Space Law News
Here is our list of space policy-related events in the coming week, October 20-24, 2014, and any insights we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has scheduled a second hearing on Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit against the government vis a vis the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts for Tuesday at 2:30 pm ET (it's not listed on our calendar because we don't list court dates for lawsuits since they are rarely open to the public). The first hearing was on Friday, where the court allowed SpaceX and Boeing to intervene in the case. The court is also considering SNC's request to keep most of the filings under seal because some of the material may be proprietary and some is protected under SNC's protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). SNC is protesting NASA's award of the CCtCAP contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Ordinarily, under the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), work would stop under those contracts until GAO rules on SNC's protest (it has until January 5, 2015). NASA did issue a stop-work order, but later rescinded it based on its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences. SNC is challenging the legality of that rescission. Check back with SpacePolicyOnline.com to learn about what happens on Tuesday.
There are many other interesting events on tap during the week as well. On Monday, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (which administers the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space), the Mexican Space Agency and another Mexican organization, CICESE, will hold a symposium on Making Space Technology Accessible and Affordable. The opening ceremony and a press conference -- including the head of the Mexican Space Agency, Javier Mendieta -- will be webcast.
The third of three International Space Station (ISS) spacewalks in as many weeks is scheduled for Wednesday. This time it is two Russians, Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev, who will step outside. NASA TV will cover it beginning at 9:00 am ET.
Two very interesting luncheons are being held in the Washington, DC area on Thursday, unfortunately at exactly the same time. The Washington Space Business Roundtable is hosting a panel of experts on the future of satellite communications in support of DOD at the University Club is downtown DC, while the National Capital Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics is hearing from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Chris Scolese across the river in Arlington, VA. Not to mention that there's an all-day symposium in DC that day on space and satellite regulatory issues. Busy day!
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, October 20
Wednesday, October 22
Wednesday-Sunday, October 22-26
Thursday, October 23
Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims yesterday asking the court essentially to overturn NASA's decision to allow work to proceed under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts. SNC is protesting NASA's award of those contracts to Boeing and SpaceX and ordinarily work would stop until the protest was resolved. NASA initially told the companies to stop work, but rescinded that order about a week later, triggering SNC's lawsuit. A hearing on SNC's suit is scheduled for tomorrow morning (Friday, October 17).
Sierra Nevada, Boeing and SpaceX are all being funded under the current phase of NASA's commercial crew program -- Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP). Those three companies, at least, bid for the CCtCAP phase which will lead to operational commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX for CCtCAP on September 16.
On September 26, SNC filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) because it found "serious questions and inconsistencies in the source selection process." GAO has 100 days (until January 5, 2015) to rule on the protest.
NASA issued a stop-work order to Boeing and SpaceX because of the protest. The stop-work order affects only the CCtCAP contracts, not work under the CCiCAP agreements.
However, on October 9, NASA rescinded the stop-work order, overriding provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) on the basis that it was acting within statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences.
In filing its lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, SNC asserts that NASA's override decision was "illegal and void" because the government failed to establish that "performance of the contract is in the best interest of the United States" or "urgent and compelling circumstance that significantly affect the interests of the United States will not permit waiting" for the GAO decision. SNC calls NASA's override decision "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion and ... contrary to law, all in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act...."
SNC asks the court to declare NASA's override "illegal and void" or alternatively to "preliminarily enjoin the Defendant from further implementing" the override -- in other words, to reinstate the stop-work order -- until the court issues a final judgment on the matter.
Because SNC's filing to the court relies on material subject to a GAO protective order (because of its bid protest to GAO) and on other material that may contain proprietary information, SNC further requests the court to keep the primary documents it filed with the court (memorandum and appendix) under seal. For now, at least, only a few of SNC's documents are available to the public through the court's PACER electronic system: Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Documents Under Seal and Motion for a Protective Order, Motion for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, and Plaintiff's Applications for a Temporary Restraining Order to Prevent Unlawful Override of CICA Stay.
The court has scheduled a hearing on the case, Sierra Nevada Corporation v United States, before Judge Marian Blank Horn for 10:00 am ET tomorrow, October 17.
House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden that his committee continues to work with the Senate "to develop a NASA Authorization bill this year." In that regard, he has a number of questions about whether NASA is complying with existing law to ensure Orion will be able to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
The October 7, 2014 letter, also signed by Space Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS), focuses on the requirement in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that Orion be designed to serve as a backup to the commercial crew program for ISS missions in addition to its primary role as a spacecraft to take crews beyond low Earth orbit. Some of the questions are aimed at whether NASA is, indeed, ensuring that Orion will meet that "minimum capability requirement" as required by law, while others ask why two commercial crew competitors are required when Orion can be the "alternative" spacecraft should a commercial vehicle encounter problems.
"If Orion could provide a redundant capability as a fallback for the commercial crew program partners, why is it necessary to carry two partners to ensure competition in a constrained budget environment?", the letter asks. Some Members of Congress have long questioned why NASA insists on funding more than one commercial crew partner, a disagreement that is at least in part responsible for Congress providing less funding than the President requests for commercial crew year after year.
Congress has made clear that it considers Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) to have higher priority than commercial crew. The House passed the appropriations bill that includes NASA on May 30 and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version on June 5. The House and the Senate committee would both increase funding for Orion and SLS in FY2015 while providing less than requested for commercial crew (though closer to the request than in prior years). Congress has not yet completed action on FY2015 appropriations, however, and NASA is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) roughly at its FY2014 funding level. The letter asks Bolden which funding level the Orion program is currently using as guidance -- the FY2015 request, the CR, the House-passed bill, or the amount recommended by the Senate committee -- and whether that affects the agency's ability to ensure that Orion can meet the minimum capability requirement.
Smith and Palazzo request that NASA answer those and several related questions by October 21 as they work with their Senate counterparts on a new NASA authorization bill.
The 2010 NASA Authorization Act is the most recent NASA authorization. Its funding recommendations covered only through FY2013, but the other provisions remain law. The House passed a 2014 NASA Authorization Act this summer, but the Senate has not acted on its version this year although action had been expected just before Congress recessed in September.
The Smith-Palazzo letter signals that work continues with the hope of the two chambers agreeing on a new bill this year. That may be a challenge -- though not necessarily an insurmountable one -- since there will be few legislative days remaining in the 113th Congress when it returns on November 12. Any bill that does not pass by the end of this Congress will die and new legislation will have to be introduced in the 114th Congress, which begins in January.
NOTE: As of 5:00 pm EDT October 15, the Air Force has not made any announcement that the X-37B landed. The original announcement that it was returning to Earth said the exact landing date and time were dependent on technical and weather considerations. Unofficial observers monitoring FAA's NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and using amateur observations of its orbit can offer possible landing times, but they are subject to uncertainty. Reuters reporter Irene Klotz (@Free_Space) tweeted today that the landing "now looks like no earlier than Thursday, FAA pilot advisory indicates." Bob Christy at zarya.info calculates there is a landing opportunity that day (tomorrow) about 16:25 GMT (12:25 EDT). This article has been updated to reflect the delay from the anticipated landing date of October 14.
UPDATED, October 15, 2014: The Air Force announced on Friday (October 10) that its secretive X-37B spaceplane, in orbit for almost two years, will soon return to Earth and land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. At the recent International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) in Toronto, Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation encouraged the U.S. government to be more open about what the X-37 is doing as part of the Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) the United States is advocating to help ensure space sustainability.
Officially called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the vehicle resembles a very small space shuttle. The Air Force launches the robotic spacecraft for lengthy on-orbit classified missions. This flight is the longest to date. Launched on December 11, 2012, its mission duration will be more than 667 days. There are at least two OTVs. The first, OTV-1, made a 224 day flight in 2010. The second, OTV-2, made a 469 day flight from March 2011 to June 2012. The OTVs are reusable and this is the second flight for OTV-1.
Photo of X-37B OTV-1. Photo credit: Boeing (via Spaceflightnow.com)
The Air Force statement said the exact time of the landing "will depend on technical and weather considerations." Initial indications were that landing was targeted for October 14, but that day passed with no announcement from the Air Force. Unofficial observers are estimating potential landing times based on the FAA's NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and amateur observations of the X-37's orbit, but they are subject to uncertainty. Check back here for updated information when it is available.
The classified nature of the missions prompts much speculation about what they are doing. In an era when the United States and other countries are advocating for establishing TCBMs to help ensure space sustainability, some question why the missions are kept secret. In an October 1 session at IAC2014 on "Assuring a Safe, Secure and Sustainable Space Environment for Space Activities," the Secure World Foundation's (SWF's) Samson cited the X-37B's secrecy as at odds with TCBMs. TCBMs are norms of behavior that "nations that mean no harm" should follow, she said, including a willingness to share information about technical capabilities in order to avoid misperceptions. She remarked that the U.S. "refusal to explain what the X-37B is [doing] has led a lot of people to assume the worst, and probably wrongfully so."
A 2010 SWF analysis concluded it "has near zero feasibility as an orbital weapons system for attacking targets on the ground" and has "limited capability for orbital inspection, repair and retrieval," although speculation often centers on exactly such missions. SWF concluded its most likely purpose is "flight testing new reusable space launch vehicle (SLV) technologies ... and on-orbit testing of new sensor technologies and satellite hardware primarily for space-based remote sensing."
The OTVs are launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC). NASA and the Air Force announced last week that the Air Force will use two of KSC's Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) to process the X-37B in the future. To date the OTVs have landed across the country at Vandenberg, but the NASA-Air Force announcement also said that tests were conducted to demonstrate the X-37B could land at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility. The landing facility and the OPFs are left over from NASA's space shuttle program, which was terminated in 2011.
The X-37, built by Boeing, initially was a NASA test vehicle designed to lead to an Orbital Space Plane that could serve as a Crew Return Vehicle to bring International Space Station astronauts back to Earth in an emergency and, eventually, as a taxi to take them to the ISS as well. NASA terminated that program in 2004 after President George W. Bush reoriented the human spaceflight program toward returning astronauts to the Moon instead of ISS utilization. The X-37 program then was transferred to the Department of Defense.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of October 13-17, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
The event likely to attract the most attention this week is the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). The speaker line-up is an intriguing array of "traditional space" and "new space" luminaries, although the description of Bill Gerstenmaier's talk may say it best: "Never before have the titles of 'old space' and 'new space' been as trivial as they are today."
Just to illustrate the breadth of speakers (sorry we can't list everyone -- the program is here), in addition to Gerstenmaier (NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations), speakers include Clay Mowry (Arianespace), George Sowers (United Launch Alliance), George Whitesides (Virgin Galactic), Stuart Will (Mojave Air and Space Port), Barry Matsumori (SpaceX), Brett Alexander (Blue Origin), Doug Loverro (DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy), John Shannon (Boeing), Mark Sirangelo (Sierra Nevada Space Systems), Doug Young (Northrop Grumman) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
Most unfortunately, if you can't be there in person, you're out of luck. The conference's media contact says none of the sessions will be webcast live, though "a few of the keynotes" may be posted online in a month or two.
That and other events we know about as of this afternoon (Sunday) are listed below.
Tuesday, October 14
Wednesday, October 15
Wednesday-Thursday, October 15-16
Wednesday-Friday, October 15-17
Friday-Tuesday, October 17-21
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of October 6-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
World Space Week 2014 continues (it began on Saturday) with events worldwide commemorating the beginning of the Space Age on October 4, 1957 and the benefits derived from space over the decades. This year's theme is "Space: Guiding Your Way" and the DC chapter of the International Space University alumni association will hold a Space Café on Tuesday featuring James Miller, who works for NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program.
Two of the five standing committees of the National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) will meet this week. The five committees align with the five Decadal Surveys the SSB produces that advise NASA and other agencies on the top space science priorities. The committees provide a forum to maintain discussion about the topics in between the once-a-decade (hence "decadal") reports. This is the first meeting of the new Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, formed after completion of the first Decadal Survey for that field of research, which was published in 2011. It is meeting at the NRC's Keck Center on 5th Street Tuesday and Wednesday, though the sessions on Wednesday are closed to the public. The SSB's Committee on Solar and Space Physics will meet Tuesday-Thursday across town at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Ave. It will have open sessions the first two days. (If you're keeping track, the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences and the Committee on Earth Science and Applications in Space met in September; the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics meets in November.)
On Tuesday the first of two "U.S." spacewalks scheduled for October will take place from the International Space Station (ISS). They are "U.S." because they involve tasks on the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) and the spacewalkers will be wearing U.S. spacesuits, but one of the two is Europe's Alexander Gerst (joining NASA's Reid Wiseman) so it really is a U.S./ESA spacewalk. Next week (October 15) Wiseman and NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore will do another spacewalk, and the week after that, on October 22, two of the Russian cosmonauts will do a spacewalk on their segment of the ISS. It's a busy time on the ISS with visiting spacecraft coming and going in addition to those spacewalks. Three new crewmembers just arrived on September 25. Two cargo spacecraft, a Russian Progress and SpaceX Dragon, already docked there will depart and be replaced by a new Progress and an Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus later this month.
Those and other events for the week of October 6-10 that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
October 6-10, Monday- Friday
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
Day 2 of the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) kicked off with a plenary session on commercial space followed by a technical session on the same topic. Both played to packed houses, a change from the past where commercial space sessions were often among the most lightly attended. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) was particularly in the limelight, with technical papers and press events highlighting Dream Chaser’s versatility and a range of partnerships including a new “Global Project” to globalize Dream Chaser’s business base.
SNC is protesting its loss of NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts and NASA and SNC officials are fervently avoiding answering any questions about CCtCAP. (NASA officials would not even answer a generic question about whether the 2-6 operational flights in the contracts assume that International Space Station operations will be extended to 2024.)
However, SNC is also participating in the current Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase. Following SNC’s Global Project press conference, John Olson, SNC Vice President of Space Systems, said that the company is “marching forward” to meet its two remaining CCiCAP milestones and Dream Chaser’s first launch (without a crew) aboard an Atlas V remains on schedule for November 2016. However, the company is awaiting “further dialogue and discourse” with NASA to see if the agency has additional guidance it wants to provide on CCiCAP.
Global Project is an “opportunity to change the world,” enthused SNC’s Cassie Lee by offering Dream Chaser as a “turnkey” system to countries around the world for crewed or uncrewed customized flights. Dream Chaser is “launch vehicle agnostic” she stressed and while the company has been working with Atlas V for many years, it can be launched from other rockets and land in other places in the world. She provided no details on cost – it is “not a price per seat or price per pound” she said – or what other launch vehicles are capable of launching it, but Olson explained later that it could be launched by Delta IV, Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy in the United States, or by SNC’s European or Japanese partners using Ariane V (ES or ME), possibly Ariane 6, or H-IIB. Dream Chaser can also land in other countries, Lee said, and is easy to return to a launch site via flatbed truck or cargo aircraft since Dream Chaser is only 30 feet long and the wings and rudder are removable.
Later in the day SNC announced another new initiative with Stratolaunch that involves a “scaled version” of Dream Chaser integrated with a Stratolaunch air launch system. More details will be announced here at IAC2014 tomorrow.
Meanwhile, although visa problems prevented China and Russia from participating in yesterday’s Heads of Agencies panels, there is some representation from both countries here. China’s space agency has a substantial presence in the exhibit hall (by contrast, NASA does not have an exhibit there at all) and at least one Russian, Alexander Derechin, presented his paper on Russia’s space tourism activities. He noted that Sarah Brightman will begin training for her mission next year. When asked if any wealthy Russians are on the list of future space tourists, he said he had approached four individuals, but there were no takers yet.
The IAC is a dizzying array of parallel sessions throughout each day on technical, policy and legal space issues. Many papers with Russian and Chinese authors are listed in the program and it is not possible to be in every session to keep score of who actually came to Toronto, but it can be said that Russia and China were not completely excluded from the conference.
Among today’s other tidbits are the following:
Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
We are here in Toronto to cover the annual International Astronautical Congress, the joint meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and International Institute of Space Law (IISL). As always, it promises to be fascinating ... and overwhelming. So many sessions, so little time. It'll be quite a challenge to choose the "best" sessions to cover, but we'll do what we can.
If you're not here and are back in Washington, DC, be sure not to miss Adam Steltzner's lecture at the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday afternoon. He is the winner of the first Yvonne C. Brilll Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering. The lecture was created by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering in honor of Brill, a distinguished aerospace engineer who passed way last year.
Lots more going on. Our list of what we know about as of Sunday afternoon follows.
Monday, September 29
Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3
Tuesday, September 30
Saturday-Friday, October 4-10, 2014
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
Here is our list of events for the next TWO weeks, September 21-October 3, 2014, starting with MAVEN's arrival at Mars tonight (Sunday). Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Weeks
Mars will get two new visitors this week. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is due to enter orbit around Mars tonight, September 21, at 9:37 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Signal travel time between Mars and Earth means that NASA won't know certain that everything went smoothly until 9:50 pm EDT. NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 pm EDT.
On Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning local time in India), India's first mission to Mars, Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM), will join MAVEN and three other U.S. and European spacecraft orbiting Mars. MOM is scheduled to fire its engine to enter orbit at 07:17 Indian Standard Time on Wednesday (9:47 pm Tuesday EDT). The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has not announced its plans for live coverage. Check the ISRO website for up to date information.
Back here in Earth orbit, SpaceX's CRS-4 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), with its cargo of mice, fruit flies, spacesuit batteries, a 3D printer and many other supplies and scientific experiments, will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday morning at 7:04 am ET. Two days later three new ISS crew members will launch to and dock with the ISS on Soyuz TMA-14M.
Meanwhile, here on terra firma, there are many interesting events on the schedule. John Logsdon will provide an update on his research for his upcoming book Richard Nixon and the American Space Program at 4:00 pm EDT on Monday at the National Air and Space Museum. The event is free, but you MUST register in advance in order to access the museum's office area. Later on Monday (8:00 pm EDT), the Secure World Foundation and The Space Show will host a webinar on Satellites and Disaster Management. The NASA Advisory Council's heliophysics subcommittee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday at NASA Headquarters, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose will talk to the AIAA National Capital Section in Arlington, VA on Thursday.
Quite a full week, as many in the space community also get ready to head to Toronto for the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) next week. It officially runs from September 29-October 3, but there are a number of associated meetings in the days preceding the conference beginning on September 25.
For those not traveling to Toronto, there are two very interesting events in the Washington, DC area that week. On Monday, September 29, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will talk to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD.
On Tuesday afternoon (September 30), the inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering will be presented at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington (the one on the Mall, not on 5th Street). This first Brill Lectureship, created in honor of the distinguished aerospace engineer Yvonne Brill, was awarded to Adam Steltzner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Steltzer led the entry, descent and landing team for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. Steltzer's lecture will be on "Engineering and the Mars Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) System."
Here is the list of the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, September 21, for the two-week period through October 3, 2014.
Sunday, September 21
Monday, September 22
Tuesday, September 23
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 23-24
Thursday, September 25
Thursday-Sunday, September 25-28
Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3
Monday, September 29
Tuesday, September 30
The Senate just passed the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the government through December 11, 2014 and avoiding a government shutdown.
The House and Senate are still in session at this hour (September 18, 7:00 pm EDT), but are expected to adjourn later today and not return until after the November elections.
The vote on the CR, which also includes a limited authorization for President Obama to take military actions related to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was 78-22. The bill passed the House yesterday and now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it.
The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion. Government agencies including NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0544 percent across-the-board reduction to pay for new activities included in the bill that are primarily related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis. Two space-related provisions allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extend the authorization for the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015.