Space Law News
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of July 25-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.
During the Week
Nationally, the big event this week is the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Not much is expected in the realm of space policy, although former astronaut Mark Kelly will speak on Wednesday. He will appear with his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011. They have become leaders in the gun control movement and that is expected to be the focus of their presentation, not the space program (but one never knows). None of the congressional Democrats with leading roles in space policy are on the speakers list as of today (Sunday), although Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will be there. He represents the district that includes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena and is known as a strong supporter of JPL programs, but he no longer serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. He moved over to the Intelligence Committee and his comments are more likely to focus on those issues. The latest version (July 21) of the 51-page Democratic party platform has one paragraph about NASA that expresses pride in what it has accomplished and promises to "strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions into space." We didn't see anything about either commercial or national security space activities in the document.
Within the space policy community, the focus this week will be meetings of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees all week. The meetings are at the Ohio Aerospace Center in Cleveland, but will be available by WebEx and telecon for those who cannot attend in person. This will be the first NAC meeting since Steve Squyres stepped down as chair. Former astronaut Ken Bowersox has been appointed the interim chair. He had been chairing the NAC Human Exploration and Operations (NAC/HEO) Committee and Wayne Hale has been appointed to fill that position.
The NAC/HEO committee meets tomorrow and Tuesday. Michele Gates, program director for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is on the schedule for 2:30 pm ET tomorrow (Monday) to give an update on ARM, which just went through one of its milestone reviews -- Key Decision Point-B or KDP-B -- on July 15 to determine whether the project is ready to move into Phase B. [A description of KDPs and project phases is in the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7120 document for those keenly interested in NASA program management.] NASA has not made any announcement about what transpired at the KDP-B review. We were told nothing would be out until this coming week, so hopefully Gates will provide that information.
The other NAC committees/task groups meet Monday-Wednesday in advance of the full NAC meeting Thursday and Friday. Always interesting to listen to if you have the time.
AIAA's Propulsion and Energy Conference is also on tap this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. Great line-up of sessions and speakers. Winner for cleverest title in our view is "Launch Vehicle Reusability: Holy Grail, Chasing Our Tail, or Somewhere in Between?" The conference will be livestreamed. Remember that Utah is in the Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) zone, which is two hours behind Eastern Daylight Time (i.e. 9:00 am MDT is 11:00 am EDT).
Those events and others we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to the Events of Interest that we learn about later. For convenience, we're grouping all the NAC meetings together rather than listing them day-by-day. They are listed separately in our Events of Interest list.
NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its subgroups, Monday-Friday, July 25-29, all at Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland, Ohio and available by WebEx/telecon
Monday-Tuesday, July 25-26
Monday-Wednesday, July 25-27
Monday-Thursday, July 25-28
Tuesday, July 26
Tuesday-Friday, July 26-29
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 17-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.
During the Week
The week starts off with a bang -- of rocket engines firing -- to launch the SpaceX CRS-9 cargo mission to the International Space Station at 12:45 am Monday. Today (Sunday), NASA will hold a briefing on what's aboard the cargo ship at 3:00 pm ET and coverage of the launch begins at 11:30 pm ET. Watch both on NASA TV.
SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 first stage back on a pad at Cape Canaveral a few miles from the launch site. That feat has been done only once before. The other landings were on drone ships out at sea. The landing burn begins 7 minutes 38 seconds after liftoff (following boostback and entry burns), with landing shortly thereafter.
The bang of a gavel will occur later in the day as the Republicans kick off their presidential convention in Cleveland. The GOP has released its list of speakers, but it is just a list, not an agenda showing when each will speak. Perhaps of special interest to readers of this website is that former NASA space shuttle commander Eileen Collins is one of the speakers. If we learn the day and time, we will post it on our Events of Interest list.
Back-to-back conferences at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California this week will bring together experts interested in the scientific, robotic and human exploration of Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars (Monday-Tuesday), and then a broader group looking at human exploration of those celestial bodies as well as the Moon, Mars, and near-earth asteroids (Wednesday-Friday). Neither conference website mentions whether webcasts will be available, but such information often is made available only at the last minute.
The 40th anniversary of the landing of NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft on Mars is on Wednesday, July 20. NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia will celebrate with a history panel on July 19 and a day-long symposium on July 20. NASA TV will broadcast some of the sessions.
July 20 is also the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. The Space Transportation Association (STA) and the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration will hold a meeting that afternoon where Orbital ATK's Charlie Precourt (a former astronaut) will talk about progress in developing the Space Launch System (SLS). Orbital ATK is building the solid rocket boosters for SLS and recently completed a successful test firing.
