SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News

Will Tianjin Explosion Impact China's Space Program?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Aug-2015 (Updated: 15-Aug-2015 11:29 PM)

Veteran space journalist Leonard David reports today that the chemical explosions in Tianjin, China could have an impact on China's space program.

In a post on his website, David cites Chinese state-run news outlets as saying that the explosions broke windows and caused ceilings to collapse at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin that "some reports say is tied to China's space program."  He adds that the installation, Tianhe-1, was shut down because of the damage.

China's new Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets are manufactured and tested in Tianjin.  A December 25, 2014 China Daily article quotes Tao Gang, general manager of the Tianjin Long March Launch Vehicle Manufacturing Co. Ltd., as saying they were close to completing development of the Long March 7.  That vehicle and the Long March 5 are expected to replace current versions of the Long March rocket.  Both will be launched from China's new Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island. 

The first Long March 5 is expected to launch no later than 2016 according to the U.S. Department of Defense's 2015 annual China military power report.  Similar in capability to the U.S. Delta IV Heavy, the 25-ton to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) vehicle will be used for a wide range of human and robotic earth-orbit and deep-space missions, including construction of a 60-ton LEO space station.  The smaller Long March 7 will be used for cargo missions to the space station according to the China Daily report.

Tianjin Long March Launch Vehicle Manufacturing Co. Ltd. is a subsidiary of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.  Chinese television CCTV broadcast a short segment in March showing the Long March 5 at the Tianjin facility.

Writing in Aerospace America in September 2013, Jim Oberg described the Tianjin facility based on information published by China's Xinhua news agency.  It covers 313.33 hectares with a 220,000 cubic meter assembly building for "launch vehicles, space stations, and 'special equipment' (presumably other large satellites)."  Phase One of construction was completed in February 2012, according to Oberg.

Chinese authorities are still investigating the cause of the explosions at a warehouse in Tianjin, a port city about 70 miles (110 kilometers) from Beijing, that killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds others.  Where the Long March production and test facilities are located relative to the site of the explosions is not clear. 

Trump: "I Want To Rebuild Our Infrastructure" Before Sending People to Mars

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Aug-2015 (Updated: 15-Aug-2015 06:49 PM)

Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said the idea of sending people to Mars is "wonderful," but "I want to rebuild our infrastructure first."  His demeanor suggested an even deeper skepticism.

Trump was holding a campaign rally at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire when a young man who identified himself as a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow in a joint MIT-Harvard Medical School program asked about putting humans on Mars.  He noted that Trump complains that the United States needs to have victories again, and in the aerospace industry "one of our biggest victories was putting man on the Moon."  

Trump agreed with that, but when the NASA Fellow continued with his question -- what did Trump think about sending humans to Mars -- Trump's opinion was displayed more by his body language and tone of voice than his words.  Shrugging and grimacing, he replied --

"Honestly, I think it's wonderful.  I want to rebuild our infrastructure first.  OK?  I think it's wonderful."  He then looked into the audience while pointing at the questioner dismissively.

The event was recorded by C-SPAN and the exchange can be seen in its entirety beginning at 47:29. 

Trump is the latest of the presidential candidates to express views about the space program.   

  • Jeb Bush: "I'm a space guy."  
  • Hillary Clinton: "I really, really do support the space program" and wanted to be an astronaut as a teenager.  
  • Ted Cruz offered his views on the strengths and weaknesses of two fictional Starship captains (Kirk and Picard) during a media interview.  More seriously, he has chaired hearings of his Senate Commerce subcommittee on Space, Science and Innovation where he expressed enthusiasm for commercial space and NASA's exploration programs, but does not think earth science should be a NASA priority.  A bill he sponsored, S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, recently passed the Senate.  Cruz said the bill carries forward "President Reagan's torch" by continuing to support commercial space.
  • Marco Rubio was a co-sponsor on S. 1297 and said at the time of its passage "we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs." He added that the bill would "make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space" and "help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before."

On the campaign trail so far, the space program has come up only in media interviews or town hall meetings like Trump's.   No space questions were asked at the first Republican presidential primary debates on August 6, either at the 5:00 pm ET "happy hour" debate or the 9:00 pm ET main debate.

During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidate Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, laid out bold goals for the space program, and he and Mitt Romney responded to questions about the space program in one of the televised debates.

 

Orbital Buys Second Atlas V for Cargo Launch, Antares Progressing to Return to Flight

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Aug-2015 (Updated: 12-Aug-2015 10:05 AM)

Orbital ATK revealed today that it has purchased a second Atlas V rocket to launch a Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  The company already planned to use Atlas V for a December launch and now will use a second in 2016 along with two or three launches of its revamped Antares rocket.  An October 2014  Antares failure was the first of three failed cargo launches to ISS in less than a year that disrupted cargo deliveries, although NASA insists that U.S. ISS operations are unaffected. 

The company plans to use an Atlas V to launch Cygnus in December 2015, the first Cygnus launch under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA since the October 2014 failure.   Today's press release said only "early December," but NASA officials have publicly stated that the launch is scheduled for December 3. Orbital ATK refers to it as the "OA-4" mission.  Two successful Antares/Cygnus CRS cargo missions were flown by Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orb-1 and Orb-2) before its merger with ATK earlier this year.  The third in the series, Orb-3, was the failure.

In 2016, Orbital ATK will carry out "at least three more CRS missions: two (or possibly three) will be launched by Antares rockets ... and one more will be launched aboard Atlas V," according to Orbital ATK Space Systems President Frank Culbertson. 

The Antares return-to-flight mission is expected in the first quarter of 2016 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island, VA.  Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said last week that repairs to the MARS facility, which is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, are almost complete.  Virginia Space, Orbital ATK and NASA are equally sharing the $15 million cost of the repairs.  McAuliffe said that a new arrangement has been negotiated with Orbital ATK regarding repair costs and insurance coverage for future missions.

The October 2014  Antares failure was caused by one of the Russian NK33 rocket engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26) and Orbital ATK is replacing them with a different Russian engine, RD-181.  Two engines are needed for each Antares rocket and Orbital ATK President and CEO David Thompson said during an investor teleconference last week that the engines were delivered in June and are being integrated into the Antares airframe now.  The retrofitted Antares will roll out to the pad in January for a "hot fire" engine test, Thompson added, although today's announcement said it could take place late this year or in January.  No announcement was made about exactly when the launch is planned, but March has been mentioned elsewhere.

Under the original CRS contract, Orbital ATK and its competitor, SpaceX, are each required to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the ISS by the end of 2016.   NASA awarded extensions to both companies' contracts to cover launches in 2017.  Thompson said last week that Orbital ATK was awarded two of them.  Orbital ATK has upgraded the Cygnus capsule so it can carry more mass so it anticipates that it can meet its contractual requirements using fewer launches than previously planned.

NASA and its ISS partners are recovering from a spate of cargo launch failures:  the October 28, 2014 Antares failure, a Russian Progress M-27M failure on April 28, 2015, and a SpaceX CRS-7 failure on June 28, 2015.   The Russians have since successfully launched another Progress.  A date for SpaceX Falcon 9 launches to resume has not been announced.

The next cargo mission to the ISS will be Japan's HTV5, which is scheduled for August 16, 2015.  Europe no longer launches its ATV cargo vehicle, so Japan's HTV, Russia's Progress, and the two U.S. capsules -- Orbital ATK's Cygnus and SpaceX's Dragon -- are the four vehicles used to deliver cargo at the present time.

GAO: Air Force Needs Incremental Approach to Launch Services Acquisition

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Aug-2015 (Updated: 11-Aug-2015 02:38 PM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said today that in this changing launch services environment, the Air Force needs to take it slow in planning competitive launch services procurements before committing to something without adequate knowledge.

The GAO looked at the Air Force's plan to acquire future launch services under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.   Since 2006, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) has been a monopoly in providing EELV launches using the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, but with the certification of SpaceX to offer EELV launch services in the future, a competitive environment has reemerged.

GAO explains that the Air Force currently acquires launch services from ULA under a cost-reimbursement, rather than fixed price, contract.  The cost-reimbursement contract requires ULA to give the Air Force cost and performance data that the Air Force can use to monitor contractor performance and identify risks that can affect schedule and cost.  In the new competitive environment, however, the Air Force plans to move to firm fixed price (FFP) contracts where that data will not be available.  That creates a good news, bad news situation where the price for launches may be less with FFP contracts, but the Air Force will have "significantly less insight into program costs and performance."  GAO also worries that FFP contracts will not give the Air Force the flexibility it needs to change launch schedules, noting that "satellite delays have historically been an issue..."

Added to that, the future of the competitive launch services industry is uncertain and "the ability of the domestic industry to sustain two or more providers in the long-term, while desirable, is unclear."

The recommendation, therefore, is to move slowly and not make commitments to future acquisition rounds until the Air Force has gained experience with the first one, now underway.  The Air Force should "use an incremental approach to the next acquisition strategy until data is available to make an informed decision." 

In a letter included as an appendix to the GAO report, DOD concurred: "The Air Force is implementing a phased approach to its EELV efforts, to include awarding launch services on a case by case basis."

GAO did the study in response to a congressional requirement in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act. 

 

What's Happening in Space Policy August 9-31, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Aug-2015 (Updated: 09-Aug-2015 01:10 PM)

With the relatively lazy days of summer upon us, the August weekly editions of "What's Happening" will cover multiple weeks.  The Senate has joined the House in recessing through Labor Day.  They return September 8.

During the Month

Some notable events have come to our attention since last week's edition.  John Sloan from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is the featured guest at the ISU-DC Space Cafe this Tuesday, August 11.  His topic is AST's international outreach, interesting in and of itself, but questions about AST's progress in responding to the NTSB's report on the SpaceShipTwo accident may also come up (though the answer may simply be that we all have to wait for the official response, which is due 90 days from when the report was received).

Another event that may be especially interesting is Thursday night's debate between Bas Lansdorp, President of Mars One, and two MIT graduate students (Sydney Do and Andrew Owens) who did a technical feasibility analysis of the plan that concluded it would have a "bleak outcome" as we wrote last fall.   The debate is part of the Mars Society's annual convention, which will be held at Catholic University in Washington, DC from August 13-16.  The Lansdorp/MIT debate is August 13 from 8:00-9:30 pm ET and is open to the public.

Coming up a week from Sunday is Japan's launch of HTV5, the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  We don't list routine cargo missions to ISS unless there is something non-routine going on and considering the recent failures of ISS cargo missions, HTV5 definitely qualifies.  NASA officials told the NASA Advisory Council at the end of July that some ISS supplies will be down to a 45-day margin by the time HTV5 launches on August 16.  NASA likes to maintain a 6-month margin.  The situation will be much improved once HTV5 arrives.  Launch is at 9:01 am Eastern Daylight Time (10:01 pm local time at the launch site in Tanegashima, Japan).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, August 9, are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 8-13

Monday, August 10

Tuesday, August 11

Thursday-Sunday, August 13-16

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

NASA Extends Contract for Russian Transport to ISS; Shireman is New ISS Program Manager

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Aug-2015 (Updated: 05-Aug-2015 11:56 PM)

NASA notified Congress by letter today that it has signed a contract with Russia for additional seats on Soyuz spacecraft to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).   The letter blamed congressional underfunding of the commercial crew program for the necessity to continue reliance on Russia.  The agency also announced a new ISS program manager, Kirk Shireman, who will succeed Mike Suffredini.

Saying that the new contract with Russia costs $490 million, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden stressed, as he has in many other forums, that U.S. crew transportation systems could have been in place this year if Congress had provided the requested funding and urged full funding this year. In the letter, he writes:  "I am asking that we put past disagreements behind us and focus our collective efforts on support for American industry -- Boeing and SpaceX -- to complete construction and certification of their crew vehicles" so launches can begin in 2017.

NASA is requesting $1.244 billion for commercial crew in FY2016.  The House approved $1.000 billion in its version of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that passed in June.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $900 million in its version of the bill, which has not been debated by the full Senate yet.  (See our fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information.)

President Obama announced the commercial crew program as part of the FY2011 budget request in February 2010.  Each year, Congress has approved less than the request because of competing budget priorities, skepticism that the commercial crew program will succeed technically and/or financially, and disagreement over how many companies NASA needed to support during the various phases of development. The request versus congressional funding so far are:

  • FY2011: requested $500 million, appropriated $321 million
  • FY2012: requested $850 million, appropriated $406 million
  • FY2013: requested $830 million. appropriated $525 million
  • FY2014: requested $821 million, appropriated $696 million
  • FY2015: requested $848 million, appropriated $805 million
  • FY2016: requested $1.244 billion, appropriated TBD ($1.0 billion passed by House; $900 million recommended by Senate Appropriations Committee).

NASA pays Russia for "seats" on Soyuz spacecraft, a term that encompasses other services such as training, and includes launch, landing, and emergency escape ("lifeboat") capabilities while in orbit.  This contract is for 6 more seats on flights in 2018.  That yields a price per seat of about $81 million, up from $76 million for 2017.  One of Bolden's complaints is that the money should be going to American companies, not Russian.  NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said in congressional testimony in February that the average price per seat for U.S. commercial crew systems will be $56 million.

Boeing and SpaceX were selected for the final phase of NASA's commercial crew program last year.  The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts cover completion of development and initial flights of Boeing's CST-100 capsule aboard Atlas V rockets and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule aboard Falcon 9 rockets.  The impact of the June 28 Falcon 9 failure while launching a robotic cargo version of Dragon to ISS is not yet known.  SpaceX has not announced when the next Falcon 9 launch will take place or what it will carry.  Falcon 9 is used today not only for cargo missions to the ISS for NASA, but launches of commercial satellites for a number of customers.

Meanwhile, Mike Suffredini, who has managed the ISS program for the past 10 years, is retiring from NASA to take a position in the private sector.  NASA announced today that he will be succeeded by Kirk Shireman, who is currently Deputy Director of Johnson Space Center.  Suffredini has been ISS program manager since 2005 and saw the ISS through recovery from the 2003 Columbia space shuttle tragedy, completion of construction in 2011 (the same year the space shuttle program ended), and the first years of full operational capability.  Shireman was Suffredini's deputy for eight of those years (2006-2013).

Will Space Be A Topic at Thursday's Republican Presidential Primary Debate? - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Aug-2015 (Updated: 07-Aug-2015 12:04 PM)

UPDATE, August 7, 2015:   No space policy questions arose at the debate.

ORIGINAL STORY, August 5, 2015:  The 10 Republican presidential candidates who will debate each other in prime time on Thursday were selected by Fox News on Tuesday based on an average of five national polls.  Among them are former Florida governor Jeb Bush who recently said he is "a space guy," and Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), both of whom made statements yesterday in support of Senate passage of a commercial space bill.  While space activities rarely rise to the fore in presidential primary debates, it did happen in 2012. Perhaps it will this time, too.

Cruz is the sponsor of S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which passed the Senate yesterday (August 4).  Rubio of one of four cosponsors.

Following Senate passage, Cruz invoked the memory of President Ronald Reagan, saying the bill carried forward "President Reagan's torch" by continuing to support commercial space. The original Commercial Space Launch Act was enacted during Reagan's presidency.  In addition to provisions dealing directly with commercial space launch issues, the bill also extends the U.S. commitment to operating the International Space Station to 2024.   Reagan initiated the space station program in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  Cruz also tied the bill to his home state interests, saying that it demonstrates Texas has a "major stake in space exploration" and Johnson Space Center employees "will continue to play a vital role in the future" of human spaceflight.   Cruz has also made clear his support for space exploration during Senate hearings, arguing that exploration of space, not studying the earth, should be NASA's priority.

One provision of S. 1297 extends through 2020 the "learning period" during which the FAA cannot issue additional commercial human spaceflight regulations.  Sometimes called a "moratorium," it is set to expire on September 30, 2015.  The idea is that the commercial human spaceflight industry needs time to gain experience before decisions are  made on what, if any, more regulation is needed.

It may be that provision Rubio was referring to in his statement that "we need to eliminate unnecessary regulations that cost too much and make it harder for American innovators to create jobs."  He added that the reforms in the bill will "make it easier for our innovators to return Americans to suborbital space" and "help the American space industry continue pushing further into space than ever before."  Like Cruz and other Senators who commented on the bill, he tied it to home state interests calling it "an important win for Florida's space exploration community."

For his part, Bush championed an increase in NASA funding during an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader in Manchester, NH, enthusing that "I'm a space guy."

People were allowed to send in questions to Fox News that they want the candidates to answer.  At least one is about space policy.   Michael Listner, founder and principal of Space Law & Policy Solutions in New Hampshire, tweeted today that he submitted one.

Whether or not it or any other space policy question gets asked is problematical, of course. The two-hour debate has 10 candidates and three co-moderators.  How many questions can be reasonably asked and answered in that time span with so many participants will be interesting to watch.  The debate airs on Fox News Channel and is being conducted in partnership with Facebook.  It is being held in Cleveland, Ohio.

The 10 candidates who made the cut to be in the prime time debate at 9:00 pm EDT are (in order of their standing in the polls yesterday from highest to lowest):

  • Donald Trump (billionaire businessman)
  • Jeb Bush (former Florida governor)
  • Scott Walker (current Wisconsin governor)
  • Mike Huckabee (former Arkansas governor)
  • Ben Carson (commentator and retired neurosurgeon)
  • Ted Cruz (Senator from Texas)
  • Marco Rubio (Senator from Florida)
  • Rand Paul (Senator from Kentucky)
  • Chris Christie (current New Jersey governor)
  • John Kasich (current Ohio governor)

Seven other Republican presidential candidates who ranked lower in the polls will appear in a separate one-hour debate at 5:00 pm EDT.  They are:

  • Rick Perry (former Texas governor)
  • Rick Santorum (former Senator from Pennsylvania)
  • Bobby Jindal (current Louisiana governor)
  • Carly Fiorina (former CEO of Hewlett Packard)
  • Lindsey Graham (Senator from South Carolina)
  • George Pataki (former New York governor)
  • Jim Gilmore (former Virginia governor)

During the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, candidate Newt Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, laid out bold goals for the space program, and he and Mitt Romney responded to questions about the space program in one of the televised debates.

Senate Passes Commercial Space Bill, Extends ISS to 2024

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2015 (Updated: 05-Aug-2015 01:09 AM)

The Senate passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, S. 1297, today (August 4) by unanimous consent.  The broadly cast bill not only deals with several issues directly related to commercial space launch, but also extends operation of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2024.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, was approved by the committee on May 20 and formally reported from committee on July 22.  Cosponsors include Republican Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Democrats Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).  

Cruz said the bill carries forward "President Reagan's torch" by making a commitment to continued support of the commercial space sector.   The original Commercial Space Launch Act was enacted in 1984 during Reagan's presidency.   It also extends the U.S. commitment to ISS operations through 2024.   President Reagan initiated the space station program in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  Cruz also tied the legislation to Texas interests, noting that it "recognizes that Texas has a major stake in space exploration" and the ISS commitment signifies that Johnson Space Center employees "will continue to play a vital role in the future" of human spaceflight.

Nelson, the top Democrat on the full committee, said the bill will "help clear the way for the commercial space companies to grow and thrive on Florida's Space Coast and across the nation" and help "with our push to explore Mars."

In addition to the extension of ISS to 2024, the bill --

  • extends to 2020 the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight whereby the FAA cannot promulgate new regulations except under certain circumstances (sometimes called a "moratorium," it currently expires on September 30, 2015);
  • extends FAA's authority to indemnify commercial space launch companies from third party liability claims for certain amounts of money until 2020 (current authority expires on December 31, 2016);
  • establishes a new "Government Astronaut" category of passenger on commercial spaceflights separate from crew and spaceflight participants;
  • asks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with NASA and other government agencies, to assess and recommend approaches for the oversight of commercial space activities; and
  • asks for a report on how to streamline the process for obtaining licenses and permits for innovative launch vehicles, such as hybrids that use both aircraft and rockets.

The House passed a related bill, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, H.R. 2622, on May 21.  There are many differences between the House and Senate bills, and the House bill passed against strong Democratic objections, but there also are similarities providing a basis for conference discussions.

President Obama decided last year that the United States would continue operations of ISS to 2024, but current law says only that it will operate "at least through 2020."  That does not preclude operations beyond 2020, but some argue that the later date should also be stated in law.   Canada and Russia have agreed with the proposal to continue operations through 2024; Japan and Europe have not done so yet.

Muted Response from Critics as State Department Prepares for Space Talks with China

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2015 (Updated: 03-Aug-2015 01:09 AM)

Five weeks ago, the State Department announced agreement on a U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue that will begin in October, a short three months from now.  With all the hyperbole that usually surrounds discussions of U.S.-China space cooperation, a firestorm of outrage from critics and exuberance from advocates might have been expected, but the reaction has been almost nonexistent.

The muted response from critics is all the more surprising since the State Department’s announcement came in the midst of news that China hacked into the Office of Personnel Management’s computer system, stealing data on more than 22 million current and former government employees and their relatives.

Indeed the State Department issued a press release listing a total of 127 “outcomes” – of which the civil space dialogue is only one – from bilateral talks between the two countries held on June 22-24.  Underscoring the complexities of diplomacy, the United States is castigating China on the cybersecurity front while agreeing to engage on many other fronts.

The State Department is preparing for the first civil space dialogue meeting at the end of October in China.   Kia Henry, a State Department spokesperson, said that all discussions will comply with U.S. laws and regulations.  The State Department will chair the discussions with “support from NASA, the FAA, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey and DoD.”  Henry said they will consider environmental and scientific satellite data exchanges and spaceflight safety issues such as satellite collision avoidance.

NASA is prohibited by law from engaging in bilateral activities with China unless authorized by Congress or 30 days advance certification is provided to Congress that such engagement poses “no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications” and does not involve known violators of human rights.

Kia said that it is NASA’s responsibility to submit the required certification.

Former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a strong critic of China for many reasons, including human rights, was largely responsible for creating that prohibition several years ago and continuing it in subsequent appropriations act.  He chaired the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and is now retired, but his successor, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) holds similar views and continued the prohibition in the FY2016 CJS bill that passed the House in June.

SpacePolicyOnline’s attempts over the past two weeks to obtain a reaction to the State Department's announcement from Culberson, however, were unsuccessful.

Outside of Congress, the most outspoken critics of potential U.S.-China space cooperation do not appear to have publicly commented either (SpacePolicyOnline.com’s repeated attempts to contact one of them also yielded no results.)  Eric Sterner, a Fellow at the Marshall Institute, however, offered his views in a July 27 op-ed published by Space News.  While agreeing that a dialogue could be valuable in areas such as collision avoidance, debris mitigation and science, he sees “little compelling reason for those discussions to evolve into civil space cooperation.”  He disagreed with those who argue that cooperating in space leads to better geopolitical relationships on Earth, noting that Russia’s participation in the International Space Station did not dissuade its leaders from invading Ukraine.

A leading advocate of cooperation praised the decision.  Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College who has written books about the Chinese space program, told SpacePolicyOnline.com that the congressional ban “largely serves domestic political goals” and the State Department’s announcement seems to be a ‘recognition that in geopolitics, dialogue is always better than no dialogue.”  She added that working with China on a space science project, for example, would allow the United States “to learn more about their decision making processes” and standard operating procedures, a “not inconsequential benefit.”

A key point will come in September when the House returns from its August recess and NASA submits the 30-day advance certification.  Congress will be busy on other issues, like trying to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating, and perhaps the topics planned for this first civil space dialogue are sufficiently non-controversial that the certification will be accepted perfunctorily.   Still, for all the rancor that the issue has engendered in the past, and the timing of the announcement amid accusations of Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. government databases, the subdued reaction is remarkable.

What's Happening In Space Policy August 3-31, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Aug-2015 (Updated: 02-Aug-2015 01:01 PM)

It's summer vacation time so our list of upcoming space policy related events is rather sparse.  Therefore we are listing everything we know about for the entire month of August rather than just one week.  The Senate will be in session this week before it heads out on its summer recess; the House left town last week.  Both will return on September 8. 

During the Month

The Senate still has one more week to go before it recesses for its summer break.  It plans to focus on efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, which is not a space policy issue per se, but there is worry that it could derail the Continuing Resolution (CR) that Congress will need to pass before October 1 to  keep the government operating.  There is no expectation that any of the 12 regular appropriations bills will clear Congress by then, so either a CR must be enacted or there will be a government shutdown.  You can check your favorite news sources to get up to date on the Planned Parenthood controversy, but the bottom line for the space program is that Republicans have seized on the issue to prevent any government funds from going to the non-profit organization.  Democrats have said they will try to block any such effort and the White House said the President would veto any legislation to defund it.  If the CR includes such language, and the President vetoes it ... well, that means no funding for DOD, NASA, or NOAA either.  It's a high stakes game and impossible to guess the outcome.

Apart from that, there is an outside chance the Senate could pass S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.  It was reported from the Senate Commerce Committee on July 22. The bill is thought to be non-controversial, but its lead sponsor is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who recently took to the floor of the Senate in front of the C-SPAN cameras to castigate the Senate Majority Leader, calling him a liar.  The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), controls what bills are brought up so he might not be inclined to bring up one sponsored by Cruz, but then again, it is always difficult to predict what will happen in Congress. (Even fellow Republicans felt Cruz went too far, especially since there's a Senate rule that one Senator will not impugn the integrity of another Senator on the Senate floor.  They showed their displeasure this week, denying Cruz a routine request for a "sufficient second" for a roll call vote on a procedural matter.  Some also disputed Cruz's account of what McConnell had said. These sorts of intra-party disputes are usually kept private.)

For those who are curious, by the way, the House and Senate may meet in "pro forma" sessions during August (or anytime), but no legislative activity takes place at those times.  The idea is to prevent the President from making "recess appointments," which he is allowed to do when Congress is in recess for more than three days.  So the House and Senate schedule pro forma sessions where only one Member or Senator must walk into the chamber and gavel it into and out of session so it is not legally in recess for an extended period.

Not on our list of events because space policy is unlikely to arise as an issue, but perhaps of interest anyway, is Thursday's Fox News Republican presidential debate.  If you've lost count, there are 17 Republicans running for President.  Those that rank in the top 10 based on an average of 5 national polls on Tuesday (Fox has not said which national polls it will use) will be on stage together at 9:00 pm ET.  The others will have a separate opportunity earlier in the evening (5:00 pm ET). Check your local TV listings for what channel it will be on in your area.

The rest of month is relatively quiet.  The events we know about as of Sunday (August 2) morning are listed below.

Monday-Tuesday, August 3-4

Wednesday-Thursday, August 5-6

Thursday, August 6

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

Events of Interest

Full calendar of future events (with filters)-click here »


 

Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: