Latest News

Senate to Take up DOD Authorization Next Week; Add Immigration Reform

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

Despite earlier pessimism about the chances of the Senate bringing up the Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill (S. 3454), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has decided not only to take it to the floor, but to add immigration reform.

An attempt to reach unanimous consent to bring the bill to the floor failed in early August when Senator John McCain (R-AZ), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, objected because it potentially would repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Last week, Congress Daily called the chances of the Senate passing the bill "murky."

Nonetheless, Sen. Reid indicated early this week that he would try to bring up the bill for debate and surprised many by announcing that he planned to tack an immigration reform bill, the DREAM Act, on to the DOD bill. Today's Congress Daily (subscription required) says that Republicans oppose the idea because immigration is not germane to national defense, but Sen. Reid reportedly said that it is germane because the DREAM Act could affect military recruitment by allowing young adult illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minors to become citizens.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on Tuesday on whether to proceed with debate on the bill.

Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Recommends Zero Funding for NPOESS, $50 million for DWSS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee (SAC-D) marked up the FY2011 defense appropriations bill today recommending zero funding for DOD's portion of the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) that the White House wants restructured after years of cost overruns and schedule slips. It approved $50 million for DOD's successor program, the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS).

NPOESS was designed to merge the separate military and civil weather satellite systems of DOD and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce). NASA was involved in a technical capacity. An independent assessment of the NPOESS program led by former Lockheed Martin executive Tom Young raised warning flags about the program and in February the White House decided to break the program apart so that each agency had its own system once more.

NOAA renamed its portion the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and is proceeding with procuring its first satellite through NASA. DOD renamed its portion the Defense Weather Satellite System (DWSS). In its FY2011 budget request, DOD asked for $325 million for its part of the restructured program although it provided few details on its plan, for example whether it would retain the satellite "bus" design developed through Northrop Grumman, the NPOESS prime contractor.

SAC-D zeroed that request while providing $50 million for DWSS. Unlike NOAA, which has launched the last of its legacy polar-orbiting weather satellites and thus is anxious to launch the first JPSS in 2014, DOD has two of its legacy Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites awaiting launch, so the need to decide on the replacement version is less urgent.

The only other space program mentioned in the committee's press release is Operationally Responsive Space, for which $40 million was added.

New Mexico's Spaceport America Looking for Deputy Director

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

For anyone interested in working in commercial spaceflight in New Mexico, see this press release.

AIAA Seminar on Space and the Biological Economy on the Hill Sept. 16

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) will hold a seminar on "Space and the Biological Economy -- Driving the Lift" on Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 1:00 pm in room 2325 Rayburn House Office Building. The event is free and open to the public. The topic is how space exploration enhances the U.S. "biological economy" and what advances in telemedicine mean to the country's long-term economic and physical health as well as to the future of space exploration.

Space Entrepreneurship Forum Tomorrow on the Hill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation is spreading the word today about a Space Entrepreneurship Forum tomorrow (September 15) that will start at 3:00 pm in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. A reception will follow at 5:00 pm in 122 Cannon House Office Building. Speakers include George Nield, current head of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation; Patti Grace Smith, his predecessor and now a member of the Board of the Space Foundation;, Mike Beavin of the Department of Commerce; John Gedmark of the Federaltion; and George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic (and former chief of staff to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden). For more information, see the Federation's website.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Markup is Tomorrow (Tuesday); Full Committee on Thursday

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee will mark up the FY2011 DOD appropriations bill tomorrow, Tuesday, September 14 at 10:30 am in 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building. Full committee markup of that bill and three others is scheduled for Thursday at 2:00 pm in 106 Dirksen. Both meetings were announced by the committee today.

UPDATE 2: Events of Interest: Week of September 13-17, 2010

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: This is updated to add the dates and times for Senate appropriations subcommittee and full commitee markup of the defense appropriations bill (on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.) A second update added seminars on Wednesday and Thursday.

The following events may of interest in the coming week. For more information, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

During The Week

The House and Senate return from their summer break this week with a full plate of space issues awaiting them. The only legislative action expected this week, however, is the potential markup of the DOD appropriations bill by the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee that Congress Daily (subscription required) reports could happen on Thursday.

