SpacePolicyOnline.com Latest News
UPDATE: The room for Tuesday's House Appropriations CJS subcommittee hearing on NASA has changed. Now in 2359 Rayburn.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
It's a busy week in Congress as they try to make progress on a number of legislative issues before going on their Passover/Easter break next week. Not only are there a number of interesting congressional hearings on tap, but the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will mark up a new NASA authorization bill on Wednesday, April 9. The bill doesn't have a number yet and the draft text is not posted on the committee's website so far, but the true test will come during the markup to see what amendments are offered. The markup begins at 9:00 am ET and only one hour is scheduled (there's a hearing on a different topic in the same room that begins at 10:00 am), suggesting that little debate is expected. Later that day, across Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up H.R. 2140 (Heinrich) at 2:30 pm ET. Its purpose is to improve the transition between experimental permits and commercial licenses for commercial reusable vehicles.
As for hearings, of special note are the House Appropriations CJS hearing on NASA's FY2015 budget request on Tuesday morning, which will also hear from former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh who chaired a study that looked at security (as in access by foreign nationals) at NASA's centers. The next day it has a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee's Science and Space subcommittee will hold a hearing on From Here to Mars that includes Susan Eisenhower among the witnesses. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee will hear from the Department of Commerce, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its annual posture hearing on the Air Force, which probably will include more discussion of U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines for the Atlas 5.
All of that is happening on Capitol Hill, but tomorrow (Monday, April 7), the action will be out at the University of Maryland conference center where Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable. One of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, she is also one of the most powerful Senators as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in addition to chairing the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.
Here are the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Monday, April 7
Tuesday, April 8
Wednesday, April 9
Thursday, April 10
Mary Kicza, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Satellite and Information Services (NESDIS), will retire from government service this summer.
NESDIS is responsible for NOAA's weather/environmental satellite programs. Today that includes the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system and the Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) system, though the latter is due to be replaced by the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) beginning in 2017. NOAA is working on a few other satellite programs including Jason-3, DSCOVR, and Cosmic-2.
Kicza has led satellite programs at NOAA through difficult times. NOAA and DOD polar orbiting weather satellite systems were supposed to be combined into the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), but the White House terminated the effort in 2010 after a decade and a half of cost overruns and schedule slippage. The divorce between NOAA and DOD led to the JPSS program, which faced its own cost growth challenges. NOAA since has downscaled the program (partially by shifting responsibility for some sensors to NASA), but at the moment it seems to be an on even keel.
NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan said that Kicza will leave "some big shoes to fill" after she retires in July (her last day will be in June). Mark Paese, who recently joined NOAA as NESDIS Deputy Assistant Administrator, will serve in an acting capacity until a replacement is named.
An engineer, Kicza had a long career at NASA before joining NOAA. Among her many positions, she was NASA's Associate Administrator for Biological/Physical Research (when NASA had a separate Office of Biological and Physical Research) and Associate Deputy Administrator for Systems Integration.
Her decision to retire was first reported by Space News and confirmed by NOAA.
The Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee will mark up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2014 next week.
The committee announced this afternoon that the markup will be at 9:00 am ET on Wednesday, April 9, in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building. A draft of the bill is not posted on the committee's website yet and no bill number has been assigned.
Last year, the House SS&T Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, each marked up separate and very different versions of a 2013 NASA Authorization Act: H.R. 2687 and S. 1317. Approved by committee on partisan lines in each case, neither piece of legislation advanced beyond committee approval (the next step would have been for the bills to be reported from committee; neither was). Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced a Democratic version of a NASA authorization bill in the House (H.R. 2616) and offered it as an amendment to H.R. 2687 during markup, but it was defeated on party lines.
The major difference between Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Hill was the amount of funding allocated to NASA. Republicans wanted a comparatively low figure, while Democrats wanted more.
For the House SS&T committee, the total for NASA in FY2014 would have been $16.865 billion, which would have stayed within House-approved budget caps approved early last year in the House budget resolution. The Senate budget resolution was based on a different philosophy and would have provided much more money for the government over the next 10 years than the House. The Senate version of the 2013 NASA authorization bill would have allocated $18.1 billion for NASA for FY2014. For a summary of funding levels recommended in the House- and Senate-committee approved bills, see our fact sheet on NASA's FY2014 budget request.
Subsequently, in December the House and Senate jointly agreed to budget caps for FY2014 and FY2015 about half way between what each chamber had separately approved. Now, with the cap for FY2015 already agreed to by both chambers, the chances for agreement on a NASA authorization bill are improved, though far from certain.
Two policy areas of disagreement between the House and Senate were that the House bill would have prohibited spending any money on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (the Senate bill was silent) and the House bill would have cut NASA's earth science budget significantly (about 30 percent) from the request while the Senate bill recommended a much smaller cut. House committee Republicans argue that other agencies have responsibilities for studying the Earth and therefore this should not a focus of NASA's activities.
Wednesday's markup will be just one step on a path to pass a 2014 NASA authorization act. Unless it is very noncontroversial and can be taken up by the House under suspension of the rules (like the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act passed last week), getting time for floor debate could be another hurdle. This is an election year and the number of legislative days is dwindling. Nonetheless it is a step, assuming that the subcommittee approves it. Doing so on a bipartisan rather than partisan basis would improve its chances of making it through the rest of the process. Only one hour has been scheduled for the markup suggesting that there is broad agreement on it already.
Susan Eisenhower is one of four witnesses at a Senate hearing next week on "From Here to Mars."
Eisenhower is the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. She and her husband, Roald Sagdeev, former director of Russia's Institute for Space Research (IKI, which conducts Russia's space science program), co-authored a book on U.S. - Soviet space cooperation through 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. She then authored another book on post-Cold War space cooperation. (She also wrote a book on how she and her husband met and fell in love while the Cold War was still gong on). On March 20, she was a guest on NPR discussing "what's next for Russia's relations with the West." Considering the evolving situation with NASA and Russian space cooperation, her testimony could be especially interesting.
Joining her are NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier; former astronaut Leroy Chiao; and Jeff Manber, President of Nanoracks.
The hearing before the Science and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is on Wednesday, April 9, at 10:00 am ET in 253 Russell Senate Office Building. The description of the hearing provided by the committee suggests that the focus is international cooperation, though it will also cover NASA exploration strategy and commercial space efforts. It states that space exploration has been a proven model for international cooperation, but "troubled U.S.-Russia relations, alternative mission destinations [for human spaceflight], and a strengthening Chinese space program may complicate international cooperation."
The hearing will be webcast on the committee's website.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, White House science and technology policy official Richard DalBello, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden all sought to clarify today whether or not NASA is still cooperating with Russia other than in operating the International Space Station (ISS). At the end of the day, the best answer seems to be that it’s an evolving situation with no clear guidance other than that the ISS is not affected.
Yesterday, a memo from NASA’s Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations became public that instructs NASA personnel to suspend contacts with their Russian government counterparts except for activities related to operation of the ISS because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The memo did not explain what stimulated the decision or offer many specifics about how it would impact NASA-Russia cooperation. Hours later NASA issued an “official” statement that was announced via Twitter with a link to a Google+ webpage that was not helpful in explaining the situation.
The bottom line of the comments today is that the directive applies to all government agencies, not just NASA; that each agency will determine what activities are exempted or not on a case-by-case basis; and it is an evolving situation. The unambiguous message is that operations of the ISS are not impacted.
Bolden spoke at a long-scheduled joint meeting of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) this morning. He opened his remarks by addressing this issue and saying there was a “firestorm in Moscow,” which he blamed on the media and politics.
He said he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Roscosmos Director Oleg Ostapenko, this morning and both agreed that the ISS should be kept out of the political realm. That ISS is not included in this directive has been made clear since the beginning. The question concerns other NASA activities with Russia.
NASA has not provided a list of non-ISS cooperation, but, for example, NASA uses Russian wind tunnels for aeronautics experiments and a Russian instrument – the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) – is on the Mars Curiosity rover. The memo states that NASA personnel can attend multilateral meetings involving Russians as long as they take place outside of Russia, but two major international conferences – the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS) – both are scheduled to take place in Russia this year. Whether NASA employees will be able to participate is unclear.
Bolden said this morning that his message to his employees is to keep doing whatever they are doing with Russia unless told to stop, including plans to participate in COSPAR (he did not address ICAS).
DalBello spoke to the ASEB/SSB meeting later in the day. In response to a question, he stressed three points: this is an evolving situation, it applies across the government, and the ISS is excluded. He deferred to White House press spokesman Jay Carney as providing the official Administration guidance on the matter.
At his daily White House press briefing, Carney said the following, putting it in context of other U.S. actions with regard to Russia’s annexation of Crimea:
Given Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions, to include curtailing official government-to-government contacts and meetings with the Russian Federation on a case-by-case basis consistent with U.S. national interests. We’ve talked about this previously and as we’ve already said we’ve suspended bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, we’ve suspended other bilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis, and put on hold U.S.- Russia military-to-military engagement including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences. We also will not meet with sanctioned individuals. We have informed the Russian government of those meetings that have been suspended, as you know. In terms of specific case-by-case decisions that are made in response to this broader directive, I would have to refer you to each agency. In the case of NASA there are some actions being taken, but obviously with the space station, in particular, that program, and engagement with Russia on that program, continues.
The directive that created this guidance to NASA and other government agencies reportedly was issued by the White House National Security Council and is classified and therefore not in the public domain.
Bolden said that relations with Roscosmos are “good” and “healthy.” As for the Russian government reaction more broadly, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin oversees Russia’s space sector. He is one of the Russian individuals sanctioned by the Obama Administration on March 17, 2014 because of his role in the Ukrainian situation. An English-language Twitter account purportedly belonging to him (@drogozin) carried this rather sarcastic message:
NASA suspends cooperation with Roscosmos (Rus Fed Space Agency) apart from work on the ISS http://t.co/IJ0Td5PjEe Yet, apart from over the ISS we didn't cooperate with NASA anyway)
That account had a separate tweet about U.S. reliance on Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines:
A Russian broom for an American witch. Still, our engines are better) http://t.co/Xf4gM8bR7w
Indeed, the United Launch Alliance sent DOD’s 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellite into orbit today aboard an Atlas V, which uses the RD-180 engines. DOD officials testified to a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee this afternoon that they are conducting a 45-day study on what it would take to build a U.S. designed and produced alternative to the RD-180. (Check back later for our summary of the hearing; meanwhile, the webcast is posted on the committee’s website.)
House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) issued a press release today criticizing remarks by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden earlier in the day to the effect that the Mars 2021 mission is not a steppingstone to sending humans to the surface of Mars.
Bolden spoke to a joint meeting of the National Research Council's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) on a wide range of issues, including yesterday's announcement that some contacts with Russia will be suspended because of the Ukraine situation. One issue was the future of human spaceflight. He defended the Obama Administration's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) as a steppingstone to Mars because it provides an opportunity in cis-lunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) to test technologies needed for longer forays into deep space including the ultimate goal to land people on Mars. NASA calls cis-lunar space a "proving ground."
He compared ARM to the Inspiration Mars proposal put forward by Dennis Tito to send astronauts on a free-return trajectory to Mars where the two-person crew would fly around Mars, not land there, and return to Earth. The original proposal was to do this in 2018, but a newer version dubbed Mars 2021 would send the crew first to get a gravity assist from Venus by flying around that planet and then go on to Mars.
Bolden said Tito's idea is a "one time feat" that does not help with the goal of landing people on Mars and "not inspirational."
Smith, an ardent advocate of Mars 2021, strongly disagreed in a press release issued late this afternoon.
Chairman Smith: “In comments before the National Academies, Administrator Bolden today misrepresented a Mars Flyby 2021 mission. The Administrator indicated that a Mars Flyby is not a worthy stepping stone to an eventual Mars landing because it doesn’t demonstrate technologies. That is factually incorrect. Experts have testified that a Mars Flyby mission would utilize the Space Launch System, architecture that will be central to a Mars landing. He further contended that the Obama administration’s proposed Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM) is a better stepping stone to Mars. However, the administration has not provided any details of how it fits into a larger exploration roadmap. The ARM mission lacks support from the stakeholder community and NASA’s own advisory bodies. It is a mission without a realistic budget, without a destination and without a certain launch date. I urge the Administrator to get his facts straight when comparing the value of potential NASA missions.”
The Obama Administration and Congress have been battling over the future of the human spaceflight program since Obama terminated the Bush-era Constellation program to send humans back to the Moon and on to Mars. Instead he wants to send astronauts to an asteroid first and then go to Mars. Bolden and the House SS&T committee debated this issue most recently at a hearing on NASA's FY2015 budget request.
UPDATE: This article is updated to reflect an "official" NASA statement about suspension of "some NASA activities with Russia" posted to a Google+ page this evening.
NASA's Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations has told NASA Center Directors to suspend NASA contacts with Russian government representatives unless an activity is specifically excepted. Currently, the only excepted activity is operations of the International Space Station.
SpacePolicyOnline.com has obtained a copy of an email circulated by NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden dated today, April 2, 2014, explaining the new policy:
From: Centerwide Announcement <firstname.lastname@example.org.
MESSAGE FROM THE CENTER DIRECTOR:
All NASA Centers have received direction from Michael F. O¹Brien, the agency Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations regarding suspension of NASA contact with Russian entities. That direction is provided as follows:
Given Russia¹s ongoing violation of Ukraine¹s sovereignty and territorial integrity, until further notice, the U.S. Government has determined that all NASA contacts with Russian Government representatives are suspended, unless the activity has been specifically excepted. This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian Government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or videoconferences. At the present time, only operational International Space Station activities have been excepted. In addition, multilateral meetings held outside of Russia that may include Russian participation are not precluded under the present guidance.
If desired, the NASA HQ Office of International and Interagency Relations (OIIR) will assist in communication with Russian entities regarding this suspension of activities. Specific questions regarding the implementation of this guidance can be directed to Ms. Meredith McKay, (202) 358-1240 or mailto:email@example.com . OIIR remains in close contact with the Department of State and other U.S. Government departments and agencies. If the situation changes, further guidance will be disseminated.
S. Pete Worden
NASA Headquarters did not respond to a SpacePolicyOnline.com request for comment by the time this article was originally posted at 2:37 pm ET, but later NASA tweeted (@nasa) a link to a Google+ page with what appears to be an official NASA statement on the situation: https://plus.google.com/+NASA/posts/eihoeSm5fVy
The statement says that NASA is "suspending the majority of its ongoing engagements with the Russian Federation" but will work together with its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, to maintain safe and continuous operation of the ISS. The rest of the NASA statement then goes on to blame Congress for not fully funding the commercial crew program to ensure that American astronauts can be launched on American rockets from American soil instead of needing to rely on Russia for such launches. It then turns into a fairly blatant political statement aimed at Congress: "The choice here is between fully funding the plan to bring space launches back to America or continuing to send millions of dollars to the Russians. It's that simple. The Obama Administration chooses to invest in America - and we are hopeful that Congress will do the same."
Editor's Note: A U.S. decision to suspend NASA interactions with Russian government officials on everything other than ISS is a serious matter. It is peculiar that the decision was revealed by a leaked email from a NASA Center Director to his employees, that the "official" NASA response was posted to a Google+ website and advertised via Twitter rather than being announced through regular NASA news channels (e.g, a press release), and that the official response was more a message to Congress about the need to fund the commercial crew program rather than to the American people explaining the state of U.S.-Russian space cooperation in light of the situation in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove told CNN this afternoon that NATO was suspending "all practical civilian and military cooperation with Russia." It remains unclear as to whether this decision about NASA interactions with Russia is part of a larger cross-government policy or, indeed, a cross-NATO policy where other NATO partners similarly are suspending non-ISS space and aeronautics cooperation with Russia.
The House passed the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act today by voice vote. Republican and Democratic members of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee praised passage of the bill.
When the bill (H.R. 2413) was first introduced, there was concern that it prioritized weather research at NOAA at the expense of climate research, but the bill was revised to ease those concerns before it was approved by the House SS&T committee in December. The version approved today was co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats.
The bill primarily concerns non-space related aspects of weather forecasting, but a few provisions are directed at NOAA's weather satellite programs. The bill --
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who introduced the bill, called it a "first step toward restoring America's leadership in weather forecasting and prediction." The University of Oklahoma is home to the National Weather Center, a confederation of federal (NOAA), state and academic organizations that try to improve understanding of atmospheric events.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), ranking member of the House SS&T's Environment Subcommittee, said the bill "makes real and measurable improvements in weather research and weather forecasting."
There is no companion bill in the Senate at the moment, but the easy bipartisan passage of H.R. 2413 could improve its chances of making it through the congressional process.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its annual assessment of DOD's acquisition of selected weapon programs today. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) was one of several DOD space programs reviewed and GAO reports that the program's cost will be $70 billion through 2030, $35.7 billion more than the previous estimate from 2012.
Each year GAO assesses a selected set of DOD's major acquisition programs. Currently, DOD has 80 such programs and GAO reviewed 38 of them for the report released today. The space programs included in the report are:
The Air Force EELV program office procures launches for national security and other satellites from the United Launch Alliance using the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. GAO said that after the program exceeded a congressionally-mandated threshold for cost growth (a "Nunn-McCurdy breach") in 2012, DOD restructured the program as required and established a new baseline in 2013. The new program cost estimate grew to $70 billion through 2030, an increase of $35.7 billion, which program officials attributed to "extension of the program life-cycle from 2020 to 2030, procurement of 60 additional launch vehicles, the inherently unstable nature of the demand for launch services, and industrial base instability."
Often described as the congressional watchdog agency, GAO also noted that there are nine variants of the Atlas V and five variants of the Delta IV -- a total of 14 EELV variants. While there have been 66 successful EELV launches, and each of the 14 variants has flown at least once, only three have demonstrated technology, design and production maturity by meeting Aerospace Corporation's "3/7 reliability rule."
Under that rule, GAO explains, a launch vehicle is considered to have design maturity after three successful launches and production maturity after seven successful launches. By GAO's reckoning, all 14 variants have demonstrated technology maturity, 10 have demonstrated design maturity (with three successful flights), and only three have demonstrated production maturity with seven successful flights. Those three are the Atlas V 401, the Delta IV Medium and the Delta IV Heavy.
GAO's point is that until design and production maturity have been demonstrated "problems with fleetwide designs or production processes may go undiscovered, which could cause significant cost and schedule risk."
The Air Force is still investigating the root cause of a Delta IV upper stage anomaly in October 2012, GAO continues. "While the engine performed normally on launches in May and August 2013, the Air Force delayed a third launch of the Delta IV scheduled for October 2013, due to new conclusions from the investigation and to fully understand the anomaly and reduce any potential risks."
The delayed launch in October 2013 was of the GPS IIF-5 satellite. The Air Force successfully launched that satellite on a Delta IV Medium on February 21, 2014.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
On Tuesday, the House will take up H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act. Its broad focus is on improved weather forecasting and telling NOAA to focus on weather rather than climate (though it does not preclude climate activities), but there are a couple of satellite-related provisions in it. The bill is being brought up on the suspension calendar, which is usually reserved for bills that are not very controversial and are expected easily to garner a two-thirds vote in favor. There were early concerns that the bill was too anti-climate, but those were largely resolved during full committee markup of the bill in December when a revised version ("amendment in the nature of the substitute") was approved by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. It was adopted by voice vote, which indicates it was acceptable to both sides (or opponents would have insisted on a recorded vote). There were no major changes to the satellite-related provisions.
Speaking of the weather, while we'd like to be able to report that the chance of wintry weather interfering with Washington, DC events is over for the year, it's actually snowing right now. Not to whine, but first they said there'd be a few "conversational" snowflakes and nothing would stick, then they promised it wouldn't stick to the roads but would on the grass, but now there's a winter weather advisory with a forecast of 1-3 inches across the area. We definitely need improved weather forecasting! Fortunately we don't have any Washington, DC based space policy events on our list for tomorrow that might be disrupted. (But seriously! When will this winter be over?)
Just as the weather gets nice mid-week (they say), we'll all be sitting in congressional hearings (or at our desks watching them on the Internet) or over at the Keck Center on Fifth Street attending meetings of the NRC's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB). ASEB meets on Wednesday, SSB on Friday, and in between they meet jointly on Thursday. The meetings are free to attend, but advance online registration is HIGHLY recommended to ease passing through security to get to the meeting room. Some sessions will be available by webcast; check the agendas for more information and instructions on how to listen in.
Several congressional hearings will be held on U.S. Strategic Command, the Air Force budget request, and national security space programs. Issues concerning the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and the use of Russian RD-180 engines for the Atlas 5 rocket have come up in similar hearings for the past several weeks and could well come up again this week.
The list below shows all the hearings and meetings we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Tuesday-Thursday, April 1-3
Wednesday, April 2
Thursday, April 3
Friday, April 4
Events of Interest