Latest News

What's Happening in Space Policy November 2-6, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Nov-2015 (Updated: 01-Nov-2015 01:16 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 2-6, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Tomorrow (Monday) marks the 15th anniversary of the first crew's arrival at the International Space Station (ISS).  At least two people have been aboard the ISS ever since -- 15 years of "permanent occupancy."  NASA TV will air a press conference with the six men currently aboard at 10:00 am ET.  They are Americans Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren, Japanese Kimiya Yui, and Russians Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Volkov.  Kelly and Kornienko are a little over half way through their one-year-in-space mission and Kelly just broke the record for the longest duration spacefligjtt by an American.  Michael Lopez-Alegria had held the record, 215  days, since April 2007.  (The Russian record is 438 days, set by Valery Polyakov in 1995.  Three other Russians have spent one year or more in space on a single mission.)

Two NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committees will meet this week.  The Science Committee will hold its meeting via telecon tomorrow, while the Human Exploration and Operations Committee meets in person at NASA HQ on Wednesday and Thursday.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate may take up the compromise version of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act this week. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the Senate floor on Thursday that he hoped it would be voted on very soon. There was speculation it might pass last week, but the Senate was focused on the budget/debt limit deal and recessed for the weekend after passing it at 3:00 am Friday morning.  The President is expected to sign it into law, perhaps tomorrow.

The Senate may also deal with the Export-Import Bank reauthorization this week, but that is less certain.   The House passed a bill to reopen the Bank last week after pro-ExIm Bank Republicans used a rare parliamentary maneuver to get the bill out of committee and onto the floor so the entire House could vote on it.  The chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), opposes the Bank and was the obstacle to getting the bill out of committee.  He was not happy.   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he will not pass a stand-alone bill for the Bank.  That means he would tack it onto some other piece of legislation, so it will have to go back to the House for another vote.  How that will turn out is an open question.  The House is now under new leadership. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected Speaker on Thursday, replacing Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), who resigned under pressure from the right wing of his party.

During Boehner's final week, Washington showed the blistering pace at which it can work if it wants to.  The deal to suspend the debt limit through March 2017 and raise the budget caps by $50 billion for FY2016 and $30 billion for FY2017 took only four days to get through the House and Senate.  House and Senate appropriators no doubt are already at work deciding which agencies and programs will benefit.   House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) is optimistic that all 12 regular appropriations bills can be finalized by December 11 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.  They will probably be combined into a single "omnibus" appropriations bill.

As for this week, the list below shows everything we know about as of Sunday morning.  Check back during the week for anything new that gets added to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, November 2

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 3-4

Wednesday, November 4

Wednesday-Thursday, November 4-5

Senate Passes Budget/Debt Limit Deal - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Oct-2015 (Updated: 02-Nov-2015 08:56 PM)

UPDATE, November 2, 2015:  President Obama signed the bill into law today.

ORIGINAL STORY, October 30, 2015:  At about 3:00 am ET this morning (October 30), the Senate passed the budget/debt limit deal negotiated by top congressional leaders and President Obama.  The deal was reached just days ago, but now has cleared Congress and will be sent to the President for his signature.

The Senate vote was 64-35.  Republican presidential candidates Rand Paul (KY), Ted Cruz (TX), and Marco Rubio (FL) voted against the bill, while Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor.  Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (VT), who is an Independent in the Senate, voted in favor.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (H.R. 1314) increases the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act by $50 billion for FY2016 and $30 billion for FY2017.  It also adds $32 billion over those two years for Overseas Contingency Operations to fund the war in Afghanistan, for example.  Most of the increases are offset by changes to Social Secuity and Medicare.  It does not end sequestration, the across-the-board budget cuts that automatically go into effect if Congress exceeds the caps.  In fact, it extends sequestration through 2025.

The bill also raises the debt limit through March 16, 2017, past the 2016 congressional and presidential elections.  It does not set a new limit, but suspends the limit until that date.

Although very controversial in both the House and Senate, sufficient votes were cast to get it through.   House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) imminent departure and the need to raise the debt limit before November 3 motivated the quick action.   Boehner's term as Speaker ended yesterday after Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was elected and sworn in as his replacement.  Boehner was one of the handful of top congressional leaders who negotiated the deal with the White House.  He was willing to rely on Democratic votes to get it passed even though many Republicans opposed it.  The vote in the House on Wednesday was 266-167, with all 167 no votes cast by Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) chose the wee hours of the night to get the legislation passed in that chamber.   A procedural vote to bring the bill to the floor of the Senate for debate was taken beginning at 1:01 am ET this morning.  In that case, 60 votes were needed to invoke cloture and proceed with the bill. That vote was 63-35.  After about an hour and a half of debate, the vote on the bill itself was called, passing by a similar margin (64-35).  That action cleared the bill for the President at a dizzying pace in a town known more for political gridlock.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill quickly. 

The $80 billion total increase in the FY2016-2017 spending caps are at the top level.  There is no detail on how the extra funds will be spent so there is no way to know how much more, if any, NASA or NOAA will receive compared to the congressional action that has already taken place on their FY2016 appropriations.  It is now up to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allocate the funding across the 12 regular appropriations bills.   All 12 likely will be combined into a single "omnibus" appropriations bill.  House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) expressed optimism that work can be completed by December 11 when the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.

NASA Unable To Determine Root Cause of Last Year's Orb-3 Failure

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Oct-2015 (Updated: 29-Oct-2015 08:12 PM)

One year and a day after Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket exploded shortly after liftoff, NASA released an executive summary of its independent review of the event.  The rocket was launching a Cygnus cargo ship full of supplies for the International Station Station (ISS) under a NASA-Orbital contract.   NASA said it could not determine the root cause, but identified three possibilities. Orbital, which merged with ATK earlier this year and is now Orbital ATK, has not publicly released its own report. 

The launch of the company's third operational commercial cargo mission for NASA, Orb-3, took place from Wallops Island, VA on October 28, 2014.  Fifteen seconds after launch, it exploded.   As a commercial launch, it was governed by the FAA's regulations, which puts accident investigations in the hands of the company itself, not the customer -- in this case NASA. NASA decided on its own to create an Independent Review Team (IRT). 

Orbital's President and CEO, David Thompson, said just one day after the failure that one of the two NK-33/AJ-26 engines most likely was at fault.  The NK-33 engines were built in Russia more than four decades ago and refurbished in the United States by Aerojet (now Aerojet Rocketdyne) and redesignated AJ-26.  In subsequent months, Orbital and Aerojet reportedly agreed that the problem stemmed from a bad bearing, but disagreed on whether Aerojet failed to detect a faulty bearing or if the bearing was damaged by foreign object debris (FOD) ingested during the launch.

On September 24, 2015, Aerojet Rocketdyne submitted a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission to say it was paying Orbital ATK $50 million to terminate the contract for the AJ-26 engines and settle all claims the companies "may have had against one another."   Orbital ATK will return title to the remaining 10 AJ-26 engines to be delivered under that contract.

In the executive summary of NASA's IRT report, NASA added a third possibility -- inadequate design robustness of the hydraulic balance assembly and turbine-end bearing.  Sufficient testing would have revealed this problem, the IRT said, but was not performed.

The IRT could not determine which of the three possible root causes -- a mechanically faulty bearing, FOD, or poor design -- was at fault.

Orbital is refitting Antares with different Russian rocket engines (RD-181s), so the precise cause may not be all that important for returning Antares to flight, but NASA's interest is in ensuring that the company is taking the appropriate steps to ensure no similar failure occurs with the new engines.   The IRT report says that NASA provided "several" technical recommendations, but was not making them public because of "potential proprietary and export control restrictions."

In an investors conference call earlier this week, Thompson said that repairs to the facilities at Wallops damaged by the launch failure are complete and a "hot fire" test of an Antares outfitted with the new engines is planned for January 2016.   He said the company is aiming for "early May" for the first launch of the new version of Antares. 

In the meantime, two of the company's Cygnus cargo spacecraft will be launched on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets instead.  That will allow Orbital ATK to meet its contractual requirements to send 20 tons of cargo to the ISS by the end of 2016.  Cygnus has also been upgraded so it can carry more cargo per launch than the prior version.

The first Atlas V/Cygnus launch is scheduled from Cape Canaveral, FL on December 3, 2015.  The second will take place on March 10, 2016, Thompson said, followed by the return to flight of Antares from Wallops in May and a second Antares/Cygnus launch in late September/early October.   Thompson said those launches would "substantially" complete the company's original Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.   It has been awarded three additional cargo flights under an extension of the CRS contract.  They will take place in 2017 and early 2018.  Orbital ATK also is one of the competitors in the second round of CRS contracts.  Winners of the CRS-2 competition are expected to be announced a week from today (November 5).

SpaceX is the other company currently under contract to NASA to send cargo to the ISS.   It, too, suffered a launch failure recently.  Its Falcon 9 rocket exploded 139 seconds after launch on June 28, 2015 destroying a Dragon capsule also filled with supplies for ISS.   An exact date for returning Falcon 9 to flight has not been announced, but company officials said last week that it will be in 6-8 weeks.  That launch will be of a set of Orbcomm-2 commercial communications satellites.  The next launch of cargo to the ISS on a Dragon spacecraft has not been announced.

House and Senate Reach Agreement on Commercial Space Legislation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Oct-2015 (Updated: 29-Oct-2015 02:40 PM)

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a compromise version of commercial space legislation that passed the House and Senate earlier this year.

Details of the compromise have not been made public, but the revised bill could be voted on soon.  The Senate bill, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (S. 1297) passed in August.  The House bill, Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act (H.R. 2262), passed in May.

The House and Senate versions have many differences, but Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), the new chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, recently characterized them as minor during an appearance before the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).

The Senate version of the bill would extend the U.S. commitment to the International Space Station until at least 2024.  Current law -- the 2010 NASA Authorization Act -- says until at least 2020.  The Obama Administration announced the extension to 2024 in January 2014, but Congress has not formally agreed.  The House bill did not address this issue.

The House and Senate bills also vary on the length of time that the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation would be precluded from issuing additional regulations for commercial human spaceflight (the "learning period') and that it can continue to indemnify commercial space launch companies from third party claims if there is a launch accident.  Under current law, the learning period expires on April 1, 2016 and the third-party indemnification authority ends on December 31, 2016.

The Senate version would extend the learning period and third-party liability to 2020.  The House version would extend both to 2025.

Word is that the compromise bill will be voted on first in the Senate.  The Senate has a very busy schedule ahead of it, for example dealing with legislation that passed the House today that would raise budget caps and the debt limit for two years, but comparatively non-controversial legislation like this can be brought up at any time.  Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) discussed the procedure that will be used to get the bill through the Senate, back to the House, and onto the President's desk during a floor speech on Wednesday that indicated he anticipates a Senate vote very soon.

Note:  This article was updated with the reference and link to Sen. Nelson's floor speech.

Elachi Will Retire from JPL Next Year

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Oct-2015 (Updated: 28-Oct-2015 07:12 PM)

Charles Elachi, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), announced today that he will retire in June 2016 after 15 years in that position and a total of 45 years at the Lab.

Often referred to as a NASA field center, JPL instead is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) operated under contract by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).  Still, its reputation is as the place where some of NASA's best loved and renowned spacecraft have been built and operated, including the Mars Curiosity rover currently exploring the Red Planet. 

JPL dates back to the 1950s.  It built the very first satellite successfully launched by the United States (Explorer 1) in 1958 and dozens of planetary exploration spacecraft since then.  Still, the entry, descent, and landing sequence for Curiosity -- the 7 Minutes of Terror -- when it arrived at Mars in July 2012 is perhaps the best known NASA deep space exploration event in this century.

JPL is involved in many NASA programs, not only deep space exploration.  In an email to JPL employees today announcing his resignation, Elachi cited a list of earth observation missions including OCO-2, GRACE, Jason-1 and -2, and SMAP, as emblematic of the Lab's accomplishments.

Elachi will become a professor emeritus at Caltech after he retires and said everyone "can be assured that I will continue to proactively advocate and be a spokesman for a strong space and Earth science program."

A search committee led by Caltech trustee Adm. Bobby Inman has been created to find his successor.

Editor's Note:  In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of Charles' Director's Advisory Committee.

House Passes Deal to Increase Spending Caps, Raise Debt Limit For Two Years

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Oct-2015 (Updated: 28-Oct-2015 06:27 PM)

This afternoon (October 28) the House passed the deal negotiated by the White House and top congressional leaders to increase spending caps for FY2016 and FY2017 and raise the debt limit through March 2017.  Announcement that bipartisan agreement had been reached was made less than 48 hours ago.  The bill now goes to the Senate.

The House used an existing, unrelated bill, H.R. 1314, as the legislative vehicle.  H.R. 1314 began as a bill to allow appeals of IRS determinations of tax-exempt status.   The Senate amended that bill, replacing it with the text of the Trade Act of 2015.  Today the House amended the Senate amendment with the text of the budget/debt limit deal -- the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

The vote was 266-167.  All 167 no votes were Republicans. The 266 yes votes were from 79 Republicans and all 187 Democrats who voted. (One Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, and one Republican, Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, did not vote).

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who earlier today was chosen by the House Republican Conference as their candidate to become Speaker of the House, voted yes on the bill even though yesterday he said the process by which the agreement was reached "stinks."  He would have preferred more involvement by members of Congress, rather than just the very top leadership of both chambers.  The full House is expected to vote tomorrow to elect Ryan as Speaker, although 45 Republicans did not support him today in the Republican Conference voting.  He received 200 votes from his fellow Republicans.  He needs 218 votes to become Speaker and it is expected that Democrats will vote for their leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) or another Democrat, not Ryan.  Thus he needs to convince at least 18 of the 45 to support him on the floor tomorrow in the vote to replace retiring Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

The budget/debt limit deal increases the caps on federal spending negotiated in the 2011 Budget Control Act for FY2016 and FY2017 by $80 billion ($50 billion in FY2016; $30 billion in FY2017).  It also adds $32 billion in spending for the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations account.  It does not end the sequester (across-the-board cuts that automatically go into effect if Congress exceeds the caps) and, in fact, extends it through 2025.

It also raises the debt limit through March 2017, taking both issues -- spending caps and the debt limit -- off the table until after the 2016 congressional and presidential elections. 

Congress must raise the debt limit before November 3 to avoid a default, so the Senate is expected to act on this legislation quickly.  Although it is controversial in the Senate as well as the House, passage is anticipated.

The agreement is on top-level spending amounts, not specific funding for individual agencies.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will use the spending caps and allocate funding to agencies like NASA and NOAA.  The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 11.   House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) expressed optimism today that all 12 regular appropriations bills can be finalized by then.

Confidence that the agreement means an end to threats of government shutdowns for the next two years is rampant even though the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 was primarily due to opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), not to spending caps.  Many members of the conservative Republican Tea Party who were instrumental in that shutdown are equally determined to end government funding of Planned Parenthood this year, so it may be too early to breathe a sigh a relief.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) praised the House action in a statement released after the vote:  "AIA is relieved and thankful" because it adds "badly-needed" funding for defense and "substantial relief" for agencies like FAA, NASA, NOAA and the Coast Guard.

House to Vote on Budget/Debt Limit Deal Today - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Oct-2015 (Updated: 28-Oct-2015 06:27 PM)

UPDATE, October 28, 2015, 5:30 pm ET:  The House just passed the deal as an amendment to an unrelated bill (H.R. 1314) by a vote of 266-167. Now it goes to the Senate.

ORIGINAL STORY, October 28, 2015, 9:40 am ET: Today the House is scheduled to vote on a deal worked out by the White House and top congressional leaders to raise budget caps and the debt limit for two years -- until after the 2016 elections.  The deal is controversial both for its provisions and the way in which it was negotiated, but is expected to pass.

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) announced his intent to resign from the Speakership and Congress last month, he promised to "clean the barn" before he left, resolving major issues so his successor would not have to deal with them.   Two of the four key issues -- reauthorization of spending from the Highway Trust Fund and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank -- now have cleared the House.  The others -- increasing the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and raising the debt limit -- are combined in the bill the House will consider today.   All of these still must pass the Senate, but Boehner will have fulfilled his promise by getting them through the House.  The idea is that as outgoing Speaker, he has more flexibility to use Democratic votes to get bills passed even if many Republicans oppose them.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is expected to be chosen by the House Republican Conference as Boehner's successor at a meeting today and voted in by the full House tomorrow.   Boehner's last day is Friday.

Ryan is one of the critics of the budget/debt limit deal saying the process by which it was reached "stinks."   Only top congressional leaders were involved in the negotiations with the White House.  Ryan was the most recent House member to negotiate a major budget deal when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee.  He and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), found a compromise in 2013 that provided stability for budgets in FY2014 and FY2015. 

The Ryan-Murray agreement expired with the FY2015 budget, though, so a new deal was needed for FY2016, which began on October 1.  At the same time, Congress needs to raise the $18.1 trillion debt limit by November 3 to avoid a U.S. default on its debts. 

By limiting participation in the budget/debt limit talks to just the top congressional leaders, Ryan and others are protected from criticism that they approved of the process or the results.

The new bill, the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act, was introduced just after midnight yesterday (Tuesday) and would do the following:

  • Increase discretionary spending caps by $80 billion compared to the caps set in the 2011 BCA (about 1 percent).  The increase is spread over two years: $50 billion in FY2016 and $30 billion in FY2017, divided equally between defense and non-defense programs.  The increases are at least partially paid for by changes to Social Security and Medicare.
  • Add $32 billion to the off-budget Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account: $16 billion each year, split roughly equally between DOD and the State Department. 
  • Raise the debt limit through March 2017.

Approval of the deal would get these issues off the table through the 2016 congressional and presidential elections.  The deal does not end sequestration.  In fact, it extends sequestration (automatic across the board cuts if Congress exceeds budget caps) through 2025.

The budget cap increase does not specify how the additional money will be spent.  There is no way to know how much any specific agency like NASA or NOAA will benefit, but the agreement should ease (but not eliminate) fears of a government shutdown this year or next. 

An appropriations process must take place where the money will be allocated to various agencies and activities that could nonetheless be controversial.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said his committee "stands at the ready" to implement the details of the deal. The House has passed six of the 12 regular appropriations bills already; the Senate has not passed any.  The bills that already passed the House, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA, can be changed in negotiations with the Senate.  The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 11.

As for government shutdowns, it is important to remember that the 16-day shutdown in 2013 was driven primarily not by budget issues, but by opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Many of the same House and Senate Republicans who fought Obamacare that time are determined to stop government funding of Planned Parenthood now.  Breathing a sigh of relief may be premature.

Still, there is a sense that this new deal is better than nothing, raising hopes among its proponents that it will, indeed, become law.   The House vote today will be the first test.  The Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

Export-Import Bank Wins Reauthorization in House, Will Senate Follow Suit?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Oct-2015 (Updated: 27-Oct-2015 11:02 PM)

Despite opposition from some of the top Republican leaders in the House, the Export-Import Bank was firmly reauthorized in the House today.  The next stop is the Senate, where its fate is uncertain though supporters are optimistic.

The House voted 313-118 today to reauthorize the Bank following two procedural votes today and yesterday that passed by closer margins.   Debate today was intense, with Republicans including Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is expected to become Speaker of the House later this week, castigating the bank as "crony capitalism."

The Bank has not been able to issue new loans since its authorization expired on June 30.  An attempt to reauthorize the Bank in July also failed.

Created in 1934, the Bank needs to be periodically reauthorized, a step taken with little notice until recently.  The Bank helps provide financing for U.S. exports, including communications satellites, for example.  The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Satellite Industry Association are among its supporters.  Orbital ATK President and CEO David Thompson repeated today during an investors conference call on the company's third quarter results that it lost a satellite manufacturing contract because of the hiatus in Ex-Im financing.

Some conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats oppose the Bank on the grounds that it is a government subsidy -- corporate welfare for a few big companies like Boeing and General Electric -- while others hail the Bank as an important jobs creator by facilitating U.S. exports.

Supporters have consistently argued that a majority of the House supports the Bank, but Republican leaders have not allowed the issue to be voted on by the full House.  Instead, the bill to reauthorize the Bank has been held in the House Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) who opposes the Bank. The bill only reached the floor for a vote today because another Republican, Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN), employed a rarely-used parliamentary procedure called a discharge petition to get it out of committee.

Despite the fractious debate today where Hensarling, Ryan and House Majority Leader Keven McCarthy (R-CA) were among the party leaders lambasting the Bank, 127 Republicans voted in favor of reauthorization.   They joined 186 Democrats supporting the Bank, while 117 Republicans and 1 Democrat (Alan Grayson of Florida) voted against it.

AIA issued a statement this evening praising the House action.  Asserting that U.S. companies have lost three satellite orders since the Bank's authorization lapsed, AIA urged the House and Senate "to join in a cooperative, bipartisan spirit" to put it back in business.

It is now up to the Senate to act.  The House passed a stand-alone bill, H.R. 597, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insists that he will not take up such a bill on its own, only as part of other legislation.  The Senate voted in July to approve reauthorization as part of legislation to continue spending from the Highway Trust Fund.  In that case, the House refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor and instead passed a separate Highway Trust Fund bill without the Ex-Im Bank provision.  Due to timing constraints, the Senate was forced to agree.

Bank supporters are optimistic that the Senate will agree to reauthorize the Bank this week.  One possible legislative vehicle is the latest Highway Trust Fund extension, which also passed the House today.   The extension that passed this summer was only through October 29.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is trying to clear the decks for his presumptive successor, Ryan, before he leaves on Friday. Passing the Highway Trust Fund extension, the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, and getting a deal to raise the debt limit and fund the government beyond December 11 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires are all his to-do list.  It looks as though he may have the first two of those completed and a debt limit/budget deal was announced very early this morning though it has yet to pass either the House or Senate.


Culberson Will "Vigorously Enforce" Restrictions on NASA-China Relationship - UPDATED

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Oct-2015 (Updated: 27-Oct-2015 05:01 PM)

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) said today that NASA did not fully inform Congress about the recent State Department-led meeting in Beijing on bilateral U.S.-China civil space cooperation as required by law.  He stressed that he plans to "vigorously enforce" the law, which requires NASA to notify Congress in advance of such meetings that technology transfer, for example, will not occur.

In a statement to, Culberson said:  

“NASA has failed to provide the committee with details on the depth and scope of the meetings hosted by the Department of State. China’s Space program is owned and controlled entirely by the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese government have proven to be the world’s most aggressive in cyber espionage. I intend to vigorously enforce the longstanding prohibitions designed to protect America’s space program.”

Culberson chairs the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, which funds NASA.   His predecessor, former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), led the effort to include language in NASA's appropriations bills prohibiting NASA or the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any funds related to bilateral space cooperation with China unless certain certifications are made to Congress in advance.  Culberson echoes Wolf's views and continues the precedent.

In June, the State Department announced the initiation of a U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue with the first meeting scheduled to take place before the end of October.  Reaction to the announcement was muted despite the controversy.  The first meeting took place in Beijing last month and another is planned in 2016.   NASA confirmed that it participated in the Beijing meeting.

Section 532 of the FY2015 appropriations law (P.L. 113-235) that funds NASA states that NASA may not spend any funds to "develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China or any Chinese-owned company unless such activities are specifically authorized by law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act."  Those limitations do not apply if "no later than 30 days prior to the activity in question," NASA certifies that the activity poses no risk of the transfer of "technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications" and does not "involve knowing interactions with officials who have been determined by the United States to have direct involvement with violations of human rights."   Any such certification "shall include a description of the purpose of the activity, its agenda, its major participants, and its location and timing."

In an emailed statement to on October 27, NASA responded to Culberson's comments as follows:  “All discussions under the U.S.-China Civil Space Cooperation Dialogue, including NASA's participation, were conducted in full accordance with U.S. law and regulations.” requested a copy of any correspondence NASA might have sent to Congress in fulfillment of the legal obligations, but nothing was provided.

In a related development, Culberson issued a press release last week following the indictment of two NASA supervisors as a result of the Bo Jiang espionage case.  He said the indictment is "further proof of the widespread negligence at NASA and throughout the Obama Administration when it comes to protecting U.S. intellectual property and sensitive information."

Note:  This article, originally published on October 26, 2015, was updated on October 27 with NASA's response to Culberson's comments.

What's Happening in Space Policy October 26-31, 2015 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Oct-2015 (Updated: 26-Oct-2015 06:28 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events coming up during the week of October 26-31, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session. [This version was updated October 26 with more information about potential legislative action this week.]

During the Week

As usual, there are many interesting space policy events taking place off the Hill this week.  To pick just three:  Tuesday through Thursday in Huntsville, AL, the American Astronautical Society will hold its annual von Braun Symposium; Wednesday in Washington, DC, NASA Administrator Bolden will speak to the Center for American Progress on NASA's future human exploration plans; and Tuesday through Friday in Houston, TX, NASA will hold the first workshop to identify potential landing sites on Mars for human missions.

As for Congress, if all goes as planned, the House will elect Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to succeed Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker this week and Boehner will depart on Friday.  Ryan made it clear he did not want the job and agreed to do it only for the sake of the Republican Party.   He insisted that he would not do it unless he had unanimous support from House Republicans, including the roughly 40-member ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus that is widely blamed or credited with driving Boehner out.  It wasn't entirely unanimous, but close enough apparently.   Ryan, who was the Republican candidate for Vice President in 2012 (on the ticket with Mitt Romney), demanded some changes in the duties of the Speaker, especially sharply reducing the Speaker's role in fundraising for Republican members and candidates across the country, which kept Boehner on the road almost full time.  Pundits point out that the loyalty a Speaker engenders by traveling to districts to help at-risk candidates is part of what makes the House function and wonder if Paul's reluctance to do so will constrain his leadership.  The House hasn't been functioning very well in any case, so what these changes will mean for passing legislation, space-related or not, is entirely up in the air.

The legislation listed on the House Majority Leader's website for action this week does not include two controversial bills that some hoped Boehner would get out of the way before Ryan takes over -- reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and raising the debt limit.  Those could get added as the week progresses, but the House is in session only through Thursday and part of the time will be devoted to electing Ryan as Speaker.   [UPDATE, October 26National Journal is predicting that Boehner will indeed bring up both the Ex-Im Bank bill and a bill to raise the debt limit before Wednesday when the House Republican Caucus votes on Ryan's bid to become Speaker.  The idea is that Boehner is willing to use Democratic votes to get those bills passed even though many Republicans oppose them, which would be a risky posture for Ryan as a new Speaker.]

Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN) got enough signatures on his discharge petition for the Export-Import Bank to move that legislation out of the Financial Services committee to the floor, but no vote was taken last week.  During a meeting of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) on October 21, a COMSTAC member said the bill would come to a vote on Monday (October 26), but it is not on the House Majority Leader's list.   The comment was made while Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) was addressing the group and Kilmer warned that "procedural shenanigans" should be expected to prevent a vote.  He supports reauthorization of the Bank.

Kilmer is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and was asked about the likelihood that the government will have to operate under a full-year Continuing Resolution (CR) of if the regular appropriations bills will pass collectively in an "omnibus" bill.  Kilmer said he hopes there will be an omnibus that gets rid of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.   He joked that he had never heard of sequestration until he ran for Congress three years ago and had to look it up and discovered it is "Latin for stupid."

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) also addressed COMSTAC and expressed confidence that House-Senate agreement on a final version of commercial space legislation will be reached "very shortly."  Babin, a freshman, is the new chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee, replacing Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) who moved over to the Appropriations Committee.

The House could try to override the President's veto of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but that is not on the schedule either at the moment.  The House would deal with it first because the bill, H.R. 1735, originated there.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list on our main page.

Monday, October 26

Tuesday, October 27

Tuesday-Thursday, October 27-29

Tuesday-Friday, October 27-30

Wednesday, October 28

Wednesday-Thursday, October 28-29

Thursday-Friday, October 29-30

Friday, October 30

Friday-Saturday, October 30-31

Events of Interest

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


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: