Latest News

What's Happening in Space Policy August 8-26, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Aug-2016 (Updated: 07-Aug-2016 10:46 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 8-26, 2016, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Weeks

It may be the dog days of August, but after a one-week respite, there's a lot happening, starting with the Small Satellite Conference in Utah.  It actually began yesterday with a 2-day pre-conference workshop that is being livestreamed.  It's not clear from the meeting's website whether the Monday-Thursday sessions also will be available that way.  Lots of creative ideas will be discussed, no doubt, at this, its 30th anniversary. Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) from Space News is on site tweeting if there's no livestream or you don't have time to listen in.

Last week we laid out all the meetings through August 19 that we knew about at the time.  They are all still posted on our Events of Interest list and in the summary below.  In this section, we will focus on August 22-26, a week that wasn't included last time.

At the top of the list is the scheduled return to flight of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket on August 22 from Wallops Island, VA.  It's a daytime launch (5:59 pm ET) so won't be as visible from surrounding areas as the night launches, but still could be viewable from the D.C. area (depending on the weather).  Orbital ATK often posts maps of where to look and we will add links to them to our calendar entry when they're available.  As anyone who follows space launches knows, plans can always change for technical or weather reasons.  We'll update our calendar entry with any news we get.  (Orbital ATK will discuss its 2Q 2016 financial results this Wednesday; more information may be provided at that time.) This is the first flight of the re-engined Antares (now using new Russian RD-181s instead of refurbished Russian NK-33/AJ26s) following the October 28, 2014 failure.  Orbital ATK has launched two Cygnus cargo spacecraft on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets in the meantime.  They were designated OA-4 and OA-6; this one is OA-5 and, as one may guess, was originally intended to launch in between those two, but was delayed.

If the Small Satellite Conference piques your curiosity with all those new ideas, another place to hear fresh views is the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) symposium.  It will be held August 23-25 in Raleigh, NC and will be livestreamed.

On August 24, the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) is hosting a luncheon with Rep. Chris Van Hollen that may be particularly interesting. He is widely expected to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring at the end of this year.  Van Hollen won the Democratic primary (against Rep. Donna Edwards) earlier this year.  He faces Republican Kathy Szeliga in November, but Democrats have held both Maryland Senate seats since 1986 and therefore is expected to win.  His views on the space program are not well known, so this will give the space community an opportunity to hear directly from him.  Mikulski is one of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, especially for earth science and other programs executed at Goddard Space Flight Center, so the extent to which her successor shares those views is important.   Whatever his views, though, he'll be a freshman in a system that thrives on seniority and it will take some time before he can attain Mikulski's influence, especially on the all-important Senate Appropriations Committee. She chaired the committee when Democrats controlled the Senate and is now the top Democrat there.  (For those interested in such matters, usually the highest ranking committee or subcommittee member of the party that is not in power is referred to as the "ranking member."  On Senate Appropriations, though, it has become common to designate that person as the "vice chairman" or "vice chairwoman" in a nod to bipartisanship, so Mikulski is currently vice chairwoman of the committee.)

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday (August 7) morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for events that we learn about later and add to the Events of Interest list.

Saturday-Thursday, August 6-11

Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9

Tuesday, August 9

Wednesday, August 10

Thursday-Friday, August 11-12

Monday, August 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Thursday, August 18

Friday, August 19

Monday, August 22

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24


Note:  This article was updated to add the August 19 spacewalk and the preview press conference on August 15.  It was later corrected with the name of Van Hollen's Republican opponent, who is Kathy Szeliga, not Katie McGinty.

Moon Express Receives USG Approval for Lunar Lander

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2016 (Updated: 03-Aug-2016 09:18 AM)

Moon Express announced today that it has received approval from the U.S. Government (USG) to land its small spacecraft on the Moon, the first time the government has authorized a private sector company to conduct operations on another celestial body.  Moon Express plans to launch its MX-1 lander by the end of 2017.

In an interview yesterday, Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards praised the willingness of the several government agencies involved to find a path to approving his company's application.   Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities, like companies.    The Department of Transportation regulates launch and reentry through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA),  the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the use of radio frequencies for satellites, and the Department of Commerce regulates commercial remote sensing satellites through NOAA, but no agency has yet been appointed to oversee other private sector activities in space.

The issue was addressed in last year's Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness  Act by requiring the White House to propose a solution.  The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy submitted its recommendation in April that the Department of Transportation be designated as the agency to grant "mission authorizations" to companies that want to send spacecraft to other places in the solar system, but no further action has been taken to date.