The National Academies' Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable (STIGUR) will meet at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC on Thursday. The agenda is not posted yet.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, July 17
Sunday-Monday, July 17-18
Monday-Thursday, July 18-21
Tuesday-Wednesday, July 19-20
Wednesday, July 20
Wednesday-Thursday, July 20-21
Wednesday-Friday, July 20-22
Thursday, July 21
The House and Senate headed out of town for the summer today, leaving a great deal of work unfinished. In particular, none of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government have cleared Congress yet. They will have four weeks to do something about appropriations when they return after Labor Day.
The extra long (seven week) recess is because of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions that will be held in the next two weeks. The Republican convention begins in Cleveland on Monday and runs through Thursday (July 18-21). The Democratic convention in Philadelphia is the following Monday-Thursday (July 25-28).
The conventions will be followed by the traditional congressional August recess, which, in election years like this, is used mostly for campaigning.
The appropriations bill score sheet looks good in terms of committee action. All 12 have been reported from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Floor action is another matter.
The House has passed six of the 12 FY2017 appropriations bills: Defense, Energy/Water, Financial Services, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (Milcon/VA), Legislative Branch, and Interior/Environment.
The Senate passed the Energy/Water bill, and a single bill that combined Milcon/VA, Transportation-HUD, and funding to deal with the Zika virus.
The two chambers came close to final passage of a compromise Milcon/VA bill that included the Zika funding (but not the Transportation-HUD bill). The conference report passed the House, but did not survive a cloture vote in the Senate, so is stalled.
Attempts to bring the defense appropriations bill to the Senate floor for debate also failed cloture votes.
The Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, did reach the Senate floor, but was derailed by the gun control debate (as its name conveys, the bill also includes funding for the Department of Justice). The House version has not gone to the floor yet.
Both chambers return on September 6 and will be in session the rest of that month. Fiscal Year 2017 begins on October 1, so something -- likely a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- will need to be passed by then.
This outcome is not unexpected. Congress's difficulties in passing appropriations bills is all too well known. The only question is how long the CR will last. Almost certainly past the November 8 elections. Depending on which party wins the White House, the House, and the Senate, final appropriations could be completed by the end of the calendar year, or pushed into 2017 when the new Congress convenes and the new President takes office.
One bill that has made progress is the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House and Senate have each passed their versions and formally agreed to go to conference to work out the differences. Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that, but the NDAA is influential in the decisions made by the appropriations committees. Conference negotiations on the NDAA are expected to take place at the staff level during the recess.
There has been no action on a new NASA authorization bill this year, although Republican and Democratic Senators at yesterday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on NASA and American leadership in space expressed enthusiasm for passing a bill before the end of the year. The House passed a FY2015 (yes, 2015, not 2016) bill last year that could be a vehicle for Senate action, or a completely new bill could be introduced. Although time is getting short, if there is agreement on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill, a bill can pass quickly. The goal is to provide stability to NASA programs during the presidential transition. A major area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is NASA spending on earth science research. Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill argue that it should not be a priority for NASA because other agencies can fund it while NASA focuses on space exploration. The White House and congressional Democrats argue that earth science research is an essential NASA activity and a critical element of a balanced portfolio of programs.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 11-16, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Washington space policy community is still reeling from the news of Molly Macauley's murder Friday night while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore. Molly was one of the most respected and admired members of our relatively small group of space policy analysts and practitioners and was well-known to just about everyone in it. No word yet on funeral arrangements. We'll certainly post any information we get. Molly was Vice President of Research and a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington-based think tank, which has posted a lovely tribute to her.
Meanwhile, the work of the space policy community must go on. This is the last week Congress is scheduled to meet until after Labor Day, so there's a lot they should be getting done. Whether they do or not remains to be seen with everyone focused on tragic deaths elsewhere in the country. Senate leaders tried to bring up the defense appropriations bill last week, but Democrats blocked it. They're going to try again tomorrow. On Friday, the House approved a motion to go to conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), so that's a step in that direction anyway, but authorization bills don't provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that. There's no indication when the Senate will resume consideration of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, and it is not on the House calendar either. The House and Senate will have four weeks after they return on September 6 to get some sort of appropriations passed to keep the government operating after FY2016 ends on September 30.
