Space Law News
Orbital Sciences Corporation confirmed via Twitter a story published by Aviation Week & Space Technology that it has chosen a different Russian engine, RD-181, for its Antares rocket. The last Antares launch, powered by Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26), exploded 15 seconds after liftoff on October 28.
Orbital confirmed after the launch failure that it would use a different engine for future Antares rockets, but as recently as last week, Orbital Chairman, President and CEO David Thompson declined to publicly identify the engine despite rumors that it would be Russian.
Aviation Week's Frank Morring posted a story yesterday quoting Orbital's vice president for space launch strategic development Mark Pieczynski as saying the RD-181, built by Energomash, "is about as close as you could possibly get to replacing the current twin AJ-26 engines in Antares, so it minimizes the redesign of the core." The first set of RD-181s is expected in the summer of 2015, Morring reported, with a second set arriving in the fall.
Orbital has announced plans for recovering from the October 28 launch failure, which destroyed the Cygnus spacecraft that was carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Orbital's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. The contract requires Orbital to deliver 20 tons of cargo to ISS by the end of 2016. To fulfill the contract, Orbital will use another company's rocket for at least one launch of Cygnus while getting the reconfigured Antares ready for launch in 2016. That other company is the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Orbital is buying one ULA Atlas V launch, with an option for one more.
In tweets yesterday and today, Orbital (@OrbitalSciences) said that the RD-181 is the "only propulsion system that enables us to complete cargo commitments to @NASA under #CRS contract by end of 2016." It also disputed reports on some media outlets that the value of its order for the engines is $1 billion. "Total possible value (including options) of #RD181 order significantly below the $1 billion being reported by some media outlets."
One of those media outlets is Russia's Sputnik News, formerly RIA Novosti. It reported today that the order is for 60 RD-181 engines, citing another Russian newspaper, Izvestiya. According to that account, an official from Russia's space agency Roscosmos said there is a firm contract for 20 engines with a commitment to deliver a total of 60. A subsequent story from Sputnik News quotes Orbital's Barron Beneski as saying the $1 billion figure is incorrect and "The full value if all the options were exercised would be significantly less."
Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting the purchase of a different Russian engine, the RD-180, for use in ULA's Atlas V rocket. Atlas V is used for many U.S. national security spacecraft and U.S. dependence on Russia for those engines became a significant issue after Russia's actions in Ukraine. The final version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibits the Secretary of Defense from awarding or renewing a contract to procure rocket engines designed or manufactured in Russia for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Atlas V and Delta IV are the two EELVs, so the language does not affect Antares.
Morring quotes Orbital's Ron Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of the company's Launch Systems Group, as saying the company "coordinated with all relevant congressional staffs" and notes that the ISS program itself is dependent on cooperation with Russia. ISS is an international partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries. NASA has been dependent on Russia to launch crews to the ISS since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the rest of 2014 as the holidays approach. This edition covers December 15-31, 2014. The Senate will be in session tomorrow, at least, but the expectation is that the 113th Congress will come to a close very soon.
During the Week
The Senate is scheduled to be in session tomorrow for what may be the last day of the 113th Congress, though even at this late date it is difficult to say that with any certainty. After a tumultuous few days, the House and Senate have passed and sent to the President the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 -- the "CRomnibus" -- which funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies through the end of FY2015 (September 30, 2015). Only the Department of Homeland Security is funded under another Continuing Resolution (CR), through February 27, 2015, because of the immigration debate. We've published many stories about the debate, the angst, the uncertainty, etc. and will not reiterate it here (type "cromnibus" into our search box and you should be able to retrieve them). Suffice it to say that it was a very nice holiday gift for NASA -- a $549 million increase above the President's request, or $363 million more than FY2014. The question will be whether Congress will sustain that level of funding in future years. A one-year plus-up is nice, but it's the long haul that counts. NOAA's satellite programs also did well. We'll publish an article summarizing the DOD space program provisions shortly.
Outside the beltway, the highlight of this week certainly will be the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. AGU is webcasting many of its press conferences and those related to NASA are listed below and on our calendar on the right menu. Among them -- findings from MAVEN, Curiosity, and Rosetta are on tap for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, and a look forward at New Horizons' arrival at Pluto next year is on Thursday.
And, if all goes well, SpaceX will launch its fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. Three pre-launch briefings are scheduled for Thursday. Arrival at the ISS will be on Sunday if the launch goes on Friday. NASA TV will cover it all.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
SpacePolicyOnline.com wishes all of you Happy Holidays and a fantastic New Year!
Monday-Friday, December 15-19
Monday, December 15
Tuesday, December 16
Wednesday, December 17
Thursday, December 18
Friday, December 19
Sunday, December 21
Update: Links to the text of the bill and joint explanatory statements for CJS (NASA and NOAA) and Defense have been added.
The Senate just passed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, colloquially called the "cromnibus." It funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies -- except the Department of Homeland Security -- through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015).
Demonstrating once again that it is always darkest before the dawn, the 56-40 vote came after a 24-hour period when it looked like the Senate was in for a long debate about the bill. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders had hoped to spend the weekend at home and come back and vote on the bill Monday, but Tea Party Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) objected late last night and consequently the Senate was in session today.
Throughout much of the day, many worried that the Senate could not even pass a new Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until Wednesday (otherwise funding would have expired tonight). That CR finally passed this afternoon, but it was unclear when a vote on the cromnibus would take place.
Cruz and Lee did force a vote on the constitutionality of President Obama's immigration executive order "though it was badly defeated by bipartisan opposition, 22-74" according to Politico. Politico goes on to point out that the Cruz-Lee delay opened an opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring a number of President Obama's long-delayed nominations to the floor for a vote and now "there's little Republicans can do to stop him."
From the standpoint of funding the government, at least, it was good news. The cromnibus -- a combination of a CR to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 27, 2015 and the rest of the government through the end of the fiscal year -- includes a significant increase for NASA and strong support for NOAA's satellite programs. DHS is funded only by a shorter-term CR as a signal of Republican disapproval of the President's immigration executive order. Immigration is part of DHS's portfolio.
The text of the bill was written as a Senate amendment to a House-passed bill on an unrelated topic (H.R. 83). The joint explanatory statement (formerly a conference report) is separated into "divisions" for each of the regular appropriations bills. Division B is Commerce-Justice-Science (including NASA and NOAA); Division C is Defense.
This afternoon the Senate agreed to the second short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open through Wednesday, December 17, after a morning of high stakes drama where the words "government shutdown" were once again heard. If this second CR did not pass, government funding would have expired at midnight.
The Senate is trying to complete work on FY2015 funding and a few other measures before bringing the 113th Congress to a close. One way or another, this Congress will end and the new 114th Congress -- with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate -- will convene in early January.
The FY2015 funding bill, called a "cromnibus" because it combines a CR (through February 27, 2015) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and a full-year (through September 30, 2015) omnibus appropriations for the rest of the government is very controversial because of policy provisions ("riders") that were added by House and Senate negotiators in order to reach a compromise. The bill narrowly passed the House on Thursday and is now struggling to win the support of enough Senators to secure passage there.
Tea Party Republicans Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) are seen as the leaders in opposing the cromnibus because it does not send a strong enough message to the President about Republican dissatisfaction with the President's executive order on immigration. Cruz is viewed as the architect of last year's 16-day government shutdown, which many establishment Republicans opposed and have vowed to prevent from occurring again. Several were quoted today questioning the Cruz-Lee strategy today. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), Utah's senior senator, told reporters "I don't see any end game that can be won, other than irritating people." Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said it was "not in keeping with our Republican commitment to return to normal order and to show the people of this country that we can govern responsibly."
Tea Party Republicans are not the only ones unhappy with the cromnibus. Liberal Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are equally unhappy with a provision that changes the Dodd-Frank financial regulations and members of both parties object to modifications to the campaign finance law.
Hope that the Senate could expeditiously pass the FY2015 "cromnibus" appropriations bill faded today and the House passed another short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that would keep the government operating through Wednesday, December 17 if needed. The two-day CR agreed to yesterday expires tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight.
Objections to the cromnibus -- a mix of a CR for the Department of Homeland Security and a full-year omnibus appropriations for everyone else -- in the Senate parallel those in the House. Conservative Republicans want to send a stronger message to President Obama about their disapproval of his executive order on immigration, liberal Democrats are angry at a provision that would change financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law, and some in each party dislike language that would change campaign finance laws.
In the Senate, a single Senator can block action. A small example of that just occurred when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) wanted to recess the Senate until Monday afternoon to continue consideration of the bill, but Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) objected. Lee argued that the Senate should not take the weekend off when these issues require debate. Reid's motion to recess until Monday required unanimous consent, so Lee's objection was all that was needed to reject that plan. Reid apparently expected the objection and had another resolution in hand to have the Senate return to work tomorrow instead. There was no objection to that motion.
It is still possible that the cromnibus could pass the Senate tomorrow and the new CR would not be needed, but that seems unlikely at this point. It is more likely that the Senate will pass the new CR tomorrow instead of the cromnibus and -- hopefully -- complete work by next Wednesday. The key is that there seems to be no talk of a government shutdown and Congress can pass CRs of any duration as required.
In addition to the cromnibus, the Senate is still expected to act on at least two other bills -- extension of tax breaks and reauthorization of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) -- as well as a number of presidential nominations. The Hill newspaper reports, in fact, that it is the presidential nominations that are the real sticking point.
Today, the Senate did pass the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), clearing it for the President.
The House approved the FY2015 "cromnibus" spending package tonight by a vote of 219-206. The Senate still must act on the measure so the House also passed another Continuing Resolution (CR) to extend government funding for two more days, through midnight Saturday. The Senate quickly passed the two-day CR, averting a government shutdown tonight.
The cromnibus is a mix of a CR and an omnibus appropriations bill. A CR provides funding for a short period of time at the previous year's level. An omnibus consolidates several regular full-year appropriations bills into a single legislative package. This bill combines full year appropriations for departments and agencies in 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (including NASA, NOAA and DOD) with a short term CR for the 12th (the Department of Homeland Security-DHS). Funding DHS only through February 27, 2015, is intended to signal Republican dissatisfaction with President Obama's executive order on immigration. Immigration is part of DHS.
The battle over the cromnibus was intense and at times its passage seemed in jeopardy. The final vote was 219-206. Voting in favor were 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats. Voting against were 67 Republicans and 139 Democrats. Five members from each party did not vote.
The rancor was over provisions agreed to by House and Senate negotiators endeavoring to reach a compromise. The end result clearly does not please everyone. Conservative Republicans reportedly want a stronger reaction against the President's immigration executive order, liberal Democrats and some Republicans object to a provision weakening the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, and liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans object to changes to the campaign finance law.
The White House supported passage, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the House was being "blackmailed" into voting for it.
The battle now moves to the Senate. With passage of the new two-day CR, it has until midnight Saturday to act.
The bill contains a significant budget boost for NASA -- an increase of $549 million above the President's request for a total of $18.010 billion. NOAA's satellite programs also fare well.
The House is expected to vote tomorrow (Thursday) on the FY2015 appropriations bill dubbed the "CRomnibus." It combines an omnibus appropriations providing full-year funding for agencies covered by 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (including NASA, NOAA and DOD) and a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the 12th (the Department of Homeland Security). The vote is expected to be close because of dissatisfaction on both sides of the aisle with policy provisions ("riders") that were added during negotiations. Congress must pass this bill or some other funding measure before midnight tomorrow to avoid a government shutdown.
Objections to the CRomnibus reportedly range from conservative Republicans who feel it does not send a strong enough message to the President protesting his executive order on immigration to liberal Democrats and some Republicans who object to changes in the Dodd-Frank financial services regulations to liberal Democrats who object to changes in campaign finance laws. (The Department of Homeland Security includes immigration. The proposal to provide it only with a CR and not a full-year appropriation like everyone else is to signal Republican ire at the Obama immigration executive order, but some Republicans want to go further.)
Although appropriations bills are not supposed to include policy provisions, only funding, they often do. That is especially true at the end of a Congress where members are trying one last time to get favored legislation passed and the only bill likely to clear Congress and be signed by the President is an appropriations bill.
It is still possible that no agreement on funding will be reached and the government will shut down at midnight tomorrow, but that still is considered very unlikely. If the CRomnibus does not pass the House tomorrow, House Speaker John Boehner reportedly plans to bring a three-month CR for the entire government to the floor for a vote, pushing funding decisions over into the Republican-controlled 114th Congress. If the CRomnibus does pass the House, a very short term CR may be needed to give the Senate time to act, but that presumably would be only for a couple of days.
None of the concerns appear to be directed at provisions regarding NASA, NOAA or DOD.
We'll provide updates as they are available.
House and Senate appropriators introduced the long-awaited compromise version of the FY2015 appropriations bill late today. If approved as expected, NASA will get a significant increase compared to the President's request, and NOAA satellite programs will fare well overall, with GOES-R and JPSS fully funded.
As expected, the bill combines 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills, funding all of those departments and agencies for the rest of FY2015 (through September 30, 2015). The 12th bill, for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is funded only temporarily, through February 27, 2015, as a protest against President Obama's executive order on immigration. This combination of a Continuing Resolution (CR) for DHS and an omnibus for the rest of the government is sometimes referred to as a "cromnibus." It is designated as "Senate amendment to H.R. 83." NASA and NOAA are part of Division B, the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) portion.
The total for NASA in the compromise accord is $18.010 billion, a $549 million increase over the request of $17.461 billion. Despite the significant increase, some programs were cut, including:.
But many others get increases. Among the big winners are --
More information is in our fact sheet on NASA's FY2015 budget request.
NOAA's satellite programs also fare well. The two premier programs -- GOES-R and JPSS -- are fully funded. The Senate had proposed transferring two other programs, DSCOVR and Jason-3, to NASA, but that was not adopted and both programs are funded in NOAA's budget at or close to their requested levels. COSMIC-2 received its full request of $6.8 million.
The House-passed CJS bill and the version approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee both zeroed NOAA's $15 million request for the Solar Irradiance, Data and Rescue (SIDAR) program that pulls together plans for launching three instruments -- Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS), Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS), and Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT). SIDAR fared better in the compromise omnibus bill, getting half its requested funding, $7.3 million. Report language accompanying the bill says it is to support hosting TSIS-1 on the International Space Station (ISS) and maintaining international partnerships on A-DCS and SARSAT. It notes that hosting TSIS-1 on ISS was not part of the President's FY2015 budget request and asks for a report on those plans.
More information is in our fact sheet on NOAA's FY2015 budget request.
NASA, NOAA and most of the rest of the government are currently funded by a CR that expires at midnight on Thursday, December 11. Because negotiations on this compromise bill took longer than planned, and ordinarily there is a three-day waiting period in the House for members to read a bill and other procedural steps in the Senate, Congress may not complete action on it before that deadline. A very short-term CR may be passed to cover a couple of days while Congress completes work on this bill.
Efforts by congressional leaders to pass a new FY2015 appropriations bill by midnight Thursday to avoid a government shutdown hit a snag last night. Although it is certainly possible still to complete action by Thursday, it would require agreement not only on outstanding policy issues, but skipping over some procedural steps.
The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires at midnight on Thursday, December 11. Congress needs to pass some type of appropriations bill -- another CR or full-year appropriations or a combination of both -- before then or there will be another shutdown as there was last year. (It is common to refer to a "government shutdown" although some parts of government do continue operating, including programs and services funded by fees rather than appropriations and those involving safety of life and property.)
A new FY2015 appropriations bill combining funding for departments and agencies covered by 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015) and the 12th for a shorter period of time was expected to be introduced by midnight last night (Monday). The one bill that would not be funded through the end of the fiscal year is for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes immigration. As a signal of Republican disapproval of President Obama's executive order on immigration, DHS would be funded by a CR until January when Republicans will control both the House and Senate and will have more power to shape the congressional response to the President's executive order. This combination is sometimes referred to as a "cromnibus" -- a mix of a CR and an omnibus spending measure.
Ordinarily, bills must be made publicly available to Members of the House at least three days prior to a vote and since the vote is needed Thursday, the three day clock is already ticking.
However, disagreements over reauthorizing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) and modifying financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law are still being worked according to media reports. In addition, some Republicans are opposed to funding any agencies to the end of the fiscal year. They want a short term CR for everyone until they control both the House and Senate.
No information has been made public about how any of those departments and agencies have fared in negotiations to date. NASA would receive a significant increase compared to the President's request if the final bill resembles what passed the House and was approved the Senate Appropriations Committee this year. NOAA satellite programs also generally fared well.
The goal has been for this 113th Congress to adjourn on Thursday, but an extension is quite possible. At least four scenarios could play out:
Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have made clear that they do not want another shutdown, so that seems the least likely outcome.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of December 8-12, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
This well could be the final week of the 113th Congress. If it can pass an appropriations bill to fund the government after December 11, when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires, and the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), this Congress will close up shop. The new 114th Congress, with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, is expected to convene on January 6, 2015.
If all goes according to the plans of House and Senate leadership, this week Congress will pass a "cromnibus." That's a combination of a CR and an omnibus appropriations bill. The idea is that Congress will pass an omnibus appropriations bill combining 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills (including Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science) to fund most government agencies through September 30, 2015. The exception is funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which includes immigration. As a protest against President Obama's immigration executive order, DHS would be funded only by a CR for a short period of time, probably through some time in January when Republicans control both the House and Senate and they have more power to engage the Obama White House. A cromnibus could be good news for DOD, NASA and NOAA, providing money for the rest of FY2015. NASA, in particular, could get a significant increase compared to President Obama's request if the end result follows what the House passed in May and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved in June.
Some Tea Party Republicans want their leaders to take a stronger stance against the President's immigration executive order, but at the moment it appears that House and Senate Republican leaders are more concerned about avoiding a government shutdown than scoring political points on immigration. They seem content to wait three weeks until they control the Senate as well as the House to fight that battle.
Also, the Senate is expected to pass the compromise version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House last week. It has a number of national security space provisions, including prohibiting the purchase of Russian RD-180 rocket engines after the current contract expires unless certain conditions are met.
Also coming up this week is the 9th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law on Wednesday. This year's theme is "Non-Traditional Commercial Space Activities: Legal and Poiicy Challenges, Opportunities and Ways Forward."
That's the same day the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the status of NASA's Orion and Space Launch System programs.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday evening are listed below.
Monday, December 8
Tuesday, December 9
Wednesday, December 10
Wednesday-Thursday, December 10-11
Thursday, December 11
Thursday-Friday, December 11-12