Moon Express wants to launch its spacecraft by December 2017, however, and could not wait for the matter to be resolved through the Washington political process.   It has raised $30 million of the $55 million it requires, Richards said, but needed certainty that the spacecraft would be allowed to be launched in order to raise the remaining $25 million.  It therefore decided to use the FAA's existing authority to conduct payload reviews as part of its launch licensing process and make voluntary disclosures to other government agencies, such as the State Department, in order to obtain the necessary approval.

Richards said the FAA approved the spacecraft for launch in a July 20, 2016 letter following consultations with other government agencies.

He added that the license is only for this launch and does not set a precedent for other launches either by Moon Express or other companies.   MX-1 is a lander and will not be involved in extracting or utilizing lunar resources, although the company has long term plans for such activities.

Moon Express plans to launch the spacecraft on Rocket Lab's Electron launch vehicle, which is still in development and has not yet conducted any test flights.  Richards said the spacecraft's payload review is separate from the launch license review Rocket Lab will go through and remains valid even if plans change and Moon Express decides to use a different rocket.

Rocket Lab plans to launch Electron from a launch site in New Zealand, but has agreed to obtain launch licenses through the U.S. regulatory system, Richards said.

Moon Express is one of the competitors in the $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize, whose rules currently require that contestants launch their spacecraft by the end of 2017.  Richards said that the Google Lunar X-Prize is not the only reason the company wants to send spacecraft to the Moon.  The company has a long term plan to utilize lunar resources.  Its website calls the Moon "the eighth continent" and co-founder and Chairman Naveen Jain said in a press release that "in 15 years the Moon will be an important part of the Earth's economy and potentially second home.  Imagine that."

Moon Express submitted its application to the FAA on April 8, 2016, although it had engaged in discussions with various government agencies for several months prior to "socialize" the idea of using the FAA's payload review process, augmented by voluntary disclosures to other agencies, as the regulatory mechanism for obtaining approval.  Richards estimated it took a total of about 7 months.

Advocates of designating a single agency like DOT to be responsible for mission authorizations argue that it will be easier for companies to obtain such approvals by having a single point of entry into the government system -- "one stop shopping."   DOT presumably would delegate the responsibility to the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), which would then interface with the rest of the government on the company's behalf.  AST has the dual roles of both regulating and facilitating  commercial space launch and reentry services.  This would expand that responsibility to commercial in-space activities, not just getting to and from space.

The Moon Express press release says this is the first time a commercial company has been authorized to operate beyond Earth's orbit.  While that may be a useful colloquial description to distinguish between traditional operations in the low Earth orbit - geostationary orbit envelope, the Moon is itself, of course, in Earth orbit.  So this is still an earth orbital activity, just at a much greater distance and involves landing on the Moon, a new realm for the private sector.

Moon Express is one of three companies selected by NASA for its Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) program that involves no-exchange-of-funds agreements that allow companies to have access to NASA technical expertise and facilities.  The other two are Astrobotic and Masten Space Systems.

Of the 29 teams that originally entered the Google Lunar X-Prize competition, 16 remain, but three are top contenders for potentially winning the $30 million prize, two American (Moon Express and Astrobotic) and one Israeli (SpaceIL).

They are not the only private sector companies interested in activities on the Moon or elsewhere in the solar system.  For example, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries want to mine asteroids and SpaceX plans to send a robotic spacecraft, Red Dragon, to Mars in 2018 as a first step in expansive plans to send humans there.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 1-19, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jul-2016 (Updated: 31-Jul-2016 12:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 1-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Weeks

Whew!  The conventions are over.  Congress is in recess.  It's vacation time!  For one week, at least.

There is nothing on our space policy events calendar for this week, though we are keeping an eye on NASA to see if they issue an announcement about the results of the July 15 Key Decision Point-B (KDP-B) review of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).   NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a NASA Advisory Council meeting last week that the decision memorandum would be out this week or next. He said that cost growth in the program was forcing NASA to decide whether to accept the increased cost estimate or reduce program content to keep it at the originally promised $1.25 billion level.

Apart from that, one has to look all the way to Saturday for the next event of interest -- the annual Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University.  This is USU's 30th conference on a topic that is all the rage today, but three decades ago was of only modest interest.  It is aptly entitled "Pioneering an Industry."

Also of special interest during this time period is a presentation by the European Union's (EU's) Jean-Luc Bald, First Secretary for Space for the EU's delegation to the United States.  He will speak at an International Space University-DC alumni chapter "space cafe" on August 9.  (Note the new location for these ISU-DC space cafes -- Brixton, 901 U Street, NW -- instead of The Science Club on 19th Street, which closed in March.)  Inquiring minds want to know what if any aerospace-related impact will result from the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU, including future UK participation in EU space programs (Galileo and Copernicus).  Should be an interesting conversation.

