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In less than 5 minutes today, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved the subcommittee's recommendations for its portion of the FY2013 defense authorization act. One of those recommendations is to preserve the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program, which the Department of Defense (DOD) wants to dissolve. The draft bill also denies DOD's request for advance appropriations as part of its Efficient Space Procurement (ESP) strategy, and restricts spending for launch vehicles until the Air Force submits an associated acquisition plan.
The various HASC subcommittees are marking up their portions of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4310 ) today and tomorrow. The Strategic Forces subcommittee has jurisdiction over most DOD space activities.
HASC has a special section of its website with the bill and report language recommended by each of the subcommittees and video of the markups.
The Strategic Forces subcommittee denied DOD's request to dissolve the ORS program office and integrate the ORS concept into other parts of the Air Force space program. ORS was created in the FY2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act to demonstrate the ability to build and launch small specialized satellites quickly to respond to the needs of joint commanders. The committee rejected DOD's request to repeal that section of the law, denied the $10 million DOD requested over five different budget accounts to integrate ORS into its other activities, and added $25 million to continue the ORS program.
Separately, the subcommittee disapproved DOD's request for advanced appropriations for the Space-Based InfraRed System (SBIRS) as part of its latest attempt at reforming satellite procurement. The committee agrees with the effort to reduce costs through acquisition reform, but not with providing the money in advance. This year's effort, ESP, replaces last year's Evolutionary Acquisition for Space Efficiency (EASE). Congress did not agree with advanced appropriations last year either. DOD believes that block-buys of multi-satellite systems, like SBIRS, could reduce costs if it had the money in advance. Congress, however, appropriates money incrementally, one year at a time. The language in the draft bill adopted today says that the committee "does not support the request for advanced appropriations authority and notes ... [it] would limit the oversight ability of future Congresses." The committee does, however, support other aspects of ESP, saying that it anticipates DOD will "realize substantial savings from the ESP block buy approach, enabled by a fixed-price contract and fixed requirements." It directs DOD to reinvest any money it saves into a "spacecraft modernization initiative, where research and development activities are competitively awarded and new technologies are matured for insertion in future blocks of SBIRS satellites or other space-based infrared sensors."
Regarding launch vehicles, the committee noted that DOD has not submitted its acquisition strategy for Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) and prohibits spending 10 percent of the funds allocated to EELVs until it does. It lists a number of topics that must be addressed in the report, including "an assessment of when new entrants will be certified to compete" for EELV-class launches. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is then required to review the acquisition plan. SpaceX, a "new entrant," announced plans to build a "Falcon-Heavy" version of its Falcon rocket and does not want to be shut out of competing for DOD space launches, but DOD is reluctant to risk its vital, expensive satellites on unproven rockets.
Among other things, the draft bill also --
People in the Northeast will have another chance tomorrow to spot a space shuttle flying atop a 747 airplane. This time it is space shuttle Enterprise, enroute from Washington, DC to New York City between 9:30 and 11:30 am ET.
Enterprise never flew into space. Instead it was used for atmospheric drop tests before the first shuttles were launched to orbit. It was transferred to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in 1985 and has been on display near Dulles International Airport since then. Its home since 2003 has been the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles, but it lost its spot to space shuttle Discovery, an orbiter that has actually been to space.
Discovery arrived last week and it is time for Enterprise to go to its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Enterprise is scheduled to be flown atop a shuttle carrier aircraft between 9:30 and 11:30 am tomorrow morning (April 27). After flying over landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, it will land at JFK Airport. It will later be placed on a barge for transport along the Hudson River to the Intrepid museum and placed on the deck of the Intrepid, an aircraft carrier used to recover Mercury and Gemini crews in the 1960s.
The House Appropriations Committee completed markup of the FY2013 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill that funds NASA and NOAA today and favorably reported the bill to the House. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), announced that it will be the first FY2013 appropriations bill to be debated on the House floor this year. Debate is set to begin on May 8.
Rogers applauded the fact that the bill is proceeding through committee and floor consideration in "regular order" this year. Last year, the appropriations process was caught up in high stakes political battles. The CJS bill made it through full committee markup in the House and Senate, but no further. The final numbers were negotiated behind closed doors and wrapped into a "minibus" appropriations bill that passed in November.
