return humans to the lunar surface by 2020 and then go on to Mars. One passed in 2005 when Republicans controlled Congress, the other in 2008 when Democrats were in control. The pair of laws signaled not only bipartisan congressional consensus, but agreement between the White House and Congress on the path forward for human exploration, a long sought goal of human spaceflight advocates who had seen earlier presidential initiatives fail to win congressional support.
The existence of those laws did not, however, deter President Obama from cancelling Constellation after a review by a blue ribbon panel concluded that NASA's budget would have to ramp up to $3 billion more per year to implement it. Similarly, a new President could decide that the current program, with the goal of putting astronauts in orbit around Mars in the 2030s, is unaffordable.
Another place where H.R. 810 and the draft Senate bill agree is skepticism about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) as one of the elements of that plan to get to Mars. At the time H.R. 810 was written it was called the Asteroid Retrieval Mission and the bill requires a report explaining the need for and cost of the program. The draft Senate bill points out that the cost for ARM has risen and the NASA Advisory Council has raised concerns, and the program is competing for resources with other aspects of the human exploration program. It does not call for the program to be terminated, but offers a sense of Congress statement that alternatives should be considered for demonstrating the technologies needed for the humans-to-Mars mission and requires a report from NASA on those alternatives.
NASA's earth science program remains contentious in Congress, with many House and Senate Republicans arguing that NASA should focus on space exploration, not studying Earth, which other agencies could do. Democrats insist that earth science research from space is a key aspect of NASA's science program and no other agency launches earth science research satellites. NOAA is responsible for operational weather satellites and until recently was planning to launch some climate research sensors, but the White House decided to transfer those to NASA. H.R. 810, written in 2015, apparently foresaw such a turn of events and stated that if NASA is given additional responsibilities in earth science, the White House needed to provide it with additional money. The draft Senate bill is silent on earth science policy.
As for funding, the figures in H.R. 810 are no longer relevant. The draft Senate authorization bill would authorize $19.508 billion, the same total that is in the House Appropriations Committee's version of the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved $19.306 billion, which is $202 million less. The draft Senate authorization bill allocates that $202 million to the Exploration account. NASA's other accounts are funded at the same level as in the Senate Appropriations Committee's bill.
Congress is scheduled to be in session for the rest of this month before adjourning until after the November elections, although there are indications that the Senate may leave earlier than that if it can pass a FY2017 Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded for the first part of FY2017. If it does, that would compress the time for reaching agreement on a NASA authorization bill. H.R. 810 and the draft Senate bill are similar enough to provide a basis for compromise, but different enough to prevent one. It is a matter of how motivated the involved parties are to pass a bill prior to this next presidential transition.
Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) wants a complete rethinking of the government's role in regulating new commercial space ventures like asteroid mining. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has been championing an expansion of the regulatory authority of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), an approach also endorsed by the Obama Administration. The FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) will discuss a draft Bridenstine bill tomorrow. Babin is saying wait -- expanded government regulation may not be the answer.
Babin chairs the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee and gave a comprehensive address on the topic at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) breakfast meeting this morning. Offering historical examples of where government attempts to regulate new technologies were "ill-conceived," he contended that other ways should be found to satisfy U.S. obligations "without stifling innovation or smothering the embers of creativity."
The issue stems from U.S. government obligations to authorize and continually supervise the space activities of non-government entities, like companies, under Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Babin defended the Treaty itself, saying it is "just as relevant today" as it was 50 years ago. It was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on December 19, 1966; opened for signature on January 27, 1967; and entered into force on October 10, 1967. He characterized negotiations over the treaty in that Cold War era as reflecting two very different philosophies, communism and freedom. "Fortunately, the United States position was accepted" and Article VI allows for non-government entities to engage in space activities freely.
Another positive feature is that the treaty does not dictate how signatories should fulfill their Article VI obligations, he pointed out, leaving it up to each nation. Today, as innovative non-traditional space activities are emerging, the United States needs to decide what to do, but it should not quickly jump to the conclusion that more regulation is the answer. "While some may see regulations as the easiest way to 'check the box' on satisfying our international obligations ... I would challenge all of you to explore more creative options."
Section 108 of last year's Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) required a report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recommending an approach. The report was delivered to Congress earlier this year recommending that FAA/AST's authority be expanded to approve "mission authorizations" for companies that want to build space stations in Earth orbit, create lunar bases, mine asteroids, or other non-traditional commercial space activities. That approach is favored not only by OSTP and FAA/AST, but by Bridenstine who has been in the forefront of raising these issues in Congress and the space policy community.
Some of the companies interested in non-traditional space activities are represented on COMSTAC, which provides advice to FAA/AST. It is scheduled to discuss a draft Bridenstine bill tomorrow at 3:00 pm ET via teleconference. The meeting is open to the public (dial-in instructions are available here.)
Babin wants other options considered, however. He feels the OSTP proposal places the burden on companies to demonstrate their consistency with U.S. obligations, foreign policy and national security when it should be the other way around. "Instead, we should have a regime in which the private sector activities are presumed authorized and only after the government has met certain conditions can it place restrictions on an activity."
He is particularly concerned about language in the OSTP proposal that requires interagency concurrence. He noted that it is very similar to requirements NOAA must observe in granting licenses for commercial remote sensing satellites. NOAA is supposed to make decisions on license applications within 120 days, but that has turned into three years for one applicant, with no information provided on who in the interagency process objects, why, or when a resolution might be forthcoming. Babin does not want the same fate for the new non-traditional commercial space efforts. He used the NOAA example to counterbalance arguments that FAA/AST's authority should be expanded so companies can have regulatory certainty to ease investor concerns. With regulations like that, he argued, uncertainty is created, not resolved. His subcommittee held a hearing on NOAA's commercial remote sensing license process last week (SpacePolicyOnline.com will post a hearing summary soon).
Babin cited FAA/AST's recent approval of an application by Moon Express to launch a lunar lander as an example of how the current system can be made to work, but argued that Moon Express should have had a "framework -- not necessarily predicated on federal regulations -- that presumes their activity is authorized and places the burden on the government to demonstrate otherwise." Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said that it took about 7 months for the company to get that approval by going to each involved government agency and voluntarily disclosing information each needed to sign off.
"America is great because it is a country where you have the freedom to create without government permission. ... Whether or not our system of values will be carried by the future pioneers of outer space will likely hinge on the degree to which America is able to unleash the awesome power of freedom and protect against government regulatory intervention."
Babin went on to discuss Space Traffic Management (STM) and Space Situational Awareness (SSA), two other areas where expanded FAA/AST authorities are being discussed. Babin argued that other options with greater private sector involvement should be explored. "That isn't to say that nothing can or should be done [by the government], just that we should be cognizant of existing authorities and consider a wide array of solutions, rather than resorting to the crutch of regulatory expansion."
He plans "substantive hearings" once several outstanding reports required by CSLCA are delivered and "legislative solutions, if necessary."