Personally we're feeling a little overdosed with NASA advisory committee meetings after last week, but for those who can't get enough, the NAC Heliophysics Committee meets August 8-9 at NASA HQ in Washington and the Outer Planets Assessment Group will get together in Flagstaff August 11-12.  The heliophysics meeting will be available remotely through WebEx/telecom; the OPAG website doesn't say one way or the other.  Also on the planetary science side of things, the National Academies study committee that's reviewing NASA's Planetary Science Division's new Research & Analysis (R&A) structure holds its second meeting on August 16-18.  It will be at the Keck Center in Washington, DC.

On a completely different front, the annual Space & Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville is coming up August 16-18.  There is a resurgence of interest (in Congress, at least) in using space-based weapons platforms as part of a layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.  Last year's National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-92, Sec. 1685)) required the Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to begin concept definition of a "space-based ballistic missile intercept layer" providing a "boost-phase layer for missile defense" or "additional defensive options against direct ascent anti-satellite weapons, hypersonic glide vehicles, and maneuvering reentry vehicles."  The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) doubled down on that in this year's bill (H.R. 4909/S. 2943). The House version, for example, requires the MDA Director to begin planning "for concept definition, design, research, development, engineering evaluation and test of a space-based ballistic missile intercept and defeat layer" and "for the research, development, test and evaluation activities with respect to a space test bed for a missile interceptor capability."   The idea of space-based BMD weapons platforms was studied extensively during the Reagan Administration's "Star Wars" era, but cost and technical feasibility issues moved them to the back burner. The Obama Administration is not persuaded that much has changed.  It issued a veto threat against H.R. 4909 and that provision was cited as one of the reasons.  In any case, the Huntsville conference could be particularly interesting this year.  MDA Director VADM James Syring will speak on Wednesday morning (August 17).   There's no indication if it will be livestreamed.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, July 31, are shown below.   Check back throughout the weeks for other events we learn about later and add to the Events of Interest list.

Saturday-Thursday, August 6-11

Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9

Tuesday, August 9

Thursday-Friday, August 11-12

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Thursday, August 18


Elsevier Releases Special Tribute Issue of Space Policy Journal to Honor Molly Macauley

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jul-2016 (Updated: 29-Jul-2016 12:36 AM)

Elsevier, publisher of the quarterly journal Space Policy, has released a special issue of the journal to honor Molly Macauley, who was murdered on July 8.  Macauley was a member of the journal's editorial board and authored or co-authored 14 articles for it over the years.  The special issue makes those articles available for free and offers tributes from 25 of her space policy colleagues and friends.

The Virtual Special Issue is posted on Elsevier's Space Policy website.   Macauley's articles can be read or downloaded for free until the end of 2016.  The most recent was a co-authored paper published in 2013: Policy for Robust Space-Based Earth Science, Technology and Applications.

Macauley was an economist who spent most of her career at Resources for the Future (RFF), a Washington-based think tank focused on environmental issues.  Before joining RFF in 1983, she was a policy analyst at the Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT).  She was one of the few economists who specialized in satellites and the space program, especially earth science and applications from space.   She was murdered while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore, MD.  The police continue to investigate.

A celebration of life service was held in Baltimore on July 23 and RFF plans a memorial service in Washington, DC in September (details pending).

Editor's Note:   I am the North American editor of Space Policy and was privileged to help pull together the special issue for Molly, whom I knew for more than 30 years.   The special issue includes some personal photos of Molly from colleagues.  I provided one of them and have decided to post it here, too, as a happy memory at a sad time.  In 1995, 10 of us women in the Washington space policy community decided to meet for afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington, VA -- wearing hats.  The idea was inspired by Eilene Galloway (1906-2009) and her delightful collection from the era when ladies wore hats.  It was such fun and the photo is a wonderful way to remember Molly.

Front row (L-R):   Kate Kronmiller (with son Rory in stroller and Rory's "frog king" in hand) and Eilene Galloway.
Back row (L-R):  Marcia Smith, Margaret Roberts, Jessie Harris, Molly Macauley, June Edwards, Kathleen Ryan (holding daughter Sarah), JoAnn Clayton Townsend, and Angela Phillips Diaz.  Photo courtesy of Marcia Smith.  All rights reserved.