The appropriations committees on both sides of the Hill are trying to return to regular order this year, and the CJS bill is one of the first to move through subcommittee and full committee markup in both the House and the Senate. Most Washington pundits still do not believe that the appropriations process will be finalized by October 1 when FY2013 begins, however. Negotiations are still needed on many issues and the House adopted a budget resolution that gives most of its appropriations subcommittees less money to spend than their Senate counterparts. In total, the House CJS bill provides $51.1 billion for the agencies under its jurisdiction. The House CJS subcommittee had $731 million less to spend than its Senate counterpart because the House passed a budget resolution with lower spending thresholds than agreed to last year in the Budget Control Act (BCA). The Senate is using the BCA figures.
For civilian space activities, the biggest difference between the House and Senate is that the Senate wants to transfer NOAA's satellite activities to NASA.
Much larger political issues loom over the entire federal spending debate, starting with the threat of a sequester beginning on January 1, 2013 if the House, Senate and White House do not reach agreement on how to avoid it. Coupled with an expected debate over extending the Bush-era tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of this year and election year politics, the alacrity and civility in moving the CJS and some of the other appropriations bills may not stand the test of time.
Today, however, civility and regular order were the watchwords. The House committee adopted a manager's amendment offered by CJS subcommittee chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA). The text of the amendment has not been posted on the committee's website yet so whether it affects NASA or NOAA is not clear. The committee states only that it "makes technical changes to the bill and report, as well as adjustments and additions to various non-controversial language provisions." Several other amendments were offered, but none was directed at NASA or at NOAA's space activities.
One member, Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), engaged in a colloquy about the need for more money to study the oceans, complaining that too much money is spent on atmospheric and space science and not enough on the oceans. He did not offer an amendment, however.
The House bill provides NASA with $17.574 billion, which it says is $138 million below the request of $17.711 billion. The Senate bill (S. 2323), which was marked up by the full Senate Appropriations Committee last week, provides NASA with $19.4 billion, but the increase is because it transfers NOAA's satellites activities to NASA. Without the transfer, the Senate committee said the bill cuts NASA's budget by $41.5 million compared to its FY2012 enacted level. Congress appropriated $17.800 billion to NASA for FY2012, but also included an across-the-board rescission that brought the figure down to $17.770 billion. Thus, the Senate recommendation for NASA for FY2013 would be $17.729 billion, $155 million more than the House. (The House committee report says that its recommendation of $17.574 billion is a $226.2 million reduction from the enacted level for FY2012, but that must not include the rescission since $17.574 billion plus $226 million is $17.8 billion.)
The House bill gives NOAA $4.962 billion, which it says is $92.877 million less than the President's request for FY2013 ($5.1 billion), and $67.994 million above the FY2012 enacted level. It does not call for NOAA's satellite programs to be transferred to NASA, and fully funds NOAA's request for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) at $916 million. The Senate bill cuts NOAA's request to $3.4 billion by transferring JPSS and NOAA's other satellite programs to NASA.
UPDATE: The time (10:00 am) and place (2359 Rayburn) have been added and "tomorrow" changed to "today." NOTE TO INTERNET EXPLORER USERS: Due to some technical glitch, the hyperlink to the committee's draft report is not working in some versions of IE, though it is fine in Firefox. To obtain the report, go the committee's main website, http://appropriations.house.gov and scroll down under the photographs and it's the first item.
The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup the FY2013 funding bill for NASA and NOAA today, April 26, 2012, at 10:00 am in 2359 Rayburn House Office Buildiing. The bill funds agencies under the jurisdiction of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which includes NASA and NOAA. Subcommittee markup was completed last week.
The committee posted the draft report to accompany the bill, which provides more detail on what it has in mind for NASA and NOAA than the bill, which was released last week.
The House bill provides $17.6 billion for NASA, $138 million less than the President's request. The Administration's proposal to cut funding for planetary exploration is of particular interest this year, especially its impact on robotic Mars exploration. The committee's report clarifies that it wants to add $88 million for the Mars Next Decade project, for a total of $150 million. It does require that the National Research Council certify that any new Mars mission conform with the recommendation of the 2011 NRC Decadal Survey for planetary exploration that called for a program leading to return of a sample of Mars to Earth. If the NRC cannot make the certification, the funding is to be reallocated to the NRC's second priority for large "flagship" missions -- a probe to study Jupiter's moon Europa.
The committee's report also has extensive language about the human spaceflight program, including the Space Launch System, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion), and commercial crew. The committee criticizes many aspects of the commercial crew program and calls for "an immediate downselect to a single competitor or, at most, the execution of a leader-follower paradigm in which NASA makes one large award to a main commercial partner and a second small award to a back-up partner."
SpaceX announced today that May 7 is the new date it has chosen to attempt its second test launch as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.
The Space X announcement in the form of an email said "NASA and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have approved SpaceX’s request to set May 7th as the target launch date for the upcoming COTS 2 mission." NASA later issued its own press release quoting NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier as saying: "We appreciate that SpaceX is taking the necessary time to help ensure the success of this historic flight. We will continue to work with SpaceX in preparing for the May 7 launch to the International Space Station."
NASA refers to the mission as C2+ -- the second COTS test flight that combines objectives from the third (and last) test flight at SpaceX's request. SpaceX refers to it as COTS 2. The goal is not only to launch the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the vicinity of the International Space Station (ISS), but to actually berth with the ISS and transfer supplies and equipment. That latter objective was to be part of the third test flight, but SpaceX convinced NASA to let it try on this flight.
SpaceX announced today that it is delaying its test launch to the International Space Station by another week to allow more testing.
The launch was tentatively approved for April 30 (with May 3 as a backup date) last week after a NASA Flight Readiness Review, but NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at the time that additional software testing was required and a final decision had not been made. Today was the day that SpaceX had to report to NASA on its progress in testing the software.
In an e-mailed message, SpaceX said:
"After reviewing our recent progress, it was clear that we needed more time to finish hardware-in-the-loop testing and properly review and follow up on all data. While it is still possible that we could launch on May 3rd, it would be wise to add a few more days of margin in case things take longer than expected. As a result, our launch is likely to be pushed back by one week, pending coordination with NASA.
"We will send out an announcement when a new target it [sic] set."
The following events may be of interest in the coming week. The House and Senate both are in session this week.
During the Week
After the excitement of last week with its space shuttle Discovery flyover of Washington, DC and the National Space Symposium in Colorado, this week may pale in comparison. Especially since the transport of space shuttle Enterprise from Washington to New York was postponed because of weather; no new date has been announced, but presumably that could still happen this week. Enterprise, which never flew in space, lost its spot at the Smithsonian to Discovery and is being relocated to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.
In any case, Tuesday promises to be interesting with a press conference at Seattle's Museum of Flight (10:30 am PT, 1:30 pm ET) to announce the formation of a company, Planetary Resources, Inc., that plans to mine asteroids. Press reports indicate that company backers include movie director and explorer James Cameron; Google executives Larry Page and Eric Schmidt; space entrepreneurs Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis; and former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi who flew into space twice as a "tourist" on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, one of which is now on display at the Museum of Flight.
Apart from that, the various subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will markup their sections of the FY2013 defense authorization bill late in the week; Strategic Forces is on Thursday. And it wouldn't be surprising if the full House Appropriations Committee marks up the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill sometime during the week, although there is no such announcement as of Sunday afternoon; CJS subcommittee markup was completed last week. Full committee markup of the Energy and Water appropriations bill, which also was marked up at subcommittee level last week, is scheduled for Wednesday at 11:00 am.
Tuesday, April 24
Wednesday, April 25
Wednesday-Friday, April 25-27
Thursday, April 26
The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee approved its draft FY2013 CJS appropriations bill today. Across Capitol Hill, the full Senate Appropriations Committee gave the nod to its version of the bill. These are only the first steps in the lengthy congressional process to get approval for FY2013 spending, and the two bills are quite different, but they are steps nonetheless.
The Senate bill is now ready for floor action, although it is anyone's guess as to when that will occur. The House bill still must be marked up at full committee level. No date for that action has been announced.
The biggest difference in the two bills with regard to space programs is that the Senate wants to take the management of weather satellite programs away from NOAA and give it to NASA. The Senate bill transfers more than $1 billion from NOAA to NASA to pay for it. Thus the Senate total for NASA is $19.4 billion, although the committee said that if the transfer did not take place, the total for NASA would be $41.5 million less than the President requested. The House bill does not call for transferring NOAA's satellite programs to NASA. It would provide NASA $17.6 billion, $138 million less than the President's request.