There are three congressional hearings about space this week. First is a House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee hearing on "Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrobiology" with witnesses talking about programs at NASA and the National Science Foundation. That begins at 10:00 am ET on Tuesday. An hour later (which means the two will overlap), the House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on the role of small business and NASA. It's the first time we can think of that that committee has held a space hearing. Witnesses are from Explore Mars (Beverly, MA), Emergent Space Technologies (Greenbelt, MD), Craig Technologies (Cape Canaveral, FL) and Honeybee Technologies (Brooklyn, NY).
On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair only his third space hearing since becoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee at the beginning of 2015. He's been busy running for President and reportedly will speak at the Republican Convention next week, but on Wednesday he will focus on "NASA At a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration." Witnesses are Bill Gerstenmaier from NASA; Mary Lynne Dittmar from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; Mike Gold from SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral); Mark Sirangelo from Sierra Nevada Corporation; and Dan Dumbacher, formerly NASA, now at Purdue. We published summaries of Cruz's previous two space hearings: February 25, 2015 on U.S. Human Space Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness and March 13, 2015 on NASA's FY2016 budget request.
The American Astronautical Society, CASIS and NASA will hold the 5th International Space Station R&D conference in San Diego Tuesday-Thursday, with a special pre-conference session tomorrow afternoon on utilization of Japan's Kibo module. The conference itself will be webcast -- lots of really interesting speakers each day, including a conversation with Mark and Scott Kelly and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta on the Twins Study from Scott Kelly's 340-day stay aboard ISS. Remember that all times in the agenda are in Pacific Daylight Time (Eastern Daylight Time - 3).
Two interesting national security space seminars also are on the docket this week. The Hudson Institute holds a meeting on Space and the Right to Self Defense on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a report it just published on that topic. The study director, Hudson Institute Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs, will moderate a discussion with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl. Thursday morning, the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute will hold a breakfast meeting featuring Elbridge Colby of the Center for a New American Security on U.S. defense and deterrence strategy for space.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Thursday, July 11-15
Monday-Sunday, July 11-17
Tuesday, July 12
Tuesday, July 12 - Tuesday, July 19
Wednesday, July 13
Thursday, July 14
Saturday, July 16
This is our list of space policy events for the week of July 4-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House returns to work on July 5; the Senate on July 6. [This posting was updated on July 4.]
During the Week
Monday, July 4, is a federal holiday and government offices officially are closed, but some folks at NASA surely will be on duty because the BIG EVENT for the coming week is the arrival of NASA's Juno spacecraft at Jupiter that day.
Miles O'Brien explained in a recent PBS Newshour segment what Juno will tell us about Jupiter that the Galileo spacecraft didn't (basically Galileo was looking at the cloudtops outward while Juno will look under the clouds down through Jupiter's core). NASA has held a number of pre-arrival briefings already. Another will be broadcast on NASA TV on Monday at noon ET with a mission update.
NASA TV coverage of orbit insertion begins at 10:30 pm ET and a post-arrival briefing is scheduled for 1:00 am ET July 5.
The spacecraft will fire its engine at 11:18 pm ET on July 4 for 35 minutes to enter Jupiter's orbit, ending at 11:53 pm ET. Everything is automated at this point -- either the engine will work properly or it won't. The signal travel time from Jupiter to Earth is 48 minutes. The times here are Earth-receive times accounting for the delay.
Closer to Earth, a new crew will launch to the International Space Station on Wednesday evening Eastern Daylight Time (Thursday GMT, Moscow Time, and local time at the launch site). The three crew members -- NASA's Kate Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi and Roscosmos's Anatoly Ivanishin -- will be using an upgraded version of the Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-01. Since it's new, they will take the longer 2-day trajectory to the ISS to test everything out, docking early Saturday morning EDT.
Meanwhile, here on Earth, on Thursday, the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the nation's current and next generation weather satellites. It is a bit unusual in that it blends plans for civil and military weather satellites. The witness list as of today includes two experts on NOAA's weather satellite programs -- Steve Volz, head of NOAA/NESDIS and the GAO expert who follows those civil weather satellite programs (David Powner), and two on DOD's weather satellite program -- Ralph Stoffler, Director of Weather in the office of the USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and the GAO expert on military satellites (Cristina Chaplain). Subcommittee chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) serves on both this subcommittee and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) which may explain the decision to hold a combined hearing on the weather satellite plans for both NOAA and DOD. House SS&T typically webcasts its hearings on its website and YouTube.
The events we know about as of Monday, July 4, are listed below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.
Monday-Tuesday, July 4-5 ET
Wednesday, July 6
Thursday, July 7
Saturday, July 9
Note: This article, orignally published June 30, 2016, was updated throughout on July 4, 2016.
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.