GAO Warns about SLS, EGS and Orion Cost and Schedule Concerns

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jul-2016 (Updated: 28-Jul-2016 02:22 AM)

In a pair of new reports, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns about the costs and schedules for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Orion spacecraft, the three components of its Exploration Systems Development program.  SLS and EGS cost and schedule reserves are low enough to imperil the November 2018 commitment date for the SLS first launch, GAO concludes in one report.   In the other, it asserts that cost and schedule estimates for Orion failed to meet more than half of the "best practices" for creating such estimates, making them unreliable. 

In the first report, NASA Human Space Exploration: Opportunity Nears to Reassess Launch Vehicle and Ground Systems Cost and Schedule, GAO looked at two components of the program:  SLS and EGS.  The latter are the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center needed to support SLS and Orion. The congressional watchdog agency is primarily concerned with cost and schedule reserves to deal with known and unknown risks as the programs move forward. 

The SLS program "has not positioned itself well to provide accurate assessments of core stage progress--including forecasting impending schedule delays, cost overruns, and anticipated costs at completion--because at the time of our review it did not anticipate having the baseline to support full reporting on the core stage contract until summer 2016--some 4.5 years after NASA awarded the contract."

As for EGS, constrained cost and schedule reserves threaten the November 2018 launch readiness goal and a scheduled integrated design review (IDR) will "have limited discussion of cost and schedule."  GAO recommended that NASA "reevaluate cost and schedule reserves" as part of the IDR.  The GAO report was released July 27, but apparently was written earlier since it refers to the IDR, scheduled for June 2016, as planned for the future.

A separate "build-to-synchronization" review of how all three elements of the program -- SLS, Orion and EGS --will come together for the first launch, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), is planned for the summer of 2016 and GAO wants NASA to use that as an opportunity to realistically assess whether November 2018 is achievable.  "NASA does not have to meet a specific schedule window for its launch date as it often does with planetary missions. As a result, NASA is in the position of being able to make an informed decision about what is a realistic launch readiness date." 

The second report, Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle: Action Needed to Improve Visibility into Cost, Schedule, and Capacity to Resolve Technical Challenges, concludes that NASA's cost and schedule estimates for the Orion program are "not reliable based on best practices for producing high quality estimates."  

"GAO found that the Orion cost estimate met or substantially met 7 of 20 best practices and its schedule estimate met or substantially met 1 of 8 best practices.  For example, the cost estimate lacked necessary support and the schedule estimate did not include the level of detail required for high quality estimates."

EM-1 will launch an uncrewed version of Orion.  The first Orion with a crew is scheduled for EM-2.  NASA provided cost and schedule estimates for Orion following its Key Decision Point-C (KDP-C) review last year, a milestone at which the agency commits to a baseline cost and schedule against which the program will be measured by Congress and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  KDP-C reviews use a Joint Confidence Level (JCL) process to set the cost and schedule with a 70 percent confidence level meaning there is a 70 percent chance that it will come in on that cost and schedule and a 30 percent chance that it will not.

Following the KDP-C review, NASA committed to launching EM-2 in April 2023, a 20-month slip from its original plan, with a cost estimate of $11.3 billion.  It was the JCL used for the KDP-C review that GAO found did not meet many of the best practices needed for reliable estimates.

Although NASA committed to launching EM-2 in 2023, the agency continues to work towards an internal deadline of August 2021, the original date, with a cost estimate of $10.8 billion.  GAO reports that cost and schedule estimate has only a 40 percent confidence level and NASA is focused on it despite NASA's own policy "that funding for program internal goals ... in no case [be] less than the equivalent of a 50 percent confidence level."   In addition, NASA is requesting funding at the level to meet the April 2023 date and relying "on Congress to appropriate more funds than requested to stay on its internal Orion schedule" which may be "unrealistic."

GAO cites a number of challenges facing the Orion program, including late delivery of the spacecraft's Service Module for EM-1 (the uncrewed test flight), which is being provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), and notes that formal agreement has not yet been reached with ESA on the Service Module for EM-2.  ESA is providing the EM-1 Service Module not under contract to NASA, but as part of a barter arrangement involving the NASA-ESA partnership in the International Space Station program.  The EM-2 Service Module is an option under the barter arrangement, but formal agreement is not expected until December 2016. Orion program officials are tracking the EM-2 service module "as one of the largest cost risks facing the program," potentially $200 million, GAO asserts.

Other risks in the Orion program are the use of Orbital Maneuvering System engines from the space shuttle program that need to be re-qualified since the Orion operating environment is quite different from the shuttle's; heatshield design; software development and testing; a "bow wave" of deferred work; and potential cost overruns by Orion's prime contractor, Lockheed Martin. GAO states the prime contractor is "falling behind schedule, and work is costing more than originally estimated."  GAO concluded that Orion "faces a potential cost overrun of between $258 million and $707 million through the end of the current contract in December 2020," although Orion program officials told GAO there are sufficient reserves to cover that cost growth.  GAO warns, however, that some of those reserves may be needed to cover cost growth from other risks.

GAO recommended that NASA update its JCL analysis using best practices and perform an analysis of the cost of deferred work.  In written comments included in the report, NASA responded that it regularly reviews Orion performance metrics and an updated JCL analysis is not warranted, but agreed to look at the cost of deferred work.

Senators Want Continuity for NASA's Exploration Program

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jul-2016 (Updated: 09-Aug-2016 10:36 AM)

A recent Senate committee hearing focused on how to ensure that the human spaceflight program avoids another dramatic change when a new President takes office next year as it did in 2009. While most of the hearing dealt with maintaining the status quo amid political change, one witness, Mike Gold of SSL, looked more to the future and the need for a synergistic relationship between government and private sector space activities.

The hearing before the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on July 13 was chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).  This was only the third space hearing he had called since becoming subcommittee chairman last year. summarized his February 24, 2015 hearing on human spaceflight and commercial space and his March 12, 2015 hearing on NASA's FY2016 budget request.

Joining him were the top Democrat on the subcommittee, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), the top Democrat on the full committee Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and subcommittee member Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who introduced Gold, a Montana native.

Peters and Nelson explicitly said they want to pass a new NASA authorization bill before the end of the Congress, and Cruz inferred it by saying that the subcommittee wants to provide NASA with security and stability and he would work with Peters to achieve that.  Nelson made clear that he wants to extend the lifetime of the International Space Station (ISS) to the end of the decade, instead of the current U.S. commitment of 2024.

The last NASA authorization bill was passed in 2010.  Its policy provisions remain in force, but its funding recommendations covered only through FY2013.  The House passed a bipartisan 2015 NASA authorization bill by voice vote in February 2015, but the Senate has not taken it up or introduced an alternative.  (A 2016-2017 NASA authorization act was approved by the House Science, Space, and Technology committee on a party-line vote last year; no further action has occurred.)

One known area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is NASA’s earth science program.  Democrats strongly support it while Republicans argue that NASA should focus on exploration and other agencies should be responsible for studying Earth. Time is running short for passing anything other than appropriations bills, but if all parties on both sides of Capitol Hill can reach agreement, it is certainly possible to get a bill passed by the end of the year.

The goal of passing a bill that codifies congressional intent on the future of the human spaceflight program is to try and avoid the disruption that occurred when President Obama cancelled the George W. Bush Administration's Constellation program to return humans to the Moon by 2020 and then go on to Mars.  Cruz wanted to know what lessons were learned from the cancellation of Constellation and the consequences if the current Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion programs were similarly cancelled.

Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, emphasized that the situation today is quite different because so much progress has been made on SLS and Orion, which are only two years away from their first launch.  Cancelling them would have the same "dire" effect as terminating Constellation.  "There's a passion that sits below us and when you cancel a program ... for seemingly a trivial reason, that is very devastating to our workforce and that can have huge implications to this nation, to our culture, to our psyche, and to our world leadership.”

Constellation was cancelled for complex political and budgetary reasons that few in the space policy community would characterize as trivial, but he may have been expressing his perception of the workforce’s viewpoint.  In any case, he said he hopes the situation is not repeated.

Mary Lynne Dittmar, Executive Director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, cautioned against the negative consequences of cancelling programs for companies, especially small businesses.  A lack of “constancy of purpose” could “kill small companies,” many of which are members of the Coalition, she said.  Purdue University Professor Dan Dumbacher, a former NASA deputy associate administrator for exploration, similarly called for “continuity of purpose and execution” in order to “avoid loss of momentum.”

Mark Sirangleo, Vice President, Space Systems Group at Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) praised the public-private partnership (PPP) model that NASA is using for the commercial cargo and commercial crew programs.   Although SNC did not win one of the two commercial crew contracts (SpaceX and Boeing were the winners), its Dream Chaser spacecraft did recently win one of three CRS2 commercial cargo contracts (along with SpaceX and Orbital ATK).