Monday-Tuesday, September 13-14

  • NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Space Operations Committee, Johnson Space Center, TX
    • September 13, 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm local time
    • September 14. 8:00 am - 12:00 pm local time (joint with the NAC Commercial Space Committee

Tuesday, September 14

Tuesday-Thursday, September 14-16

Wednesday, September 15

Thursday, September 16

Thursday-Friday, September 16-17

  • NAC Astrophysics Subcommittee (of the NAC Science Committee), NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
    • September 16, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm EDT, Room 3H46
    • September 17, 8:30 am - 3:00 pm EDT, Room 5H45

Friday, September 17

  • FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), via teleconference, 11:00 am EDT

International Cooperation is Good, But China Presents Challenges, Conference Participants Conclude

Laura M. Delgado
Posted: 12-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:14 PM)

During the "Space Day" part of the 3rd Annual Washington, D.C. Space and Cyber Conference of the University of Nebraska's College of Law, participants considered the implications of the Obama Administration's National Space Policy and many pointed to its emphasis on international cooperation.

Speaking at the Military Space Panel, Deborah Plunkett of the Air Force's Office of the General Counsel characterized space situational awareness (SSA) as "the most legally ripe area of cooperation." Greater cooperation in SSA -- wherein satellite operators would have more knowledge of where other satellites and pieces of debris are located in order to avoid collisions -- will have to address a number of challenges, including respecting "historic agreements" on data protection, she said.

Bruce MacDonald, who served as Senior Director of the Congressional Commission on Strategic Posture of the United States, agreed that SSA is a viable area of cooperation. MacDonald, who lauded the inclusion of arms control in the National Space Policy as a "good change," linked SSA with deterrence, which is, in his view, the appropriate goal of the United States in space: "the more countries know they are [being] observed, the more cautious they'll be." Plunkett added that the accountability derived from attribution for anti-satellite (ASAT) attacks or other debris-causing behavior "may impact what people do in space."

Dean Cheng, Research Fellow at the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation, described that assumption as "interesting," and cautioned that increased SSA or cooperation in that area may not be so easy with actors like China and may not aid deterrence. What were the lessons for China after the 2007 ASAT test, he asked rhetorically. Instead of suffering from this incident, Cheng explained, China learned that there are no consequences to conducting such tests. When considering China, which he described as "a genuine space power", he asked if knowing more about the behavior of other actors in space would be deterrence or, considering the "asymmetry of interests" between China and the United States, might serve the opposite role.

With major challenges in U.S.-China relations, space cooperation with China - which was not ruled out as a possibility in the new policy - still may be some time off. When asked about cooperating with China in human spaceflight missions, the Deputy Administrator of NASA, Lori Garver, who delivered the afternoon's keynote speech, joked "I'm so sorry, that's all the time we have." She could only add that just like the inclusion of Russia in the International Space Station, "human spaceflight cooperation will not be a NASA decision."

Her response echoed Cheng's earlier comments that "whether we can cooperate in space [with China] depends on whether we can cooperate on the ground" and that "cooperation needs to start with baby steps." The first challenge may prove to be the United States' own understanding of Chinese activities and motivations, what Cheng described as its "opacity." Looking to "problems on the horizon," MacDonald agreed with this description and said that "China is our biggest concern in space...that China will continue to be opaque." The hope is, he argued, that by showing China that such a stance is counterproductive, it will become "less opaque, more least translucent."

Congress Returns with A Full Plate of Space Issues Waiting

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

The House and Senate return from their summer break this week. They are scheduled to be in session for only a few weeks before adjourning in advance of the November mid-term elections. All 435 seats in the House and one-third of those in the Senate are up for election. Many pundits are predicting that the Republicans will regain control of the House, but the outcome is very difficult to forecast.

According to their websites, the House target adjournment date is October 8; the Senate calendar simply says "TBD" (to be determined), but is expected to adjourn at about the same time. Action is needed on a wide range of legislation, chief among them the appropriations bills that fund government departments and agencies. For the space policy community, the NASA and DOD authorization bills also are very important. (Not sure of the difference between an appropriation and an authorization? See our "What's a Markup? fact sheet.)

Appropriations Bills

Congress Daily (subscription required) is skeptical that any of the 12 appropriations bills will be completed before Congress adjourns. Fiscal year 2011 begins on October 1, which means a Continuing Resolution (CR) must be passed to keep the government operating. Everyone expected a CR for most of the government agencies.

The House and Senate are in virtually opposite positions. The House has passed two appropriations bills (Transportation-HUD and Milcon-VA), but none of the other 10 have been reported from committee (although subcommittee markups have taken place for most of them). The Senate has passed no appropriations bills, but nine of the 12 have been reported from committee.

Here's the status of the two appropriations bills that cover most space programs: Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), which includes NASA and NOAA; and Defense (for the Department of Defense). In the House, the appropriations subcommittees for CJS and Defense have marked up draft bills, but neither bill has been reported from committee, which is usually when the bill is formally introduced. Thus there are no bills introduced yet. In the Senate, the CJS bill was reported from committee in July (S. 3636). Congress Daily reports that the Senate appropriations defense subcommittee may mark up its bill this Thursday.

Authorization Bills

The authorization bills for NASA and DOD also are awaiting action. The Senate passed its version of the NASA authorization bill (S. 3729) in early August just before adjourning. The House Science and Technology Committee reported its version (H.R. 5781) at the end of July, but committee chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) has publicly stated that the committee is reconsidering at least one aspect of its bill - on loan guarantees for commercial crew - so the version that reaches the House floor for debate will be different from what was reported. Some think the House and Senate will try to reach a compromise agreement before the end of September, but there is no indication that action is imminent (i.e., this week).

The DOD authorization bill was passed by the House in May (H.R. 5136), but Senator John McCain (R-AZ) objected to a unanimous consent request to bring the Senate version of the bill (S. 3454) to the floor because of his opposition to a provision that would repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Congress Daily characterizes the outlook for the bill as "murky."

To keep track of these bills as they continue to work their way through Congress, check our fact sheet on Major Space-Related Legislation in the 111thCongress.

UPDATE: Griffin: Congress Must be HLLV Design Bureau of Last Resort

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:18 PM)

UPDATE: Links have been added to the prepared remarks of two of the panelists, Griffin and Pace, which are being circulated by STA. If the remarks of the other two panelists become available, links will be added to those as well.

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin told a Space Transportation Association audience yesterday that Congress must be specific in legislation about the capabilities of the new heavy lift launch vehicle (HLLV) or NASA may design a rocket too small to support human missions beyond low Earth orbit (LEO). Any lack of specificity in law would be viewed by the Administration as an opening to do something else, he argued: "It's regrettable when Congress has to be the design bureau of last resort, but sometimes it's necessary." Ordinarily, NASA administrators and almost anyone else outside of Congress bristle when Congress sets technical design parameters in law.

Scott Pace, Director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, who served as NASA Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation when Griffin headed the agency, agreed. He argued that usually Congress "functions best on an incremental basis" and "at the margins," but in this case it "had no choice but to go back to basics." He also advocated for a National Research Council "Decadal Survey" to set priorities for human space flight.

Pace is skeptical that the commercial sector can develop commercial crew systems in the near-term, saying that "just because it's desirable doesn't mean it'll be there." Bob Dickman, Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (but speaking for himself), disagreed. Reviewing the 14 families of launch vehicles developed in the United States over the past 50 years, Dickman concluded "there is nothing magic about getting to LEO. We know how to do it." He believes NASA needs to focus on investing in revolutionary in-space propulsion technologies to dramatically shorten the trip time to Mars from months to days. "We have to make the transition from what we've done to where we want to be 30 years from now."

Gary Payton, a consultant who most recently was Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs but whose career includes flying as a payload specialist on the space shuttle in 1985, focused on the need for continuity and stability in the human space flight program. Whether it is nuclear submarines or fighter aircraft, the Department of Defense begins the development of new systems while the existing systems are still operating to ensure there are no gaps in capabilities, he explained. That should have been done with building a replacement for the space shuttle to avoid the upcoming gap between the end of the shuttle and availability of a new system, but NASA could not do it because of underfunding, he said. He asked rhetorically why the nation is willing to spend money on bailing out financial institutions, but not investing in NASA.

Dickman also called for more funding for NASA, and that became the theme of much of the rest of the meeting.

Events of Interest

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


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: