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UPDATE, June 16, 2016: Sen. Murphy ended the filibuster at 2:11 am ET this morning after receiving assurances that votes would be allowed on his gun control amendments.
ORIGINAL STORY, June 15, 2016: Several Senate Democrats began a filibuster against the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill this morning, blocking action. The Department of Justice is one of the agencies funded by the bill (which also includes NASA and NOAA) and the filibuster is fueled by Democratic gun control demands most recently in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, FL this past weekend.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) started the filibuster and has since been joined by other Democrats who have been seeking more effective gun control measures especially since the Sandy Hook, CT massacre four years ago that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adults.
Murphy vowed to remain in control of the floor "until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together" on how to prevent terrorist suspects (in the Orlando case) from buying guns.
The Obama Administration issued a veto threat against the bill yesterday, in part because of the money provided for the Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs in excess of what the Administration requested. The request was $1.130 billion for Orion and $1.310 billion for SLS. The bill provides $1.300 billion for Orion and $2.150 billion for SLS, an increase of $170 million and $840 million respectively, a total of $1.010 billion above the President's request.
In its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the bill, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) declared that the Administration is "deeply concerned that the bill adds more than $1 billion" above the request "while underfunding other key NASA programs--an approach that would result in an unbalanced exploration program that is unable to achieve shared exploration goals."
It called on Congress to fully fund Exploration R&D, Space Technology, Aeronautics, Science, and Space Operations. (See our NASA budget fact sheet for a comparison of the President's request and the Senate Appropriations Committee's recommendations and the complicated issue of what the President's request really is.)
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) brokered an agreement among Senators who have been at sharp odds over how to transition U.S. rocket launches away from reliance on Russian RD-180 engines to a new American-made engine. The Nelson amendment passed the Senate this morning by voice vote as part of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA itself then passed the Senate by a vote of 85-13.
In brief, the compromise sets December 31, 2022 as the end date for awarding contracts to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for Atlas V launches of national security satellites that would use RD-180 engines. It also limits to 18 the number of RD-180s that can be used between the date that the FY2017 NDAA is signed into law (enacted) and that end date.
Sen. Nelson's office provided SpacePolicyOnline.com with a copy of the amendment as passed.
The amendment that passed originated as one written by Nelson and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), that was then modified by one from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and has been the strongest voice for limiting the number of RD-180s to half that approved by this compromise and for a 2019 cut-off date.
The issue has pitted McCain and SASC against Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) of the Senate Appropriations Committee, creating a schism between the Senate committees that authorize DOD activities (SASC) and pay for them (Appropriations).
Durbin praised Nelson for being the "bridge over troubled waters" who was able to find a compromise between the starkly different positions.
The Nelson amendment also settles a related issue. The version of the FY2017 NDAA that emerged from SASC (S. 2943, S. Rept. 114- 255) would have prevented the Air Force from awarding launch contracts to bidders that use rocket engines from Russia, basically making ULA's Atlas V ineligible for future contracts. The defense appropriations bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S. 3000, S. Rept. 114-263) conversely said that awards could be made to any certified provider regardless of the rocket engine's country of origin. The compromise states that contracts may be awarded to any certified launch service provider, but Russian engines may be used only for launches in the phase 1(a) and phase 2 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) procurements. Phase 2 runs through 2022. (The Government Accountability Office has a useful report that explains the EELV procurement strategy and its different phases.)
The amendment does not specify RD-180s, but instead bounds the use of Russian rocket engines generally for national security launches. ULA is currently the only company that offers national security launch services using rockets powered by Russian engines, but the language would apply to any company offering such services. Orbital ATK, for example, uses Russian RD-181 engines for its Antares rocket, which launches cargo spacecraft for NASA to the International Space Station. If it were to bid for EELV launches, it presumably would be subject to these limits.
Also, although the cut-off date of December 31, 2022 is for awarding contracts, the limit on the number of engines -- 18 -- refers to how many may be "used" between the date the law is enacted and that date.
The House passed its version of the NDAA last month. It permits 18 engines and allows any certified provider to win launch contracts. The two chambers must reach agreement on the NDAA overall, but while there are still some differences on this issue, it appears to be close to resolution.
Note: This article has been updated and clarified to say that December 31, 2022 is the date through which contracts may be awarded regardless of the rocket engine's country of origin, rather than the date by which they must be used.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 13-18, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate will resume consideration of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Monday, with the hope that it can be completed quickly. The Senate agreed to close debate on the bill on Friday and complete all debate by 11:00 am ET on Tuesday. It then will vote on germane amendments and passage of the bill. Debate over a Nelson-Gardner amendment regarding Russian RD-180 engines took up a good part of Friday, but no vote was taken. They want to set December 31, 2022 as the end date for using RD-180s, whereas Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain insists on 2019, which was set in law by a previous NDAA. The Nelson-Gardner amendment also does not mention how many engines may be procured, while McCain insists on only nine more. The RD-180 debate has been covered extensively by SpacePolicyOnline.com already and will not be repeated here.
Senate leadership wants to finish NDAA and move on to the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill, which funds NASA and NOAA among other agencies.
The House plans to take up the FY2017 Defense Appropriations bill this week. The House Rules Committee will meet on Tuesday to decide which amendments may be offered. Assuming they agree, the bill will move to floor debate promptly. The House has passed two of the 12 regular appropriations bills so far (Military Construction-VA and Legislative Branch), while a third (Energy-Water) was defeated. The Senate has passed three (Energy-Water, and a single bill that combined MilCon-VA and Transportation-HUD).
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday afternoon on "Human Spaceflight Ethics and Obligations: Options for Monitoring, Diagnosing and Treating Former Astronauts." This issue of lifetime health care for astronauts has been percolating for years. It concerns what ethical obligations the government has to provide medical care to astronauts once they leave the corps as well as the useful medical information NASA could gain from following them as the years pass. The issue was raised as long ago as 2001 in the Safe Passage report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM, now the National Academy of Medicine). A 2014 IOM report raised the same issues as did an October 2015 report from the NASA Inspector General. The 2005 NASA authorization act directed NASA to consider the need for establishing a lifetime health care program for NASA astronauts. NASA determined that it needs specific legislative authority to do so and has proposed legislation since then, but it has not been enacted. The House-passed 2015 NASA authorization act (H.R. 810) directs NASA to respond to the IOM recommendations, but the Senate has not acted on that bill. Wednesday's hearing will bring attention to the issue (and there are those who believe that a NASA authorization bill could still get passed by the end of the year). Scott Kelly, who just returned from a U.S. record-setting 340-day stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS), Michael Lopez-Alegria, who previously held the record for the longest continuous U.S. human spaceflight and is now President of the Association of Space Explorers, and Chris Cassidy, head of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center, are among the witnesses. The list also includes Secretary of Labor Tom Perez; the chairman of the 2014 IOM study, Jeffrey Kahn; and NASA Chief Medical Officer Richard Williams. The House SS&T committee typically webcasts its hearings.
On a totally different subject, Joan Johnson-Freese and Theresa Hitchens will discuss a paper they recently co-authored for the Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council on Toward a New National Security Space Strategy on Friday. Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College and author of several books on national security space and China's space program. Hitchens is currently a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland after serving as head of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR). Mike Gruss from Space News will also participate in the discussion. (We've inquired as to whether it will be webcast. If we find out, we'll post the information on our Events of Interest list.)
It will be busy up in space this week, too. On Tuesday, Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft will depart from the ISS. Five hours later, a fire will erupt inside the spacecraft as part of an experiment called SAFFIRE to observe how fires evolve in microgravity. The robotic spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry, so it is a good candidate for such research. Miles O'Brien had an excellent segment about the experiment on the PBS NewsHour last week.
Then on Saturday, three crew members (NASA's Tim Kopra, ESA's Tim Peake, and Roscosmos' Yuri Malenchenko) will return home. NASA TV provides live coverage as usual. Landing is at 5:12 am Eastern Daylight Time.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week to see what's been added to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday-Friday, June 12-17
Monday, June 13
Tuesday, June 14
Wednesday, June 15
Thursday, June 16
Friday, June 17
Saturday, June 18
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA officials highlighted their decades of cooperation in space science and opportunities for the future at a day-long symposium on Friday. The long-planned meeting sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science also provided an opportunity for the head of Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), part of JAXA, to explain the recent failure of the Astro-H (Hitomi) x-ray astronomy satellite, a joint JAXA-NASA mission.
ISAS Director General Saku Tsuneta said the Hitomi failure was the result of two different design problems and one improper operational procedure all related to the attitude control/safe-hold system. He said the failure was "embarrassing, but a fact" and his priorities now are to fix the problems, recover Hitomi science, and maintain partnerships with NASA and other space agencies. In response to a question, he stressed that although an individual made a mistake, that person should not be blamed because the system should not have been designed such that a single human error could have catastrophic consequences. [UPDATE: On June 15, JAXA announced that Tsuneta, JAXA President Naoki Okumura, and JAXA Senior Vice President Mamoru Endo each "decided to take a 10% pay cut to their monthly salary for four months" because of the Hitomi failure.]
An English-language powerpoint summary of the failure investigation report is available on JAXA's website.
Hitomi failed before the operational science period began, but Tsuneta said some data were obtained on the Perseus cluster during initial operations and the cryogenic soft x-ray spectrometer (SXS) worked perfectly. SXS was developed jointly by ISAS and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
Tsuneta and Geoff Yoder, acting Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD), said they had just held preliminary discussions on options for getting the science data that Hitomi was intended to collect, but it is too early for decisions to be made. Tsuneta was remorseful about Hitomi's loss. "JAXA led Hitomi on behalf of the global science community. That is why this particular disaster is a severe blow to astrophysics. ... JAXA has to start something to recover the science of SXS, but this is the result of very deep cooperation between NASA and JAXA. One nation cannot do [it alone]. So I hope JAXA and NASA can work together to make it happen."
NASA/GSFC's Richard Kelley, the U.S. principal investigator for SXS, discussed the Perseus cluster observations later in the day and noted that if a decision is made to perform a recovery mission, there is spare hardware for key components of SXS.
Both agencies have a full plate of space science missions already on their dockets, so adding a new mission to replace Hitomi would be difficult to achieve. The next planned x-ray astronomy satellite is the European Space Agency's (ESA's) ATHENA, scheduled for launch in 2028.
NASA's Chandra "great observatory" is the flagship spacecraft available today for x-ray astronomy. X-rays do not penetrate Earth's atmosphere, so this field of research requires space-based instruments. Chandra, once known as the Advanced X-Ray Astronomy Facility (AXAF), was launched in 1999 and was just approved for another two-years of operation. It is operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. (The AXAF program actually was split in two because of cost growth. Chandra was the half that was built. SXS was intended to do the science envisioned for the other half.)
JAXA and NASA cooperate on a wide range of space science missions, including heliophysics and planetary exploration (in addition to earth science and human spaceflight). One current highlight is cooperation on robotic asteroid sample return missions. JAXA returned a small sample from the asteroid Itokawa in 2010 and launched a follow-on mission, Hayabusa2, in 2014. NASA will launch its OSIRIS-REx mission this September.
Dante Lauretta (University of Arizona), principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx, and Tomoki Nakamura (Tohoku University) and Hitoshi Kuninaka (ISAS), representing Hayabusa2, explained that the two missions are very risky and serve as each others backup. The two teams have agreed to share whatever samples are returned, so if one does not succeed, both teams will still have samples to analyze. Hayabusa2 will arrive at the asteroid Ryugu in June/July 2018 and return its sample to Earth in 2020. OSIRIS-Rex will arrive at the asteroid Bennu in August 2018 and return its sample to Earth in 2023. Lauretta joked that it was like jumping off a cliff and JAXA gets to go first.
A new mission JAXA is considering would send a probe to return a sample from the Martian moon Phobos. The Martian Moons eXplorer (MMX) mission is one of two "top priorities" for future JAXA science missions, Tsuneta said. (The other is the SPICA space infrared telescope). The concept is for a spacecraft to be sent to study Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars, to solve the mystery of how they were formed. One theory is they were ejected when a large object collided with Mars during the formation of the solar system. The other is that they were formed independently and captured by Mars' gravity.
Speaking later in the day, Cornell space scientist Steve Squyres, the "father" of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, was very enthusiastic about MMX not only because of the chance to solve the question of the moons' origin, but also because Phobos probably is "littered" with material from the surface of Mars itself. When solar system objects collide with Mars, material is ejected into space and Phobos flies through the debris field, with some of the material collecting on its surface. The material deposited on Phobos would be from places all over the Martian surface rather than just one site. Getting a sample would be a "science bonanza," he said.
Squyres chaired the most recent National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Decadal Survey for planetary science. During a panel discussion, he stressed that Decadal Surveys provide advice to U.S. agencies, but they incorporate ideas from the international community, welcoming input through white papers and other mechanisms. When asked if ISAS uses a process similar to Decadal Surveys to prioritize its science missions, Masaki Fujimoto. Director of Solar System Science at ISAS, said the Japanese space science community is so small that such a process would be overkill. He said the challenge for ISAS is encouraging scientists to share their ideas, which some are reluctant to do lest another scientist steals it.
NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green discussed the different models that NASA has used over its history for international cooperation on space science missions. He believes cooperation works best where there is one lead agency and other agencies are junior partners, rather than a 50-50 split. He noted that cubesats are "the rage" today and could open additional opportunities for cooperation. Fujimoto agreed and postulated that Japan might deploy a cubesat from a future NASA mission to Jupiter or Saturn.
There was broad agreement on the value of international cooperation and the need to start discussions early. Lauretta pointed out that one key is the "personal relationships" that scientists in the international community have developed and the importance of getting younger scientists involved. Kuninaka echoed the sentiment, saying "mutual trust" is needed, something "our generation" has, but young people still need to establish for the future.
Antonio (Tony) Busalacchi, Jr., the incoming President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), called for a Decadal Survey to set a strategy for the U.S. weather forecasting enterprise similar to those conducted for earth science and space sciences. Busalacchi was one of the witnesses at a congressional hearing on the private sector's role in weather forecasting that also included Alexander (Sandy) MacDonald, President of Spire Global, one of the companies interested in selling satellite data to NOAA.
The hearing before Rep. Jim Bridenstine's (R-OK) Subcommittee on Environment of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee was generally friendly, although some Republican members asked questions that tried to shift the focus to climate change or suggested that NOAA was not as open to partnering with the private sector as it should be. Busalacchi, MacDonald and the other three witnesses -- Barry Myers, CEO of AccuWeather; Jim Block, Chief Meteorological Officer of Schneider Electric; and Neil Jacobs, Chief Scientist of Panasonic Weather Solutions -- were very positive about their relationships with NOAA, however.
Bridenstine is a leader in efforts to encourage NOAA to incorporate private sector weather data into its numerical weather forecasts and inserted a provision in NOAA's FY2016 appropriations law creating a commercial weather data pilot program to assess such data to determine if it can be used. NOAA submitted an implementation plan to Congress this spring explaining that it plans to competitively procure GPS Radio Occultation (GPS-RO) data as the test case. Spire Global is one of the companies that wants to compete.
GPS-RO satellites use signals from GPS satellites to make measurements of temperature and water vapor throughout the lower parts of the atmosphere. When combined with measurements from polar orbiting weather satellites, better weather forecasts are enabled. NOAA currently obtains such data from the COSMIC satellite constellation, a joint project with Taiwan, and is requesting funds for more in the COSMIC-2 program. As many as 50,000-100,000 measurements each day would be useful, whereas even with COSMIC-2, NOAA will be obtaining only about 10,000, so there is significant opportunity for commercial sources to provide the rest.
Bridenstine stresses frequently, including at yesterday's hearing, that he does not foresee replacing the government's weather satellite capabilities with those of the private sector, but instead enhancing them through government-private sector partnerships with a goal of making the entire U.S. weather enterprise less reliant on large, vulnerable satellites.
The private sector has significant capabilities not just in using NOAA-provided data to make forecasts, but also obtaining their own data through aircraft observations, for example, and creating their own weather models. Busalacchi described the U.S. weather enterprise as a three-legged stool -- government, private sector, academic/research -- that work together to yield "the world's most comprehensive and successful array of weather services in support of the public and private good." All three "must continue to evolve [and] the dimunition of any single leg will compromise the entire enterprise, and will negatively impact its diverse beneficiaries."
The potential of partnerships between the government and the private sector was explored in a 2003 report from the National Research Council (NRC), Fair Weather: Effective Partnerships in Weather and Climate Services. Busalacchi praised the report, but pointed out that those types of NRC reports rarely get follow-up, they are one-time efforts. By contrast, Decadal Surveys are performed every 10 years -- a decade -- and Congress now requires a mid-term assessment half-way through the relevant decade,
Until recently, Busalacchi was co-chair of the on-going Decadal Survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space. He stepped aside when he accepted the presidency of UCAR, a position he will take up in August. He is currently Director of the Earth Systems Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland.
He argues that an "active and ongoing strategic planning process" is needed for the U.S. weather enterprise, the established Decadal Survey process should be utilized, and Congress should request one.
Note: The National Research Council (NRC) is the operating arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) that conducts studies such as those mentioned above. The NRC was created in1916 and its reports were referred to as NRC reports, but last year NASEM rebranded itself and no longer uses the NRC label. Since the full name of the organization is far from mellifluous, most now refer to them simply as "Academy" studies. The one referenced herein was written in 2003, however, so we refer to it as an NRC study.
Services for Patti Grace Smith will be held in Washington, DC on Monday, June 13. One of the most prominent members of the space policy community, Smith died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday, June 5, though only her inner circle knew that she was ill. She was 68.
Smith - or just "Patti" as most in the space community called her -- had a sterling career in space policy. Saying that she was widely admired and respected may seem trite, but truer words were never spoken.
Patti had a successful career in the communications industry before becoming head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). She held positions in the private sector (National Association of Broadcasters, Westinghouse Broadcast Corporation, and Sheridan Radio Network) and the government (Federal Communications Commission; Department of Defense; Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.)
During her years at AST (1995-2008), she was a fervent supporter of commercial space activities. Her calm, firm, articulate advocacy for commercial space and the companies that AST facilitated and regulated was legendary. She led AST as it implemented the 2004 amendments to the Commercial Space Transportation Act that guide the commercial human space flight business, granted a license for the SpaceShipOne flight that garnered the X-Prize, and made Mojave Air and Spaceport the first inland commercial spaceport.
After leaving FAA, she became a consultant to and Board member of a number of space companies and organizations. She chaired the Commercial Space Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) from 2009-2013, and President Obama appointed her to the advisory board of the National Air and Space Museum in 2012. She became vice-chair of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2014, and was a member of the Advisory Committee of the Secure World Foundation (SWF).
ASEB Director Michael Moloney said via email that "As vice chair of ASEB, Patti made countless important contributions to the role of the Board in advising our nation's government and aerospace community. We will miss her extensive expertise and her guiding words, but most of all we will miss her friendship and her welcoming spirit."
SWF Executive Director Michael Simpson emailed from an SWF-sponsored Space Security Conference in Prague that "Patti's calm insight and clear thinking opened a door to space entrepreneurship and may yet have a lasting impact on the regulatory process itself....Her loss would be so much worse had she not done so much to mentor those she has left behind." He added that participants at the conference "paused for a moment of reflection in her memory."
Jim Muncy, himself a legend in commercial space policy circles, tweeted his reaction to the news:
Patti's spirit and enthusiasm are immortalized in this YouTube video of a speech she gave in 2013 to the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.
A "home-going" service will be held on Monday at 11:00 am ET at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church, 1615 3rd St. NW, Washington, DC.
According to the New York Times, she is survived by her husband, John Clay Smith, three sons, a daughter, 12 grandchildren, and a sister.
This article was updated to add the comments by Michael Simpson.
Note: Articles about Patti's passing refer to her as serving as the first head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, which is correct. Previously, regulation of commercial space transportation was part of the Secretary of Transportation's office. It was moved to the FAA in 1995. The Department of Transportation was designated as the entity to facilitate and regulate commercial space launches in a 1983 Executive Order, followed by the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act.
Russian space state corporation Roscosmos formally announced today that the next crew launch to the International Space Station (ISS) is postponed until July 7. Russia's news agency TASS reported a delay last week, but then retreated, explaining that the official decision would not be made until today. Meanwhile, aboard ISS, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams entered the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) for the first time this morning.
The delayed launch is of the newest version of Russia's venerable Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS. It replaces the Soyuz TMA-M series and has improved solar arrays, a new digital computer, and a new docking system, among other upgrades.
The docking system is the problem according to TASS, although Roscosmos did not specify that in its announcement today. Roscosmos said only that additional software tests are needed to improve safety.
The new schedule calls for Soyuz MS-01 with its three-person crew to launch on July 7 at 04:36 Moscow Time (July 7, 01:36 GMT; July 6, 9:36 pm Eastern Daylight Time). The three crew members are NASA's Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi, and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin. They will launch on a Soyuz-FG rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch originally was scheduled for June 24.
July 7 was originally planned for a launch of a Russian Progress cargo resupply spacecraft (Progress MS-03). That launch will now take place on July 17.
The return-to-flight launch of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft has been tentatively scheduled for July 6, but clearly could be impacted by these changes. Neither NASA nor JAXA had made any public announcements as of press time.
Three crew members currently aboard the ISS who are coming home -- NASA's Tim Kopra, ESA's Tim Peake and Roscosmos' Yuri Malenchenko -- will keep their previously scheduled return date. That crew, aboard Soyuz TMA-19M, will land on June 18 at 12:12 Moscow Time (09:12 GMT; 5:12 am EDT).
While the future plans were being finalized today, another ISS crew member, NASA astronaut Jeff Williams, entered the BEAM module for the first time. BEAM arrived at the ISS on the SpaceX-8 cargo resupply mission in April and was expanded to its full size on May 28. Leak checks have been underway since that time and Williams was given the go-ahead to enter BEAM this morning EDT. BEAM is a technology demonstration project and will be attached to ISS for two years while crew members occasionally enter it to install or check sensors as Williams did today.
Robert Bigelow, President of Bigelow Aerospace, hopes to convince NASA to use BEAM for conducting a few experiments, but that has not been decided. BEAM is a small test version of Bigelow's expandable habitats. He wants to attach a full-size B330 to the ISS in 2020, called XBASE, but that also is still in the discussion phase. He envisions a robust space business using his expandable modules as habitats in Earth orbit, on the Moon, and elsewhere.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 6-10, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The House and Senate return to work this week. Time is getting short. The House will meet this week and the next two weeks, then take a week off for the July 4 holiday, and meet for the first two weeks of July. Then it recesses for 7 weeks for the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions (Republican, July 18-21 in Cleveland; Democratic July 25-28 in Philadelphia) and its usual August summer break. The Senate has a similar schedule, though it is taking a shorter July 4 recess. When they return in September, they will have only three weeks to finish work on appropriations bills to keep the government open past September 30.
The Appropriations Committees in each chamber are making solid progress in reporting out the 12 regular appropriations bills, but getting them passed on the floor is a challenge. The House thought it had agreement on the Energy and Water Bill before the Memorial Day break, for example, but politics intervened and the bill was defeated. The Senate passed the Transportation-HUD bill, which funds the FAA's space office, but there is no word on when the defense bill or the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill will be taken up.
The defense authorization bill, however, is moving along. (Not sure of the difference between an appropriation and an authorization? See our What's a Markup? fact sheet.) The House already passed the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Senate will take up its version tomorrow (Monday).
Only one space-related hearing is on tap this week, and it's not really a "space" hearing in the traditional sense. The Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on private sector weather forecasting on Wednesday. Subcommittee chairman Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has an intense interest in commercial weather satellite data and Sandy MacDonald from SPIRE Global is on the witness list. That is one of the companies hoping to sell GPS Radio Occultation data to NOAA. NOAA chose radio occultation data for its commercial weather data pilot program. Bridenstine inserted language in NOAA's FY2016 appropriations bill requiring NOAA to establish the pilot program and now has included similar language in the House version of the NDAA to direct DOD to set up a parallel project. His goal is to have more small weather satellites instead of a few "Battlestar Galaticas" that are vulnerable to failures and enemy attack (he supports NOAA's JPSS and GOES programs, too, but doesn't want to be totally reliant on them).
Many briefings, meetings and conferences are taking place off the Hill this week. It's difficult to choose just one or two to highlight so be sure to look through the entire list below. The European Space Agency's (ESA's) Tuesday briefing on initial results from its LISA Pathfinder gravitational wave mission should be interesting. It's taking place in Spain and will be webcast, though the time is rather early (5:30 am) on the U.S. East Coast, never mind for those of you further West.
The American Bar Association's Space Law conference all day Wednesday also looks really good, including a keynote from Bridenstine before he has to rush off to chair that hearing. The conference has five panels on the American Space Renaissance Act, legal and policy issues of "active debris removal" (e.g. who decides which space objects are "debris" or not and who has the right to move or destroy them), intentional jamming of satellite transmissions, hosted payloads, and one with the intriguing title "Who is On Your Space Vehicle?" Michael Dodge (University of North Dakota), Laura Montgomery (FAA), Margaret Roberts (NASA), and Caryn Schenewerk (SpaceX) will discuss that last topic. NASA General Counsel Samara Thomson-King is the luncheon speaker.
Those are just samples of the interesting events this week. The list below contains all the ones we know about as of Sunday morning. Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, June 6
Monday-Tuesday, June 6-7
Tuesday, June 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, June 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, June 7-9
Wednesday, June 8
Wednesday, June 8 - Friday, June 17
Thursday, June 9
Friday, June 10
The Government of Luxembourg is staking 200 million Euros to kick-start the nascent space resources utilization business -- prospecting for and eventually mining and selling resources extracted from the Moon, asteroids or other solar system bodies. The country's Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister made the announcement Friday flanked by former European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and former NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Worden.
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider spoke at a press conference in Luxembourg to discuss the country's spaceresources.lu initiative, announced in February, and how it fits into the government's overall strategy to become "one of the top 10 space faring countries in the world." Dordain and Worden are members of the government's advisory board for the initiative.
Although the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a small country with a population of just 570,000, it already has a significant presence in the space business as the corporate home of the two largest global fixed communications satellite operators, SES and Intelsat. SES established its headquarters in Luxembourg in 1985 and Bettel and Schneider referenced that event several times as Luxembourg's entry into the space business.
Just as it passed a law at that time to create the legal framework for communications satellite services, Bettel and Schneider announced that they now will press forward with a new law to govern space resource utilization. Schneider said Luxembourg wants to be the European center for asteroid mining and to be the first European country to establish its own legal framework for that purpose. When asked if the new law will only cover asteroids or will the Moon, for example, also be included, Schneider replied it is "everything in outer space."
Luxembourg has a streamlined governmental structure that should allow it to move quickly. Bettel is not only the Prime Minister, but also the Minister of Communications and Media, Minister of State, Minister for Religious Affairs, and Minister of Culture. Schneider similarly wears several hats -- Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of the Economy, Minister of Internal Security and Minister of Defence. A constitutional monarchy, it has a unicameral legislature -- the 60-member Chamber of Deputies. Bettel said he will propose the new legislation this year and expects to pass next year.
One difference between the Luxembourg law and the space resource utilization provisions of the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, also called the SPACE Act) enacted in 2015, Schneider said, is that the U.S. law applies only to U.S. companies with majority U.S. capital. The Luxembourg law will be "open to all investors" located in Luxembourg, so companies seeking international capital will be able to find it there. "I don't know why the Americans limited themselves to American capital, but we will not."
The relevant portion of CSLCA (Title IV of P.L. 114-90) applies to U.S. citizens as defined in section 50902 of title 51 of the U.S. Code -- (A) a U.S. citizen, (B) an entity organized or existing under U.S. law, or (C) an entity organized or existing under the laws of a foreign country if the controlling interest is held by (A) or (B).
Two U.S. companies focused on asteroid mining, Deep Space Industries (DSi) and Planetary Resources Inc, already have or plan to establish European headquarters in Luxembourg, Schneider said. DSi and Luxembourg announced a partnership last month to build a 3U cubesat, Prospector-X, to test technologies needed for asteroid mining (propulsion, avionics and optical navigation) in low Earth orbit. Planetary Resources, which bills itself as "the asteroid mining company," but just announced plans to build an earth remote sensing satellite, is also working with Luxembourg and Schneider said a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed soon for cooperation in both space resource utilization and earth observation.
The Luxembourg government established an advisory board that includes Dordain and Worden, who joined Bettel and Schneider at Friday's press conference. Dordain said the main goal is to attract entrepreneurs and investors to Luxembourg, bringing jobs. Worden added that his experiences in Silicon Valley (close to NASA-Ames) were a foundation for his work on the advisory board and he foresees Luxembourg becoming the Silicon Valley for space resources, a sentiment Schneider echoed.
Schneider revealed that his government has provided a 200 million Euro (approximately $230 million) line of credit to get started on creating the legal framework and for investing in new ventures. The money will be used for research and development (R&D) grants and other purposes, including Luxembourg becoming a shareholder in companies like DSi or Planetary Resources. He also made clear that the 200 million Euros is just the beginning. If more is needed, "we will be able to provide that money," he promised.
Luxembourg is a member of ESA and currently co-chairs, together with Switzerland, the ESA Council of Ministers. Schneider is Luxembourg's representative in that capacity. He noted that initially Luxembourg considered working through ESA on this initiative, but determined it would be too difficult to reach agreement with all of ESA's member states in the short term. Instead, Luxembourg will go it alone for now, but he noted that other ESA members are interested and future collaboration will be discussed at December's Ministerial Meeting. He and Bettel expressed repeatedly that it takes someone to take the risk to kick-start new ideas like this and Luxembourg wants to be that one.
Russia's official TASS news agency, which yesterday reported that the next crew launch to the International Space Station (ISS) would be delayed, took half a step back from that report today. Now it says if the problem with the Soyuz MS docking system can be fixed quickly, the launch could still occur on June 24 as originally planned. If it takes longer, then the launch would be delayed to July 7.
The next crew launch is the first for the Soyuz MS variant of the venerable spacecraft, first launched in 1967. Three astronauts -- from NASA, JAXA and Roscosmos -- will be aboard. None of the space agencies has publicly announced a schedule change and today's TASS story states that Roscomos "denied all rumors" that the mission has been delayed.
A decision will be made on Monday (June 6), according to the new TASS report.
The news agency cites unnamed industry sources for both versions -- that there will be a delay or that there might be a delay. One of its sources says that Energia, which builds Soyuz, has three days to solve the problem and if it can be fixed that quickly, the launch will take place as planned. Another source, however, says the decision to delay already has been made and Monday's meeting is simply to finalize it.
The precise nature of the problem has not been specified in the TASS reports.
The three crew members waiting for their ride to ISS are NASA's Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi, and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin.
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