Gold, who spent a decade as head of Washington operations for Bigelow Aerospace before moving to SSL earlier this year, went further in his enthusiasm for the PPP model and using it to transform low Earth orbit (LEO).  “The future of LEO remains squarely on the shoulders of the private sector,” he argued, since the government is unlikely to build a replacement for the ISS.   The challenge is to create private sector demand.  He believes the solution is in-orbit satellite manufacturing and satellite servicing.  The geostationary communications satellite industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year, he said, so NASA and the private sector should “follow the money.”  “The primitive days of building a satellite, launching it, and throwing away a piece of hardware worth hundreds of millions of dollars simply because it ran out of fuel is coming to an end.”

When asked if the private sector should be in charge of developing new rockets like SLS instead of the government, he argued that it is not an either-or situation.  There is synergy between the two and SLS is a case in point, opening up “all kinds of opportunities for the private sector” in cis-lunar space, for example.

In the shorter term, keeping SLS and Orion on track during the presidential transition was a major theme for the subcommittee and other witnesses. Gerstenmaier pleaded that Congress avoid “overly specifying requirements” and allow technical experts to determine how best to achieve the goal of moving human presence into the solar system.  Dumbacher quipped that there are two problems to overcome – gravity and red tape – and gravity can be solved.

Gerstenmaier strongly defended the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) as an “excellent” way to demonstrate and learn the skills needed to send crews to Mars.

As the hearing concluded, Nelson asked Gerstenmaier what lessons were learned from the Orbital ATK and SpaceX commercial cargo failures in 2014 and 2015 respectively.  Gerstenmaier responded that he learned how quickly the private sector can react and find solutions. Orbital ATK found an alternative launch service provider (United Launch Alliance) to continue launching its Cygnus cargo spacecraft while it solved the problem with the Antares rocket. SpaceX diagnosed the problem with its Falcon 9 rocket and was in a test facility to verify it within two days.  That was “faster than I could have ever done.. …It would have been half a year” to get the contracts and test sequence in place. “I think what we really learned is that the private sector, if we give them the right incentives and we have the contracting structures set up, they can deliver the capabilities that we, at NASA, need in a very effective manner.”

What's Happening in Space Policy July 25-29, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jul-2016 (Updated: 24-Jul-2016 02:08 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of July 25-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Week

Nationally, the big event this week is the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Not much is expected in the realm of space policy, although former astronaut Mark Kelly will speak on Wednesday.  He will appear with his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011.  They have become leaders in the gun control movement and that is expected to be the focus of their presentation, not the space program (but one never knows).   None of the congressional Democrats with leading roles in space policy are on the speakers list as of today (Sunday), although Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will be there.  He represents the district that includes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena and is known as a strong supporter of JPL programs, but he no longer serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.  He moved over to the Intelligence Committee and his comments are more likely to focus on those issues.  The latest version (July 21) of the 51-page Democratic party platform has one paragraph about NASA that expresses pride in what it has accomplished and promises to "strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions into space."   We didn't see anything about either commercial or national security space activities in the document.

Within the space policy community, the focus this week will be meetings of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees all week.  The meetings are at the Ohio Aerospace Center in Cleveland, but will be available by WebEx and telecon for those who cannot attend in person.  This will be the first NAC meeting since Steve Squyres stepped down as chair.  Former astronaut Ken Bowersox has been appointed the interim chair.  He had been chairing the NAC Human Exploration and Operations (NAC/HEO) Committee and Wayne Hale has been appointed to fill that position.

The NAC/HEO committee meets tomorrow and Tuesday.  Michele Gates, program director for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is on the schedule for 2:30 pm ET tomorrow (Monday) to give an update on ARM, which just went through one of its milestone reviews -- Key Decision Point-B or KDP-B -- on July 15 to determine whether the project is ready to move into Phase B.  [A description of KDPs and project phases is in the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7120 document for those keenly interested in NASA program management.]  NASA has not made any announcement about what transpired at the KDP-B review.  We were told nothing would be out until this coming week, so hopefully Gates will provide that information. 

The other NAC committees/task groups meet Monday-Wednesday in advance of the full NAC meeting Thursday and Friday.  Always interesting to listen to if you have the time.

AIAA's Propulsion and Energy Conference is also on tap this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Great line-up of sessions and speakers.   Winner for cleverest title in our view is "Launch Vehicle Reusability:  Holy Grail, Chasing Our Tail, or Somewhere in Between?"  The conference will be livestreamed.  Remember that Utah is in the Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) zone, which is two hours behind Eastern Daylight Time (i.e. 9:00 am MDT is 11:00 am EDT).

Those events and others we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to the Events of Interest that we learn about later.   For convenience, we're grouping all the NAC meetings together rather than listing them day-by-day.  They are listed separately in our Events of Interest list.

NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its subgroups, Monday-Friday, July 25-29, all at Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland, Ohio and available by WebEx/telecon

Other Events

Monday-Tuesday, July 25-26

Monday-Wednesday, July 25-27

Monday-Thursday, July 25-28

Tuesday, July 26

Tuesday-Friday, July 26-29

Eileen Collins Endorses Space Program, but Not Trump

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jul-2016 (Updated: 21-Jul-2016 06:46 AM)

Former space shuttle commander Eileen Collins spoke at the GOP presidential convention tonight arguing for a strong space program.  She did not endorse Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, however, even though such an endorsement apparently was part of her prepared remarks.

Collins spoke on the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and called for leadership similar to that of President John F. Kennedy who initiated the Apollo program. "We landed on the Moon to fulfill a leadership challenge and to explore...Nations that lead on the frontier, lead in the world.  We need that visionary leadership again. Leadership that will inspire the next generation of explorers to have that same passion."

Her verbal remarks ended: "We need leadership [where] Americans will ask again "What's next?' We need leadership that will make America's space program first again. And we need leadership that will make America great again. I want to thank all of you, thank you for what you're doing, God bless America."

According to a transcript of her prepared remarks provided by the GOP Convention to Syracuse University (her alma mater) and posted on the university's website, however, the ending was supposed to be "We need leadership that will make America first again.  That leader is Donald Trump.  Thank you and God bless the United States of America."

Thus, although she did not read the line endorsing Trump, she did use his slogan "make America great again" instead of "make America first again" as in the prepared remarks.

Collins's decision to speak to the GOP convention sparked controversy in the Twitterverse over whether a former astronaut should be engaging in partisan politics, although as some pointed out, former astronauts John Glenn, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt and Jack Swigert actually ran for national political office.  Glenn, a Democrat, and Schmitt, a Republican, served as Senators; Swigert, a Republican, was elected to the House, but died before he could take office.  

In any case, her speech was closely watched in the space community and, as delivered, sounded familiar pro-space themes.  She did point out that the United States has been unable to launch astronauts into space since the termination of the space shuttle in 2011, exclaiming "We must do better than that," but stayed away from attributing the shuttle's cancellation to either political party. 

In fact, both parties were responsible.  Republican President George W. Bush made the decision in 2004 to terminate the space shuttle once construction of the International Space Station (ISS) was completed, expected in 2010.  The shuttle was still flying when Democratic President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and he chose to adopt the Bush decision rather than reverse it and continue the program.  Two shuttle flights were added during the Obama Administration extending the program to 2011 rather than 2010.  They were added to comply with congressional direction in the 2008 NASA authorization act to deliver a scientific instrument, the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and to deliver supplies and equipment that required the space shuttle's unique cargo capacity.

Collins piloted the space shuttle twice (STS-64 and STS-84) and commanded two shuttle missions (STS-93 and STS-114, the 2005 return-to-flight mission following the 2003 space shuttle Columbia accident).  She retired from NASA in 2006.

A video about the space program preceded her speech.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also briefly mentioned the space program during his remarks tonight, though they will be remembered mostly because he also failed to endorse Trump.  Regarding space, during a series of statements about the power of freedom, he  said that 47 years ago America put men on the Moon and "that's the power of freedom."  Cruz chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA and earlier in the day released a brief video highlighting the Apollo 11 anniversary.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich was also at the podium this evening and there was speculation that he might mention the anniversary because he is a strong supporter of the space program, but he did not.

Eileen Collins, Ted Cruz To Speak at GOP Convention Tonight--47th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Landing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Jul-2016 (Updated: 21-Jul-2016 12:16 AM)

Former astronaut Eileen Collins is scheduled to speak tonight at the GOP Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.  Whether coincidental or not, today is the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and the theme for tonight, the third night of the convention, is Make America First Again.   Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who posted a video and tweeted about the anniversary today, is also on the schedule.  He chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA.  Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an avid space supporter, also will speak. 

Whether Cruz or Gingrich will focus on the space program is unclear, but Collins, the first woman to command the space shuttle, told Mashable that she plans to talk about the inspiration of the Apollo program and to "raise awareness of how the U.S. human space program has slowed over the years."  She was the pilot of STS-63 and STS-84, and commanded STS-93 and STS-114, the 2005 return to flight mission following the 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy.  She retired from NASA in 2006. 

[UPDATE:  to read about what happened, click here.]

At a congressional hearing earlier this year, Collins complained that program cancellations "made by bureaucracies, behind closed doors, without input by the people, are divisive, damaging, cowardly, and many times more expensive in the long run."  She was a member of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) when the Constellation program was cancelled by the Obama Administration, a decision that came as a surprise to everyone on NAC, she said.

The GOP's schedule for tonight lists her as the fourth speaker.  The event gets underway at 7:00 pm ET.

Cruz chaired a hearing on the future of the space program last week (SpacePolicyOnline's summary of the hearing will be posted soon) and today posted a video and tweeted about the Apollo 11 anniversary (the link to the video is embedded in the tweet).

Cruz's comments in the three hearings he has held about space since the beginning of 2015 demonstrate a strong interest in U.S. leadership in space exploration, primarily human exploration, and belief that NASA should focus on space science and exploration and not earth science.

Gingrich is a well known space enthusiast.  During his own campaign for President in 2012, he advocated for a Moon base by 2020, a Mars colony, new propulsion systems and more.

COSPAR Cancels Istanbul Conference As Security Concerns Escalate - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jul-2016 (Updated: 18-Jul-2016 11:26 PM)

The international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) has cancelled its biennial conference for this year, which was scheduled to take place in Istanbul, Turkey from July 30-August 7.   COSPAR President Lennard Fisk called it a "difficult and sad decision," but the wise course of action following this weekend's attempted coup.

COSPAR was created in 1958 as part of the International Council for Science (formerly the International Council of Scientific Unions).  It  holds a "scientific assembly" every two years that brings together the world's top space scientists who share and discuss their recent discoveries and future plans.  The 2014 COSPAR meeting was in Russia (Moscow) and the 2018 COSPAR meeting will be in the United States (Pasadena).   The Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the U.S. national committee to COSPAR. 

Fisk is the first American to serve as COSPAR President.  A Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan, he is a former SSB chairman and former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications.

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden decided on June 21 to cancel all NASA-sponsored travel to the Istanbul conference because of security concerns based on a travel advisory from the State Department that restricted official travel to "mission critical" tasks.  At the time, similar advisories (alerts and warnings) were in effect for a significant number of other countries, and focused on concerns about the southeastern portion of Turkey.  Istanbul is in the northwest.  Under the circumstances at that time, Fisk expressed concern that NASA's action was sending the wrong messages about responding to terrorism and the importance of space science.

The situation has changed dramatically since then.  On June 28, terrorists attacked the Istanbul airport.  On July 15, an attempted coup occurred.  Following the coup attempt, U.S. airlines now are prohibited from flying to or from the Istanbul and Ankara airports, and all airlines, regardless of country of registry, are prohibited from flying into the United States from Turkey either directly or via a third country.

In a statement on the COSPAR website, Fisk cited the coup attempt as the final straw in COSPAR's decision to cancel.  "This is a difficult and sad decision, taken in consultation with the Executive Director of the COSPAR Secretariat and in consideration of the advice spontaneously expressed by several Bureau and Council members as well as COSPAR officers and Main Scientific event Organizers. It also reflects the sense of responsibilities of the President, Bureau and Secretariat of COSPAR."

He stressed that COSPAR had been trying to maintain the conference to reflect "our common intent to resist terrorism and our willingness to respect the efforts of the local organizer. But now, that is no longer possible. ... [I]t was our duty to try and maintain the Istanbul Assembly, notwithstanding the risks related to terrorism that can strike anywhere, as sadly demonstrated on 14 July in Nice (France), but also in the last few weeks in Orlando (USA), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Baghdad (Iraq), and other places.  What happened on 15 July in Turkey is of a different nature" and makes the decision to cancel "the only wise one available."

The next COSPAR scientific assembly is scheduled for July 14-22, 2018 in Pasadena, CA, the home of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which manages many of NASA's space and earth science missions.

The State Department also has a travel advisory in effect for Mexico, including the state of Jalisco where Guadalajara -- the site of the September International Astronautical Conference (IAC) -- is located.  When asked today whether NASA has any plans or expectations that travel will be prohibited to the IAC, NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver replied by email that "NASA fully intends to support this conference, but will continue to coordinate our presence in Mexico with the Department of State."  

Updated to include the information that the State Department's advisory about Turkey in effect at the time of Administrator Bolden's decision, issued March 29, limited official travel to "mission critical" travel.   It is interesting to note, however, that on June 27 (the day before the attack at the Istanbul airport), the State Department replaced its March 29 advisory with one that did not include the mission critical language and continued to focus on threats in southeastern Turkey.  The latest advisory, following the coup attempt, referencing the airline restrictions, was issued July 16 and also omits the mission critical language.

Updated to add David Weaver's comments about the September IAC.

Events of Interest


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: