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General James Mattis (USMC, Ret.) was confirmed by the Senate today as the new Secretary of Defense (SecDef). The 98-1 vote took place just hours after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. [UPDATE: Mattis was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence shortly after the confirmation vote.]
One of Trump's first acts as President was signing legislation that passed Congress last week allowing Mattis to serve as SecDef even though he retired from military service only 3 years ago. By law, he must have been retired for at least 7 years. The bill allowed a waiver to that law. Former President Obama had indicated that he was willing to sign the bill, but Congress waited until today to present it to the new President for signature. Such a waiver has been granted only once before, in 1950, allowing Army General George C. Marshall to serve as SecDef.
The one vote against the confirmation was cast by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) because of concerns about maintaining the principle of civilian control of the military. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) did not vote. He himself is a Trump Cabinet nominee (for Attorney General). Senate Democrats had demanded that he recuse himself from voting on the nominations of other Cabinet nominees since it would be a conflict of interest and Politico reported that it would be unprecedented for a sitting Senator to do so.
Mattis, 66, already has had a distinguished military career capped by serving from 2010-2013 as Commander of Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, Northeast Africa and Central Asia. He was NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (2007-2009) and, concurrently, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (2007-2010). After his retirement, he served on a number of boards, including General Dynamics, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Mattis's views on space activities are not well known. He was not asked any questions about national security space programs during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last week. SASC sent him a 56-page set of questions in advance of the hearing. The questions and his answers are posted on the SASC website. Only four specifically concerned space activities. The questions and answers, verbatim, are as follows:
What do you perceive as the threats to our national security space satellites?
The threat to our satellite capabilities is real and growing. Both China and Russia have developed and tested a variety of anti-satellite weapons that can destroy or disable satellites.
Briefly describe what policy objectives we should be seeking to achieve and the strategy you think is necessary to address these threats.
We must ensure the availability, security, and resiliency of our assets at all times and through all phases of conflict.
Do you support the development of offensive space control capabilities to counter those threats?
Offensive space control capabilities should be considered to ensure survivable and resilient space operations necessary for the execution of war plans. If confirmed, I will examine the feasibility of integrating such considerations into existing national security policy.
The Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the use of Russian rocket engines after December 31, 2022. Are you committed to ending our dependence on the use of Russian rocket engines as soon as possible, perhaps even before December 31, 2022?
If confirmed, I will comply with the law, and work in consultation with the Congress to meet or exceed any deadline requirements it imposes.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has released a blueprint for a dramatic boost in defense spending. His plan, Restoring American Power, calls for repealing the law that created sequestration and adding $430 billion for defense spending over 5 years above the amounts proposed by President Obama. He believes space programs "must be a priority" for some of that additional funding.
McCain's plan covers defense spending at the Department of Defense as well as nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy (DOE).
He casts blame widely for inadequate defense budgets and "abuse" of the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations account. Republicans and Democrats, the White House and Congress are all at fault for the current situation in his view. The purpose of his plan is to fix it, beginning with repeal of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) that set budget caps for discretionary spending that he sees as the root of the problem. Recounting how the BCA caps and the Damoclean sword of sequestration to enforce them came to exist -- after Congress could not agree on another method for reining in the federal deficit -- he states that the "havoc ... wreaked on each of the military services is still being felt to this day." Repealing the BCA and increasing defense spending "must be" the "highest priority for the 115th Congress."
He proposes a $430 billion increase over 5 years above the levels in President Obama's FY2017 budget request (including projections for future years), which he acknowledged was itself $100 billion above the BCA caps. Congress has not completed action on that request. DOD, DOE and other departments and agencies that are part of discretionary spending are currently funded by a Continuing Resolution through April 28.
The additional funds he is proposing are for two broad priorities: modernization and regaining capacity. Regarding national security space activities, McCain asserts that DOD "has finally awoken to the reality that we must invest in the next generation of space capabilities....Over the next five years, space must be a priority for additional funding to ensure that the United States maintains its space superiority and has the capabilities and capacity to deter and defend our critical space assets in future conflicts."
He also sees the need for investing in a "space-based sensor architecture" for missile defense as a potential alternative to "costly ground-based radars." Overall, for missile defense he advocates development of "boost phase defense programs, directed energy, hypervelocity projectiles, high-power microwaves, battle management using learning machines, and space-based capabilities."
The report includes several tables outlining where McCain wants to spend the additional funds he proposes for FY2018-2022. The figures are increases above President Obama's FY2017 request, but the breakdown does not follow the format of that request so it is not possible to make apples-to-apples comparisons. The extract below from a table on page 28 of the report shows the proposed increases for space (as well as cyber and missile defense).
NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who will become Acting Administrator on Friday at noon, expressed optimism today about NASA's future under the incoming Trump Administration. During a speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable, he also said that some of the Trump landing team members would be staying on at NASA -- the so-called "beachhead team." He did not name names, but elsewhere rumors are circulating about who will end up where, temporarily at least.
Lightfoot emphasized that NASA historically has bipartisan support and while he could not offer any details about the transition, he conveyed certainty that NASA's "enduring purpose" to "discover, explore, develop, and enable" will prevail. He recounted comments from Amazon.com and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos at the recent Arthur C. Clarke Foundation awards ceremony where, in response to a question about how did he know what needed to change, Bezos replied that it is just as important to know what needs to stay the same.
In that vein, Lightfoot said that what NASA needs to keep doing is "fostering new discoveries, expanding human knowledge, and pushing humans deeper into space -- I call that our day job." That involves NASA's role in global engagement and diplomacy through international cooperation, in national security through a shared industrial base, in economic development and growth through investments in space technology, in responding to societal challenges with STEM education and assisting developing countries with water purification based on International Space Station systems as an example, and in leadership and inspiration, he said.
At a meeting last week, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden expressed optimism about NASA's future. Today, Lightfoot echoed that message, saying "the best is yet to come."
Separately, rumors are floating about who among the Trump transition team's eight members will remain at the agency. One surprise is that the head of NASA's landing team, Chris Shank, may be moving to DOD to work on national security space programs, rather than NASA. Shank began his career in the Air Force and worked at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and Air Force Space Command before joining the House Science Committee and becoming involved in NASA issues. He was a key member of Mike Griffin's team when Griffin was NASA Administrator and many expected him to remain at NASA.
Three landing team members who are rumored to be staying on are Greg Autry (as White House liaison), Rod Liesveld and Jeff Waksman. Two other names that have surfaced are Erik Noble, rumored to be the new White House advisor for NASA, and Brandon Eden. Noble is an atmospheric scientist who worked at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York from 2007-2013. According to his LinkedIn page, most recently he was a political data analyst for the Trump campaign's data and voter outreach team. Eden is legislative director for Rep. Steve Knight (R-CA) and has prior experience with other Republican House members, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Republican National Committee according to his LinkedIn page, which also notes that he was a corporal in the Marine Corps from 2001-2007.
No official announcements have been made about any of these personnel appointments. They are rumors only.
Benjamin Friedman, NOAA's Deputy Under Secretary for Operations, will serve as Acting NOAA Administrator beginning on Friday at noon. Administrator Kathy Sullivan is a presidential appointee and her tenure ends along with President Obama's when Donald Trump is sworn in as the next President. Until new presidential appointees are in place, Friedman and several others will serve in acting roles in addition to their current positions. Among the others is Steve Volz, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Satellites, who will also serve as Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observations and Prediction, replacing Manson Brown.
Friedman is NOAA's Chief Operating Officer and previously served as NOAA's Deputy General Counsel, Chief of the Office of General Counsel Enforcement Section, Assistant General Counsel of the Department of Commerce (NOAA's parent), and a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice.
Volz has been head of NOAA's National Environmental Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) since 2014. Prior to joining NOAA, he was associate director for flight programs in NASA's Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate. He was program executive for a number of NASA earth science missions including CloudSat, CALIPSO, and ICESat. Before moving to NASA Headquarters, he worked at Goddard Space Flight Center as an instrument manager, systems engineer and cryogenic systems engineer on missions including the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE). Prior to that he was a project manager and principal engineer at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.
In a January 9, 2017 memo announcing these acting appointments, Friedman listed six other NOAA positions that will have acting heads: Paul Doremus will be acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Conservation and Management; Craig McLean will be Acting Chief Scientist; Sam Rauch will be Acting Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries; Rob Moller will be Acting Director of the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs; Scott Smullen will be Acting Director of the Office of Communications; and Jeff Dillen and Kristen Gustafson will serve as Acting General Counsel.
Friedman added that he and other members of NOAA's leadership have met with President-elect Transition Team members, but no nominee has been announced to serve as NOAA Administrator.
Wilbur Ross is Trump's choice for Secretary of Commerce and Todd Ricketts is to be nominated as Deputy Secretary. Ross's nomination hearing is scheduled for January 18.
The House passed a new iteration of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act on January 9. H.R. 353 is the latest version of legislation that passed the Senate in the closing days of the 114th Congress, but did not clear the House. The bill's focus is not on satellites, but several provisions would affect NOAA's satellite activities.
The legislation dates back to 2013 and went through many changes before passing the Senate on December 1, 2016 as H.R. 1561. That was thought to be a compromise between the House and Senate, combining elements of the version of H.R. 1561 that passed the House on May 19, 2015; S. 1331, the Seasonal Weather Forecasting Act, approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on May 20, 2015; S. 1573, Weather Alerts for a Ready Nation Act, reported from the Senate Commerce Committee on October 19, 2015; and H.R. 34, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act, which passed the House on January 7, 2015 and the Senate (amended) on October 6, 2015. (Note that H.R. 34 became the legislative vehicle for the 21st Century Cures Act, which recently became law, but does not contain any of the tsunami language.)
Although Senate passage seemed to bode well for the legislation, it turned out that not everyone agreed with the compromise. House Republicans from Georgia objected to a water resources provision that earlier had been added by Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D) even though Georgia's two Senators had agreed to the bill by unanimous consent. The Washington Post reported that House leadership removed the language and tried to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but the Senate indicated it would not accept the bill if amended in that manner. The controversial language calls for a study of water resources of the Chattahoochee River, a major water source for Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Thus, the bill died at the end of the 114th Congress. It now has been reintroduced as H.R. 353, without the water resources provision. The question remains as to whether the Senate will agree to this version. (The new bill also omits the tsunami provisions, which were reintroduced separately as H.R. 312.)
Satellite-related provisions of H.R. 353 require NOAA to do the following:
The bill authorizes $6 million per year for FY2017-2020 for the commercial weather data pilot program.
The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $3 million for NOAA to initiate a commercial weather data pilot program and it is progressing already, with two contracts awarded in September 2016. NOAA requested $5 million for FY2017; Congress has not completed action on FY2017 appropriations bills.
H.R. 353 is an authorization bill that officially authorizes the activity and recommends future year funding. (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See our "What's a Markup?" Fact Sheet.)
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), vice chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, and has 5 Republican and 1 Democratic co-sponsors. Among the co-sponsors are Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who has chaired the House SS&T's Environment Subcommittee for several years, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), who has been the top Democrat on that subcommittee. Both spoke in favor of the bill during debate on the House floor, as did House SS&T chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) submitted a statement. The bill passed the House by voice vote.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 16-20, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate will be in session most of the week; the House will be in session only on Friday.
During the Week
The workweek begins on Monday with a federal holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and ends on Friday with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Friday is not a federal holiday, but government offices and many businesses in the Washington, DC area will be closed. Word of warning if you're coming to DC for any reason this week: the security folks are going to start closing roads on WEDNESDAY in preparation for Friday's inaugural activities. Federal workers in DC are being encouraged by the Office of Personnel Management to telework Wednesday and Thursday because it's going to be very difficult to get around town those days, never mind Friday or Saturday (when protests will continue, including the Women's March on Washington).
Trump will be sworn in at noon on Friday (January 20) and at that point President Obama's political appointees lose their jobs unless they've been specifically asked to stay on. At NASA, Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman are leaving, and Robert Lightfoot, the top NASA civil servant, will become Acting Administrator. (Lightfoot will be speaking at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD on Tuesday.) Another Obama political appointee, Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski, has been ask to stay for a while, however. We're trying to get information from NOAA on who will be in charge there at 12:01 pm ET.
No announcements have been made by the Trump transition team as to who they plan to put in place permanently at NASA or NOAA, although there are widespread rumors that Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is a top candidate for NASA Administrator. He has been very active legislatively in DOD, NOAA, and FAA space issues (he chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee), but not much with NASA. He is an advocate of creating a legal and regulatory environment that facilitates the emergence of new commercial space activities, expanding the role of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to include non-military space situational awareness and authorizing in-space activities (not just launch and reentry), and promoting public private partnerships. He spearheaded the creation of the commercial weather data pilot programs at NOAA and DOD, but stresses they are in addition to, not instead of, the government's own weather satellites. His is not the only name circulating as potential Administrator, and he also has been mentioned as a candidate for Secretary of the Air Force, however, so this is not a sure bet. Stay tuned.
At DOD, Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Ash Carter and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James (and presumably the other service secretaries) are leaving. Trump has announced plans to nominate Gen. James Mattis (USMC, Ret.), 66, as SecDef and the Senate Armed Services Committee has already held his nomination hearing. Space activities did not come up during the open hearing. The committee gave him a set of written questions in advance and four were about space, but were not very newsworthy (they are posted on the committee's website). The Senate and House passed legislation last week allowing him to serve as SecDef even though he retired only 3 years ago and the law requires a 7-year separation. President Obama is expected to sign the bill, clearing the way for Mattis to be confirmed as soon as Trump takes office. Literally. Confirmation votes are expected in the Senate Friday afternoon.
The Senate will continue confirmation hearings this week. Among them are the hearing for Wilbur Ross Jr. to be Secretary of Commerce. The 79-year old billionaire is an investor, company turn-around specialist, and former banker. What views he may hold on NOAA or its satellite activities are unknown. Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held the nomination hearing for Elaine Chao, 63, to be Secretary of Transportation and it was clear she was not yet up to speed on that department's space-related responsibilities. Which is hardly surprising in either case. Both Commerce and Transportation have very broad portfolios. Space is a minor part of what they do.
By the end of the week, Mattis, Ross and Chao are likely to be confirmed by the Senate for their new positions. Though some of Trump's nominee-designates are controversial, these three do not seem to be among them. Chao has experience in leading federal agencies already, having served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush. Mattis has a long and distinguished military career and was most recently Commander of U.S. Central Command, so clearly has strong leadership skills, but has not run a federal agency. Rumors are that Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is being asked to stay for a few months to ease the transition. Ross has led businesses, but has no prior government experience (which is not uncommon for Cabinet-level positions). It is interesting to note that outgoing Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker recommended in her "exit memo" that the Commerce Department be "streamlined" into a "Department of Business" as President Obama proposed in 2012, with NOAA and other parts of Commerce transferred elsewhere (NOAA would have gone to the Department of the Interior). With his business focus, one wonders if Ross might advocate for the same thing.
Frank Kendall, the outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, will give his final speech in that position on Tuesday at CSIS where he will talk about (and sign) his new book "Getting Defense Acquisition Right." Will be interesting to hear what he says about acquisition of space systems, which is expected to be a major topic in Congress this year. The event will be webcast.
On Wednesday, NASA and NOAA will release the latest annual data on global temperatures and discuss the most important climate trends of 2016. That will be done via a media teleconference call. Anyone may listen and see the associated graphics on the NASA Live website (formerly NASA News Audio).
European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner will hold his annual press breakfast at ESA HQ in Paris on Wednesday morning. It's a bit early in the United States (3:00-5:00 am Eastern), but ESA often posts the webcast for later viewing on its website.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for ones we hear about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, January 16
Tuesday, January 17
Wednesday, January 18
Wednesday-Friday, January 18-20
Friday, January 20
SpaceX successfully returned its Falcon 9 rocket to flight status today, launching 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. It also landed the Falcon 9 first stage on one of its autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) off the California coast, the first such landing for a West Coast launch. All 10 satellites were successfully placed into their orbits about one hour after launch.
SpaceX has been recovering from a September 1, 2016 incident at its Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), FL launch pad that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the AMOS-6 communications satellite. That was not a launch failure. Instead it occurred two days before the scheduled launch during fueling of the rocket for a routine pre-launch static fire test.
SpaceX’s investigation did not identify a single definitive cause, but the company concluded that one of the three composite overwrapped pressure vessels (COPVs) inside the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen (LOX) tank failed. The COPVs contain helium. The failure occurred due to “accumulation of super chilled LOX or SOX [solid oxygen] in buckles under the overwrap.” In the short term, the solution is to use warmer helium and helium loading operations used successfully in the past.
This is the first of seven SpaceX launches for Iridium, which operates a constellation of 66 operational satellites that provide mobile voice and data communications. The 10 Iridium NEXT satellites launched today are the first of 70 that will replace the original constellation. The satellites are in 6 planes of 11 satellites each, all in high inclination orbits that dictate launches from Vandenberg rather than Cape Canaveral so the rocket’s flight path avoids populated areas.
The satellites are launched 10 at a time because that is the maximum capacity of the Falcon 9 rocket according to a tweet from Iridium CEO Matt Desch (@IridiumBoss), who added that they have “an elaborate plan to insert some sats and drift others to get 11 into each plane.”
The new satellites are more powerful, have higher data speeds, and offer new services like the ability to track aircraft around the world in real time, a service that will be provided by Aireon.
SpaceX also successfully landed the Falcon 9’s first stage on one its ASDS ships. The one used today is named Just Read the Instructions. (The other is Of Course I Still Love You.) The company has recovered several first stages from East Coast launches, but this is only the second time it has tried a landing with a West Coast launch. The first attempt failed when one of the four landing legs did not lock into position.
There was no such problem today and a camera aboard the first stage showed its descent and touchdown right on the “X” on the drone ship. SpaceX is recovering its first stages with the goal of reusing them and thereby reducing launch costs.
The Falcon 9 was launched from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) today, a launch pad it leases from the Air Force. It also leases SLC-40 at CCAFS, which was badly damaged by the September 1 incident, as well as NASA's Launch Complex 39-A at Kennedy Space Center, which is adjacent to CCAFS. SpaceX plans to build its own launch site near Brownsville, TX.
Note: This article was updated once the satellites were successfully deployed.
In a farewell "town hall" meeting with employees today, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said thanks and farewell to agency employees. Both are political appointees and will end their tenures at noon on January 20 when President Obama leaves office. Bolden announced that Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot will take over as Acting Administrator at that point. He also said the Trump transition team has asked another political appointee, NASA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) David Radzanowski, to remain at least temporarily.
The town hall meeting was an internal agency event accessible over the Internet to employees at all of NASA's facilities. It was an emotional occasion for both Bolden and Newman. Bolden has been Administrator since July 2009; Newman was confirmed as Deputy Administrator in April 2015. Both choked back tears while thanking their colleagues and expressing optimism about NASA's future. Actor LeVar Burton appeared in a video tribute to Bolden. Bolden presented Newman, as well as chief of staff Mike French, with NASA Distinguished Service Awards. Bolden did not announce his plans for after January 20 (he is a retired Marine Major General), but Newman said she will be back teaching at MIT very soon. She is the Apollo Professor of Astronautics there.
Lightfoot is a former Director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, having begun his NASA career there in 1989. He transferred to NASA Headquarters in 2012 to serve as Associate Administrator, the highest ranking civil service position in the agency. It is traditional for the highest ranking NASA civil servant to take over as acting administrator during changes in presidential administrations. The Trump transition has not always followed traditional paths so today's announcement provided some degree of reassurance. Bolden said the Trump transition team officially told NASA yesterday that Lightfoot will serve in that job. A mechanical engineer, he has served in many capacities at Marshall, Stennis Space Center and Headquarters, including assistant associate administrator for the space shuttle program (2003-2005) at headquarters and manager of the space shuttle propulsion office at MSFC (2005-2007). He was named MSFC Deputy Director in 2007 and Director in 2009.
Lightfoot said today that he looked forward to leading the agency until a new administrator is in place. He urged the NASA workforce to remain focused on executing NASA's programs and promised to keep them informed as the transition unfolds.
Radzanowski was confirmed by the Senate as NASA CFO in September 2014. He had previously served as Bolden's chief of staff and before that was Deputy Associate Administrator for Program Integration for what was then called the Space Operations Mission Directorate. Before joining NASA, he was branch chief for science and space at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and before that a space policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service.
No time limit was mentioned for how long he will remain as CFO. Bolden said only that Radzanowski would stay "for some period of time."
During her confirmation hearing yesterday, Secretary of Transportation-designate Elaine Chao punted on a question from Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) about whether the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) should be restored to the Secretary's office instead of being subordinate to the FAA.
President-elect Trump has announced his intention to nominate Chao to be Secretary of Transportation. Her confirmation hearing was held before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee yesterday. Chao was Deputy Secretary of Transportation during part of the George H.W. Bush Administration and Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush. She also was Deputy Administrator of DOT's Maritime Administration and chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission. Among her other career achievements, she was President and CEO of United Way of America and Director of the Peace Corps. Most recently she has been a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. She is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who introduced her at the hearing along with fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
The preponderance of questions were on other aspects of DOT's broad responsibilities, such as privatization of air traffic control, drones, the Maritime Administration, freight delivery by railroads, commuter rail, highway safety, and infrastructure investments for airports, highways, and railways.
Cruz was the only Senator who asked about DOT's space-related activities. He chairs the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee. During the last Congress, he was one of the Senate leaders in passing the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA).
At the hearing, he stated that CSLCA "directs the department to look at moving the Office of Commercial Space Transportation back under the secretary" and asked if she would support such a move to create "an environment where commercial space launch can thrive". He noted that it was part of the Secretary's office when she was Deputy Secretary in the early 1990s.
Chao clearly was unprepared for the question, though that seemed to be true throughout the hearing. In this case, she thanked Cruz for bringing the matter to her attention and said she looked forward "to getting briefed on the current status of this issue." He replied that he looked forward to working with her on the issue.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) reminded Cruz that he had been an author of the original commercial space launch legislation in the 1980s (when he was a member of the House), but did not ask Chao any questions about her plans for commercial space.
President Ronald Reagan assigned DOT responsibility for facilitating and regulating the commercial space launch industry in 1983 through an Executive Order. Congress followed with the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act, which has been amended several times since. Initially, the Office of Commercial Space Transportation was part of the Secretary's office, but was transferred to the FAA in November 1995. Commercial space launch advocates have argued for many years that it should be restored to the Secretary's office to get the visibility and resources it needs.
Those resource requirements could grow substantially if AST's role is expanded along the lines of recent discussions. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), for example, is a champion for making AST responsible for providing Space Situational Awareness data and conjunction analyses to non-military entities, and regulating in-space activities such as asteroid mining in addition to its current roles in regulating launch and reentry.
Bridenstine just began his third term in Congress, but is widely rumored to be the Trump transition team's top choice for NASA Administrator. No such announcement has been made yet.
The Departments of Commerce and State announced more changes to the regulations that govern satellite exports yesterday. The new rules affect a range of activities from commercial remote sensing satellites to human spacecraft to the James Webb Space Telescope and become effective on January 15, 2017.
After more than a decade of battling stringent export controls that many in the satellite industry claimed hampered U.S. efforts to compete on the global stage, a substantial victory was won in 2014 when many commercial satellite items were moved from the State Department's U.S. Munitions List (USML) and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List (CCL) of dual-use technologies governed by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
Still, there were remaining matters to be settled, several of which were addressed in yesterday's announcement. A summary published by NOAA's Office of Space Commerce includes the following:
A quick glance at the new rules as published in the Federal Register (the Office of Space Commerce website has links) provides additional details:
Another interesting decision is that NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is being moved to the CCL. "A determination was made ... that this specific telescope ... did not warrant being subject to the ITAR." The change includes parts, components, accessories and attachments that are specially designed for use in or for JWST. JWST is NASA's next major space telescope. In many ways it is a follow-on to the Hubble Space Telescope and is scheduled for launch on a European Ariane rocket in 2018.
Events of Interest