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Senate Commerce Committee to Mark Up NASA Authorization Bill on Thursday, July 15

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:16 PM)

It's official. Rumors that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up a NASA authorization bill on Thursday are now confirmed on the committee's website. Two unrelated bills and a Coast Guard nomination are also on the agenda for the meeting, July 15, 2010 at 10:00 am in 253 Russell Senate Office Building.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees NASA, sent a letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), his counterpart on the appropriations committee, on June 14 outlining the major points of the bill. Reports in the New York Times and other news outlets in the past three days also summarize its general principles. Depending on one's point of view, the bill is either a compromise with the Obama Administration's proposal for the future of human spaceflight or a rejection of it. President Obama wants to rely on commercial companies to build systems to take people to and from low Earth orbit (LEO), for example the International Space Station, instead of NASA. NASA's assignment would be technology development for missions to asteroids and other "beyond LEO" destinations in 2025 and later under the Obama plan.

The Senate bill instead reportedly will keep NASA in the LEO human space transportation business with government development of a new "heavy lift" space transportation system and crew exploration vehicle in the near term. Commercial crew reportedly is supported in the bill, but not to the extent proposed by the President. The bill would also add at least one more space shuttle flight, a move Senator Nelson has championed for many months. Only two shuttle missions remain on the official flight manifest. The bill reportedly is a 3-year authorization and has bipartisan support in the committee.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation issued a statement today responding to what it calls "misperceptions" about commercial crew. The Federation represents businesses and organizations "working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality," according to its website.

New Obama Policy Heralds International Space Paradigm Shift: Linda Billings

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

President Obama's new national space policy is "reconfiguring the U.S. leadership role in global space exploration," says George Washington University research professor Dr. Linda Billings in a guest blog for Space News.

Noting that the Augustine Committee's report focused more on international space cooperation than commercial space, despite media attention to the contrary, and remarks by NASA Administrator Bolden over the past year also stressing outreach to international partners, Dr. Billings concludes that "at last, we are seeing an ideological shift for the better" away from the notion that "space exploration is a quintessentially American enterprise."

Commercial Space Activities

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:13 PM)

<< For current news items and links to other reports and resources, click on those links on the left menu. <<

Brief Introduction

U.S. Commercial Space Policy and NASA's "Commercial Crew" and COTS Programs|

Commercial Suborbital Launches

U.S. Aerospace Companies

Major Non-U.S. Aerospace Companies


The "Space Economy"

As published by the Space Foundation in The Space Report 2011: The Authoritative Guide to Global Space Activity, worldwide space revenues in 2010 were $276.5 billion, an increase of 7.7% over 2009 This annual report from the Space Foundation tracks worldwide spending by governments, the private sector and consumers. According to the report's free executive summary, this $276.5 billion "space economy" is comprised of the following segments:

  • commercial infrastructure and support Industries, 32% ($87.39 billion)
  • U.S. government space budgets, 23% ($64.63 billion)
  • non-U.S. government space budgets, 8% ($22.49 billion)
  • commercial space products and services, 37% ($102.00 billion) and
  • commercial space transportation services, less than 1% ($0.01 billion).

Defining "Commercial" Space Activities

What makes a space activity "commercial" can be difficult to define. Some consider a commercial activity to be one in which a private sector entity puts its own capital at risk and provides goods or services primarily to other private sector entities or consumers rather than to the government. Examples of these activities would be direct-to-home satellite television (e.g. DirecTV and DishTV), satellite radio (Sirius XM), and commercial fixed satellites that transmit voice, data and Internet services (such as Intelsat Ltd., SES Global, and Eutelsat).

Other definitions are broader and include sales of consumer equipment by companies even though the satellite system is owned by the government. The chief example of this is the Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation satellite system that is owned by the U.S. Department of Defense, but has a vast array of consumer users ranging from automobile navigation systems to cell phones to precision farming. The devices used by consumers around the world in their cars, on their boats, or carried on their persons are sold by commercial companies, but the satellite signal that makes them work is provided for free by DOD.

Still broader definitions of commercial space activities include those where a company provides services primarily to government customers, such as the Boeing-Lockheed Martin United Launch Alliance (ULA), or remote sensing satellite companies (GeoEye and DigitalGlobe). Others do not consider these commercial because they are reliant on the government for most of their revenue and the government shoulders most of the risk because the government requires the services.

In his National Space Policy issued on June 28, 2010, President Obama defined "commercial space activities" in this manner:

The term "commercial," for the purposes of this policy, refers to space goods, services, or activities provided by private sector enterprises that bear a reasonable portion of the investment risk and responsibility for the activity, operate in accordance with typical market-based incentives for controlling cost and optimizing return on investment, and have the legal capacity to offer these goods or services to existing or potential nongovernmental customers.


The government plays a major role in commercial space activities in many ways, from establishing regulatory policy, to creating policies that direct government agencies to purchase services from companies, to contracting for hardware. For example, the government signs contracts for guaranteed data buys from the two commercial remote sensing satellite companies, GeoEye and DigitalGlobe, which enables them to raise the capital needed to build and launch the satellites.

U.S. commercial space policy has been part of national space policy for decades and today is defined by President Barack Obama's 2010 National Space Policy, which supersedes President George W. Bush's 2006 National Space Policy. Obama Administration officials reportedly are working on updating two other Bush-era commercial space policies: the 2003 Commerical Remote Sensing Policy and 2005 Space Transportation Policy.

The Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation regulates and facilitates the commercial space launch business. The Federal Communications Commission assigns radio frequencies and issues licenses for commercial satellite systems.

In his FY2011 budget request, President Obama requested $6 billion over 5 years (FY2011-2015) in NASA's budget to subsidize companies to develop "commercial crew" launch vehicles and spacecraft instead of the govvernment -- NASA -- developing such systems. He wanted to cancel the Constellation program, begun under President George W. Bush, to build new launch vehicles (Ares I and V) and a spacecraft (Orion) to take astronauts to the International Space Station in Earth orbit, back to the Moon, and on to Mars. Instead, the President proposed that the United States rely on the commercial sector to build new crew space transportation systems for use in low Earth orbit (LEO). The concept is called "commercial crew." The President believes it will free NASA to focus on building systems to take astronauts to more challenging destinations beyond LEO, such as to asteroids. NASA would facilitate commercial crew by providing funding to one or more companies.

The proposal was very controversial and was vigorously debated in Congress. The 2010 NASA Authorization Act (P.L. 111-267), signed into law in October 2010, is a compromise wherein NASA is directed to develop a government crew space transportation system as well as fund the commercial crew concept, but at a lower funding level. For more on NASA's FY2011 budget request, and the request for FY2012, see our Fact Sheets on those topics.

President Obama's FY2012 budget request for NASA is similarly controversial because the congressional committees that oversee NASA believe that it contravenes the compromise reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. NASA is requesting more money than was authorized for commercial crew and less money than was authorized for NASA-developed systems. The NASA-developed systems, called a Space Launch System and a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, are combined into a category called "Human Exploration Capabilities" in NASA's FY2012 budget request.

Before the Obama "commercial crew" proposal was announced, NASA already had initiated a program to rely on the commercial sector to take cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Called COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation System), it is needed because the Bush Administration decided to terminate the space shuttle program, which was originally envisioned to take both crews and cargo to ISS throughout its lifetime. The last space shuttle missiontook place in July 2011, while the Obama Administration wants to keep the ISS operating at least until 2020. Two companies, SpaceX and Orbital, were awarded contracts to develop cargo spacecraft to service the ISS beginning in 2011. SpaceX conducted the first launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle in 2009; a second launch with a test version of its Dragon spacecraft -- which is being designed to take first cargo, and, later, crew into orbit -- was successful in December 2010. Orbital plans to test its Taurus II launch vehicle and Cygnus spacecraft in 2011. A "gap" of many years will exist between the termination of the space shuttle in 2011 and when commercial services are available. NASA will purchase crew transportation services from Russia during that gap.

In February 2010, NASA awarded contracts to five companies for Crew Transportation Concepts and Technology Demonstration, or CCDEV (commercial crew development). The companies are: Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon Space Development Corp., Sierra Nevada Corp., and United Launch Alliance. Winners of the CCDEV2 competition were announced in April 2011: Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX.


Suborbital flights that do not go into orbit around Earth, but fly in a high arc and provide several minutes of microgravity on the return to Earth, also are of interest. They are commonly used not only in the United States, but in many other places around the world for experiments that need minutes, but not hours or days, of microgravity. Traditionally, government agencies are the providers of these services, and are also the users along with primarily academic institutions.

Several U.S. companies are interested in providing suborbital launches either for experiments or for sending people into space on a commercial basis. There is no legal definition of where air ends and space begins, but the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), which certifies air records, uses 100 kilometers as that boundary. In 2004, Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites won the Ansari X-Prize award for using its SpaceShipOne to send a pilot over that threshold and back to Earth twice within 14 days (different pilots flew the craft each time). Richard Branson's Virgin Group created a company, Virgin Galactic, to take anyone with the requisite funds (approximately $200,000) on such suborbital flights using SpaceShipTwo, which is still in development. (He also plans on providing orbital flights in the future.)

Other companies also are interested in the commercial suborbital market for experiments, people, or both. On August 9, 2011, NASA announced the selection of seven companies for indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts under its Commercial Reusable Suborbital Research (CRuSR) program to provide suborbital launch services for NASA technology experiments. The total value of all the contracts is $10 million. The companies selected are: Armadillo Aerospace, Near Space Corp., Masten Space Systems, Up Aerospace Inc., Virgin Galactic, Whittinghill Aerospace LLC, and XCOR. (Links to the companies are provided below if available.)


Hundreds of companies are involved in the aerospace sector, even when looking only at the "space" part of the business and not aircraft. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide links to some of the companies that are most often referenced in discussions about space policy.

The "big three" U.S. aerospace companies are:

In addition, Boeing and Lockheed Martin co-own

Other major U.S. aerospace companies include:

Major U.S. companies that sell space-related products or services include:

Entrepreneurial companies:


There also are hundreds of non-U.S. companies in the aerospace sector. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide links to companies that are most often referenced in discussions about space policy.)

  • Arianespace (French, launch services)
  • EADS (French-German/European diversified aerospace company of which Astrium is a subsidiary. SpotImage, which provides commercial remote sensing imagery, is part of Astrium)
  • Eutelsat (European fixed satellite services)
  • Inmarsat (global mobile satellite services, based in the United Kingdom)
  • Intelsat (global fixed satellite service, based in Luxembourg)
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japanese, satellites and in-space platforms)
  • SES (European fixed satellite services)
  • Thales Alenia Space (European communications satellite manufacturing)


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Transcript of SWF/ACA Seminar on New National Space Policy Now Available

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:17 PM)

A transcript of the seminar hosted by the Secure World Foundation and the Arms Control Association last week is now available. The seminar analyzed President Obama's new National Space Policy.

NASA Searching for Chief Historian

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:15 PM)

NASA is looking for a chief historian at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. It's a quick turnaround, though. The position was posted today and applications are due by next Tuesday, July 13. Visit USA Jobs for more details.

Particles Found in Hayabusa Asteroid Sample Return Capsule

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

The BBC reports that Japanese scientists have found particles inside the sample return capsule of the Hayabusa spacecraft that completed its seven-year round trip journey to asteroid Itokawa last month. They do not know for certain yet, however, whether they are from the asteroid or Earth.

More Analysis of the New National Space Policy

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

Jeff Foust has a really good write-up about the new national space policy in The Space Review this morning.

And for anyone who missed it (given its unique title, No Place for Jingoism, that does not quite convey that it's about the space program), the New York Times did an editorial about the policy on Friday.

Lambert: Space Industrial Base Needs A More Nuanced, Sophisticated Approach

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

Speaking of what he described as one of the seven pillars of a reformed industrial policy for space at the Department of Defense (DoD), Brett Lambert, Director of Industrial Policy at DoD, said that the former view of a monolithic organism is no longer valid and that "a more nuanced, sophisticated approach to industrial policy" is needed. At a recent event hosted by the George C. Marshall Institute at the National Press Club, Lambert gave the keynote to discuss the future of the space industrial base, with particular emphasis on its implications for national security.

Lambert said that "space is a unique animal" and that many of the assumptions that guide policies in other areas are therefore not valid. Acknowledging on the one hand the budgetary constraints of U.S. engagement in two wars, as well as the fact that "we are where we are" and not facing a clean slate, forces policymakers to look for realistic answers to the problems that continue to threaten an eroding industrial base. Those include the loss of critical skills in an ageing workforce, and the departure of second and third tier suppliers due to a lack of stability and policies that hinder their ability to compete globally.

This competition is not only a result of globalization, but of U.S. policies as well - "a lot of our wounds are self-inflicted," said Lambert. This realization has spurred recent developments in export control reform, which many agree is one of the areas stunting the growth of the industrial space sector. But one key message of the discussion, underscored by the panel of experts who followed Lambert's remarks, is that the public-private relationship involved with the industrial base is so profound that reform is needed not only to support the industry, but to benefit the country. Lambert described export control reform as "a very self-interested move" and not a gift to industry.

Far reaching reform will be complex, requiring that balance be struck between priorities in a constrained budget environment. One issue requiring attention is the need to spend more on research and development (R&D) so as to invest in the technologies that will make U.S. companies more competitive in the future. "The national security community is saying that it's not an 'either/or' [situation]" between R&D and supporting ongoing activities, said Vincent Dennis of Deloitte Consulting. Describing this challenge, Hal Hagemeier of DoD's National Security Space Office said that "the problem is you can't schedule breakthroughs," but that at the same time "we do want the 'Beam me up, Scotty'-kind of technologies."

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that no one can say for sure how effective reform will be in the short term. There is no data to show that there will be enough markets to sustain U.S. suppliers, or whether, once able to compete, buyers will choose U.S. products as opposed to sometimes cheaper foreign alternatives. The impact of industrial policy reform may only be felt after several years. On this point, Bill Adkins, president of Adkins Strategies, said that while there may not be immediate payoff, "as the technology changes perhaps the U.S. will be ahead" and the investments may bear fruit in the future.

A webcast of the event is available on the Marshall Institute's website, along with its own summary.

Events of Interest: Week of July 5-9, 2010

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

It's a relatively quiet week in Washington with Congress in recess and most people at the beach, but for those who want to venture out into our horrid weather, here are a few events that are going on. Also, a NAC task force will be meeting in beautiful Boulder, CO. For more details, see our calendar on the right menu or click the links below.

Wednesday-Thursday, July 7-8, Washington DC

  • Space Studies Board's Committee on Earth Studies, Keck Center (500 Fifth St., NW). See agenda for when the open sessions will be held.
  • NASA Advisory Council Astrophysics Subcommittee, NASA Headquarters, Room 3H46
    • July 7, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm
    • July 8, 8:30 am - 4:00 pm

Thursday, July 8, Washington, DC

Thursday-Friday, July 8-9, Boulder, CO

Cargo Spacecraft Succeeds in Docking with ISS on Second Try

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Jul-2010 (Updated: 05-Dec-2011 06:12 PM)

Russia's Progress M-06M spacecraft successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) today. The first attempt, on Friday, failed because of a radio interference problem.

This time NASA says the docking was "executed flawlessly by Progress' Kurs automated rendezvous system." NASA calls the mission "ISS Progress 38" because it is the 38th Progress to visit ISS, but there have been many more Progress flights than that in the history of the program, which dates back to 1978 and Russia's (then the Soviet Union) Salyut 6 space station. Progress 1 was the first spacecraft to execute automated in-space propellant transfer, refilling Salyut 6's tanks.

Events of Interest

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


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