Both bills would add money for robotic Mars exploration. The Senate bill adds $100 million; the House bill adds $150 million. However the House bill requires that the National Research Council (NRC) certify to Congress that NASA's new Mars plan conforms with the NRC's decadal survey priority of missions that will ultimately return a sample of Mars to Earth. If the NRC does not make such a certification, the $150 million will be allocated to a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa instead. The Europa mission was the second priority for large missions in the decadal survey. Both bills provide the requested funding for the James Webb Space Telescope.
Both bills support the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft, as well as commercial crew. Not all the details of the bills have been made public yet, but it appears that the Senate adds about $160 million for SLS and $175 million for Orion. The Senate provided $525 millon instead of the $830 million requested for commercial crew. The House bill would add $110 million for SLS and keep Orion funding at the requested level. The House has not publicly indicated its funding level for commercial crew, but the Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a press release stating that the amount is $500 million and asked Congress to provide "the highest possible funding level" as it finalizes the NASA budget.
The House did not appear to make any major changes to NOAA's satellite programs. Overall, it reduced the NOAA request from $5.1 billion to $5.0 billion. It fully funded NOAA's $916 million request for the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). As mentioned, the Senate would move the money allocated for NOAA's satellite programs to NASA.
NASA already is the acquisition agent for NOAA's satellites, but the agencies work together on a reimburseable basis. Congress appropriates the money to NOAA and NOAA then transfers much of it to NASA. Senator Mikulski, who chairs the Senate CJS subcommittee, says that the government will save $117 million in FY2013 by getting rid of unnecessary management duplication by giving the money directly to NASA. Mikulski criticized NOAA for continuing overruns on its satellite programs and insisted that NASA could do a better job. NOAA would continue to operate the satellites once they are in orbit under the Senate CJS plan.
Others argue that whatever agency sets the requirements must be the agency responsible for obtaining the money to pay for implementing them. Otherwise, there is no brake on the requirements-setting process and "requirements creep" sets in. As the agency that needs the data to produce weather forecasts, NOAA presumably would remain in control of the requirements, while NASA would have to fight the budget battles to pay for satellites to meet them, a difficult position to be in. Consequently the Senate proposal is expected to be controversial.
Overall, the House and Senate are working under very different budget assumptions for FY2013. The Senate is using the top level assumptions that are in law as part of the Budget Control Act (BCA) enacted last year after considerable debate over raising the debt limit. The Senate insists that those are the budget targets for this year, but the House decided to pass a different, lower set of spending numbers to guide its appropriations process. Hanging over all of this is the threat of sequestration, also part of the BCA, wherein NASA, for example, would be subject to an eight percent across-the-board cut beginning January 1, 2013.
Thus, even though these appropriations actions may make it appear that Congress is moving more quickly than usual in funding the government for the upcoming fiscal year, it is not expected that the FY2013 appropriations bills will be finalized before the election in November. FY2013 begins on October 1.
Editor's Note: This story is updated with the Commercial SpaceFlight Federation press release.
The draft bill that the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee is scheduled to markup tomorrow morning would allocate $150 million to "Mars Next Decade." However, the bill also requires the National Research Council (NRC) to certify that the new Mars program will lead to accomplishment of a Mars sample return mission as dictated by the recent NRC Decadal Survey for planetary science or the money will be reallocated to study Jupiter's moon Europa.
Mars Next Decade is the new integrated plan NASA is developing to replace the Mars strategy it recently abandoned for budgetary reasons. The previous plan was for a series of robotic missions conducted in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) beginning in 2016 and 2018. Those two missions would be followed by others that were to collect and store ("cache") samples from different parts of Mars and eventually return them to Earth for analysis. NASA formally notified ESA that it would not be able to participate in those missions after the FY2013 President's budget request was released showing a 21 percent cut to NASA's planetary science budget in FY2013 and additional cuts in subsequent years.
NASA is now developing a new Mars exploration strategy, Mars Next Decade, that responds to the needs of the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) as well as the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, with input from the Office of Chief Technologist and Office of Chief Scientist. NASA officials stress that President Obama directed the agency to develop a plan to send humans to the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s and thus a plan in needed that addresses not only science but human exploration requirements.
The draft bill would increase the total amount available for SMD in FY2013 from the $4.911 billion requested to $5.095 billion, of which $150 million is designated for Mars Next Decade. The bill requires, however, that the NRC certify to Congress that "the chosen mission concept will lead to the accomplishment of Mars sample return as described in the most recent [NRC] decadal survey." If the NRC cannot make that certification, the money "shall be reallocated to the development of a Jupiter Europa orbiter, consistent with the priorities in the aformentioned decadal survey."
Jupiter is one of the outer planets (beyond the asteroid belt) and members of the planetary science community who focus on that region of the solar system have been arguing for a new "outer planets flagship" mission for years. Flagship missions are the most complicated and expensive missions in SMD's stable, usually requiring innovative technologies and promising breakthrough scientific results. The NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens mission is the most recent outer planets flagship mission. Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and is still studying the planet and its moons. One of the moons, Titan, has an atmosphere and has been the object of intense scientific interest for many decades. An ESA-built probe, Huygens, detached from Cassini and traversed Titan's atmosphere in 2005 and landed on its surface. Huygens providing tantalizing images that whetted the appetite of scientists and the public for more.
In addition to Cassini, two other missions are currently headed to the outer solar system. Both are more modest missions, but still will produce exciting science. The New Horizons mission was launched in 2006 and will reach Pluto in 2015, and the Juno mission was launched last year for its 5-year journey to Jupiter. They and Cassini are expected to complete their missions by about 2017-2018 and outer planet scientists want a new mission to replace them.
There are many fascinating places to visit in the outer solar system, however. Scientists are especially eager to study another Saturnian moon, Enceladus, and one of Jupiter's moons, Europa. Liquid water may exist there, with the consequent possibility of life.
Choosing among the many places to visit within a constrained budget is a task left to the NRC and its decadal survey process wherein the relevant science community reaches consensus after significant debate on the top scientific priorities for a given 10-year period (a decade, hence the term "decadal survey"). The most recent NRC planetary science decadal survey ranked returning a sample of Mars to Earth as its first priority for a flagship mission, with a Europa mission second. The report laid out decision criteria for which of its top priority flagship missions should proceed depending on mission costs and funding availability.
The current fiscal environment was not envisioned when that study began, however. With intense focus today on cutting the federal deficit, many agenices are in fiscal distress, including NASA. In the FY2013 budget request, NASA's planetary science budget took the biggest cut of all of NASA's mission areas. The planetary science community is not just hoping, but expecting, Congress to come to the rescue. It appears they are correct. The Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee marked up its version of the bill yesterday, adding $100 million for Mars exploration. The text of that bill has not been released, so whether it includes similar provisions about obtaining an NRC certification that any new Mars mission conforms with the decadal survey is unclear. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will markup that bill tomorrow morning also.
The House CJS subcommittee markup is at 9:30 am ET tomorrow morning in H-140 Capitol. The Senate full committee markup of the CJS bill is at 10:30 in 192 Dirksen.
The House Appropriations Committee's Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will recommend a $138 million cut to the funding requested by President Obama for NASA at its markup tomorrow. While some activities are cut, others are increased, such as planetary exploration. The NOAA budget would be cut from the request of $5.1 billion to $5.0 billion. Markup is scheduled for 9:30 tomorrow morning in H-140 Capitol. The committee's website says it will not be webcast.
Following are the relevant sections from the committee's press release today. NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at $17.6 billion in the bill, which is $226 million below fiscal year 2012 and $138 million below the President’s request. This funding includes:
· $3.7 billion for Exploration – $59 million below fiscal year 2012. This includes funding to keep NASA on schedule for upcoming Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System flight milestones and to maintain progress in a reconfigured commercial crew program.
· $4 billion for Space Operations – $249 million below fiscal year 2012. The legislation will continue the closeout of the Space Shuttle program for a savings of $503 million.
· $5.1 billion for NASA Science programs – $5 million above fiscal year 2012. This includes $1.4 billion for planetary science to ensure the continuation of critical research and development programs that were imperiled by the President’s request. This also includes $628 million, as requested, for the James Webb Space Telescope.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – The legislation contains $5.0 billion for NOAA, which is $68 million above fiscal year 2012 and $93 million below the President’s request. Within this total, National Weather Service operations and systems are funded at $22.3 million above the requested level, and $916 million, the full request, is included for the Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite program to ensure the continuation of important weather data collection. These weather programs are essential to maintain and improve weather forecasting to warn communities about potentially devastating natural disasters.
Events of Interest
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