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Culberson, Smith Reintroduce Space Leadership Preservation Act

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Apr-2015 (Updated: 04-May-2015 10:30 AM)

Two key Republicans introduced a bill yesterday to make the NASA Administrator position a 10-year appointment and creating a Board of Directors to oversee the agency.  The Space Leadership Preservation Act is similar to legislation introduced in the past two Congresses that was not enacted.

The new bill, H.R. 2093, is sponsored by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA.  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that authorizes NASA activities, is a co-sponsor, along with Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Henry Cuellar (D-TX).  The bill was jointly referred to the House SS&T Committee and the House Budget Committee.

The bill is similar to legislation introduced by Culberson in the past two Congresses (H.R. 823 in the 113th Congress) and to language that was proposed as part of the 2013 NASA authorization bill, but deleted during committee consideration of that bill (which never reached the House floor in any case).  The House SS&T committee held a hearing on H.R. 823 on February 27, 2013 at which Culberson and Frank Wolf, then chairman of the CJS subcommittee, testified, along with Eliot Pulham of the Space Foundation and retired aerospace industry executive Tom Young.

At quick glance, the new bill returns to recommending a 10-year appointment for the NASA Administrator, instead of 6 years as in H.R. 823.  The 10-year term was part of the original bill in the 112th Congress (H.R. 6491).  The new bill does not include language that was in H.R. 823 limiting to 45 days the time that the Deputy Administrator could serve as Acting Administrator.



Proposed NASA Authorization Bill Draws Mixed Reviews From Stakeholders-UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Apr-2015 (Updated: 30-Apr-2015 08:56 AM)

Updated April 30, 2015 with a clarification regarding the letter from Citizens for Spaceflight Exploration-Texas.

Letters from three stakeholder groups to the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee offer mixed reviews of the 2016-2017 NASA Authorization Act that will be marked up by the committee tomorrow.  The Planetary Society, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and the Coalition for Space Exploration support certain aspects of the legislation, but not the bill in its entirety.  A fourth letter, from Citizens for Spaceflight Exploration-Texas, endorses the human exploration aspects of the bill.

The Republican-sponsored bill was announced last Friday and formally introduced on April 28 as H.R. 2039.  The policy provisions of the bill are virtually identical to language that passed the House on a bipartisan basis in February as part of the 2015 NASA Authorization Act.  The big difference is the budget section. The 2015 act, which has not passed the Senate yet, included funding figures only for FY2015.  That is the fiscal year currently underway so that bill did not require debates about funding.  

H.R. 2039, however, includes funding recommendations for future years, FY2016 and FY2017.  This bill is the first salvo in what could turn out to be a highly partisan debate over NASA's priorities.  The bill makes funding recommendations based on two different budget scenarios  -- an "aspirational" level where the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) are removed and a "constrained" level where the caps remain in force.  NASA's earth science program would suffer significant cuts under either of those scenarios.   Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee, said on Tuesday that she "will not stand by quietly" and enable those cuts to go into effect.

A summary of the bill and a fact sheet with a table comparing its proposed funding levels with current funding and the President's FY2016 budget request is available on

The committee posted three letters (from The Planetary Society, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Citizens for Spaceflight Exploration-Texas) on its website on Tuesday that it characterized in a press release as supportive of the bill.  The Coalition for Space Exploration issued its letter on Wednesday.

The letter from The Planetary Society (TPS) strongly endorses the funding levels for planetary exploration, which receive a boost, but is silent on other provisions.  On Wednesday, Casey Dreier, TPS Director of Advocacy, who signed the letter, clarified on the Society's website that TPS does not support other aspects of the legislation.  "Obviously, the cuts to Earth Science make this a hard bill to support, therefore the Planetary Society does not as written.  We're hoping that the committee markup will find ways to preserve and grow all science as this moves forward."

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation praised the bill's recommended FY2016 funding level for commercial crew (which is the same as the President's request under the aspirational scenario; less than the request, but more than current funding in the constrained scenario) and for Advanced Exploration Systems (AES).  AES is a sub-account under Exploration R&D and the bill's proposed level for Exploration R&D is the same as the President's request in FY2016 under either budget scenario.   The Federation letter adds, however, that "While this bill represents progress in key areas, we remain concerned about some provisions ... that include, among other things, limitations on NASA's use of Space Act Agreements...."

The letter from the Coalition for Space Exploration thanks the committee for its support of human and robotic exploration programs (specifically mentioning the James Webb Space Telescope as an "exploration science mission"), but "we remain concerned that by flat funding SLS, Orion and other Exploration program levels ... the bill would unintentionally constrain progress toward accelerating program content from Exploration Mission-2 [EM-2] to be included in Exploration Mission-1 [EM-1] in 2018.  We urge the committee to consider the demands of these programs during this critical moment in the development cycle and hope that targeted adjustments will be made...."  The bill would provide level funding for SLS and Orion compared to FY2015 appropriations.  President Obama requested reduced funding for FY2016.  EM-1 is the first SLS launch, scheduled for 2018, which will carry an uncrewed version of the Orion spacecraft.  EM-2 is the second SLS launch, with a crewed Orion, anticipated in 2021.

The letter from Citizens for Spaceflight Exploration-Texas, which is associated with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, said it "welcomes the strong endorsement of America's space exploration program" exemplified in the bill.   The letter appears to address the broad scope of NASA's space programs by referencing technological innovation and competitiveness, STEM education, and high-tech jobs and future workforce opportunities, for example, but a representative of the group contacted on April 30 to clarify that the letter was designed to endorse only those aspects of the bill related to SLS, Orion, the International Space Station, and commercial cargo and crew.  Those are the topics, which also are specifically mentioned in the letter, within the group's purview.  It has no position on the other parts of the bill.

The markup begins at 11:00 am ET on April 30.  Edwards said on Tuesday that she was trying to talk to subcommittee chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS), the lead sponsor of the bill, and full committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) to see if they can reach common ground on the cuts to earth science prior to markup.  Otherwise she said she fears they are on a path to the same type of partisan discord that characterized a 2013 markup of a NASA authorization bill.  Approved by committee on party lines, it never reached the floor for a vote.


TASS: No Hope Left for Progress M-27M-UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Apr-2015 (Updated: 30-Apr-2015 08:03 AM)

Update, April 30, 2015:   Russia's space agency Roscosmos now predicts Progress M-27M will reenter between May 5-7 rather than May 3-4.

Original Story, April 29, 2015:  Russia's official Itar-Tass news agency reports today that there is no hope of recovering the Progress M-27M cargo spacecraft launched yesterday.  The spacecraft is loaded with three tons of supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) crew.   What happened to the spacecraft during or shortly after launch is not yet known.

Progress M-27M lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on time at 3:09 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) yesterday, April 28, 2015.   Whatever went wrong occurred close to the time that the spacecraft separated from the Soyuz rocket's third stage.   Russian flight controllers received conflicting data about the spacecraft's status and video from the spacecraft showed that it was spinning.

This morning EDT, Tass reported that the U.S. Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) had detected 44 pieces of debris "of unknown origin" in the orbit close to the Progress spacecraft.

A separate Tass story said that Russian space specialists "have agreed that Progress is hopeless, its controlled deorbiting is impossible."  Three attempts today to communicate with the spacecraft were "futile."  The report said that the spacecraft would reenter Earth's atmosphere on May 3-4.

This is the second of four planned Progress missions to the ISS this year.   The other two are scheduled for launch on August 6 and October 22, but clearly those dates may change depending on the results of the investigation into this failure. 

Progress is one of four cargo spacecraft that service the ISS.   Two U.S. companies, SpaceX and Orbital ATK, have developed commercial cargo spacecraft -- Dragon and Cygnus respectively.  Japan launches its HTV cargo spacecraft to the iSS.  A SpaceX Dragon is currently attached to the ISS and three more are scheduled for launch this year.  Orbital ATK is recovering from a launch failure last year that destroyed a Cygnus spacecraft and its cargo, but hopes to resume launches later this year.  An HTV is scheduled for launch in August.

NASA said yesterday that none of the cargo on the Progress M-27M was critical to U.S. operations on the ISS.  NASA refers to this as Progress 59 because it is the 59th Progress to be sent to the ISS, but it has a long history that predates ISS.

Russians Continue to Try to Regain Control of Progress Spacecraft

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Apr-2015 (Updated: 28-Apr-2015 11:38 PM)

Russian mission controllers continue to try to regain command of the Progress M-27M spacecraft that is spinning uncontrollably in low Earth orbit following a mishap earlier today. An attempt this evening Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) was "fruitless" according to Anatoly Zak at

The robotic cargo ship is loaded with three tons of food, fuel and other supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) crew.

Progress M-27M was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:09 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) this morning (1:09 pm local time at the launch site) and initially all went well.  Something happened -- it is not clear what -- during or just after third stage separation, however.  Russian flight controllers received conflicting data about the spacecraft's status, but it became apparent that the spacecraft was spinning.  A video posted on YouTube apparently from a camera aboard the spacecraft, narrated by a NASA announcer, clearly shows its rotation.

Initial plans were to rendezvous and dock with the ISS six hours after launch.  It was quickly apparent that would not be possible and Russian controllers switched to the backup 2-day rendezvous plan, but that was soon rejected as well and they and NASA said the docking was postponed indefinitely.

NASA issued a press release stating that none of the supplies were critical to U.S. operations on the ISS.  Indeed, a SpaceX Dragon is currently attached to ISS having delivered food and other supplies.  Three more Dragons are scheduled for launch this year (June. September and December) and a launch of Japan's HTV cargo spacecraft is expected in August.  Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft also may be launched by year's end as the company recovers from an October 2014 launch failure.  Russian Progress spacecraft routinely deliver supplies to ISS four or five times a year; this is the second launch in 2015 and two more are scheduled in August and October, though they may be postponed depending on the cause of today's problem.

After several initial passes over Russian ground control stations this morning EDT that did not provide sufficient data to diagnose the problem, ground controllers had to wait until the spacecraft once again passed over their ground stations at 8:50 pm EDT this evening to try to reestablish communications.   Anatoly Zak at reported that the attempt was "fruitless" and "The spacecraft likely continued tumbling in space."

Russia has an impressive record of launching dozens of Progress spacecraft over the decades since the first was sent to resupply the Soviet space station Salyut 6 in 1977.  The Russians designate this mission as Progress M-27M, the 27th of this version of the spacecraft (it has been modified several times over the years).  NASA refers to it as Progress 59 because it is the 59th to resupply the ISS.  A Progress was lost in a launch failure in August 2011, and one collided with the Mir space station in 1997 when a cosmonaut aboard the space station lost control of it while attempting a manual docking, but overall it is a remarkably successful program.

House Appropriators Set to Restrain Funding for FAA's Space Office - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Apr-2015 (Updated: 29-Apr-2015 04:47 PM)

Update, April 29, 2015:  The subcommittee approved the bill today with no change to the funding for this office.  The date for full committee markup has not been announced.

Original Story, April 28, 2015:  The Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee is set to mark up its FY2016 funding bill tomorrow.  It includes the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST), which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).   The draft bill would keep AST's funding at the same level as FY2015 instead of granting a requested increase of $1.5 million to pay for additional staff.

AST is funded at $16.605 million for FY2015.  The draft T-HUD bill provides that level for FY2016, too, rather than the $18.115 million requested by President Obama.   The requested increase of $1.509 million is to pay for 13 additional full time equivalent (FTE) staff members.  DOT's budget justification documents explain that the additional staff are needed to handle an expected increase in the number of commercial space launches requiring FAA licenses. Of the $1.509 million increase, $1.258 million would pay for the additional staff.  The remainder covers mandatory personnel costs such as the FY2015 and FY2016 pay raises of 1 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

The draft bill does not provide any explanation for denying the requested increase for AST, but it cuts DOT's total budget by $1 billion compared to its current FY2015 funding level, or by $6.8 billion compared to the President's request for FY2016.  Under the draft bill, DOT would receive $17.2 billion in appropriations.  The draft bill is posted on the committee's website.

The bill is scheduled for markup at 9:30 am ET tomorrow (April 29).

Edwards: "I Will Not Stand By Quietly"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Apr-2015 (Updated: 28-Apr-2015 05:02 PM)

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) vowed today to fight a Republican bill that would make dramatic cuts to NASA's earth science program.  Edwards represents a district near NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which builds, manages and operates many earth science missions.  The bill is scheduled for markup by the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee on Thursday.

Edwards is the top Democrat on the House SS&T's Space Subcommittee, which is chaired by Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS).   Palazzo is the sponsor of the legislation -- the NASA Authorization Act for 2016 and 2017.  Committee Republicans revealed the legislation and the markup schedule last Friday. According to a copy of the proposed legislation obtained by, NASA's earth science programs would be cut substantially.

Goddard itself is not in her Maryland district, but it surrounds Goddard and she worked at the Center as a contractor many years ago when she was employed by Lockheed (before it merged with Martin Marietta).  She is a strong supporter of all of NASA's portfolio, not only Goddard programs, and often says, as she did today, that she personally wants to travel to Mars.

The two previous NASA authorization bills that passed the House, for 2014 and 2015, had bipartisan support.  The 2014 bill (H.R. 4412) passed the House on June 9, 2014 by a vote of 401-2; the 2015 bill (H.R. 810) passed unanimously on February 10, 2015 under suspension of the rules.  (The Senate never acted on the 2014 bill and it died at the end of the 113th Congress.  It has not yet acted on the 2015 bill.)

The bipartisanship that characterized the 2014 and 2015 bills was in sharp contrast to the discord surrounding a 2013 NASA authorization act that cleared the House SS&T committee on a  party line vote and never reached the floor of the House for consideration.  In that case, committee Republicans proposed deep cuts to earth science and other NASA programs to conform with budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).  Edwards introduced a Democratic alternative that would have provided significantly more funding for NASA, including earth science.  The Democratic bill was defeated in the committee on party lines.

A key difference between the 2013 bill, and the 2014 and 2015 bills, is that the latter two included budget figures that already had been appropriated by Congress so did not require any new debates over funding.  The 2013 bill, and Palazzo's 2016-2017 bill, recommend funding levels that Congress has not yet adopted.  Although there is bipartisan agreement on the policy provisions, it is the allocation of the money that is in dispute.  The Palazzo bill postulates two different funding scenarios -- one in which the 2011 BCA caps are lifted and another in which they are not -- but under either one, earth science would take a substantial cut.

During a speech today to the Space Transportation Association (STA), Edwards recalled that 2013 episode as a "debacle" and is "deeply, deeply, let me say that again, deeply, deeply, and deeply disappointed" by Palazzo's bill that means the two parties are "poised" to go down the same path again with different Republican and Democratic approaches.   NASA needs a "United States Congress, both the House and the Senate, who are united about the direction and focus" of the agency and a multi-year authorization that does not "get caught up in silly politics that nobody understands."

When asked how she and fellow committee Democrats will respond to the Palazzo bill, Edwards said she is trying to talk to Palazzo and full committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) before the markup to determine if they can find common ground.  She noted that she and Palazzo have a "tremendous" working relationship that she hopes will prevail as the week unfolds.

She made it clear, however, that if agreement cannot be reached, she will fight the current version of the bill that puts at risk the 10,000 jobs at Goddard and would have "huge, deep, lasting" impacts on jobs in her district and at a place where she once worked:  "I will not stand by quietly and enable that to happen."

Edwards has announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who is retiring at the end of her term in 2016.  Mikulski also is an ardent supporter of NASA, particularly programs at Goddard. 



Russian Progress Cargo Ship in Trouble on Way to ISS

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Apr-2015 (Updated: 28-Apr-2015 11:43 AM)

Russia launched a robotic cargo spacecraft, Progress M-27M, to the International Space Station (ISS) this morning.  Progress spacecraft routinely take food, fuel and other supplies to the ISS crews several times a year, but today's launch went awry and the Russians report that it is spinning uncontrollably and in an incorrect orbit.

Russia's official Itar-Tass news agency quotes a Russian rocket and space industry source as saying "The spacecraft is currently very quickly and uncontrollably turning on its axis, one turn in just several seconds."  Itar-Tass also reports that "the spacecraft was failing to transmit telemetric data and also missed its target orbit."

A video posted on YouTube with narration by a NASA announcer shows the view from the Progress spacecraft as it spins.

The spacecraft was launched early this morning Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) with the intention of docking with ISS six hours later under the expedited rendezvous and docking trajectory that has been used recently.   The Russians quickly abandoned that plan and reverted to the 2-day trajectory that was used for decades and is now available as a backup.  That would have meant a docking on Thursday.  

As the situation evolved, however, the Russians lost contact with the spacecraft and docking plans now are on hold "indefinitely."

The spacecraft is carrying three tons of supplies, including fuel and food.

The next opportunity for Russian flight controllers to communicate with Progress is at 8:50 pm EDT tonight.  Check back here for updates.

NASA refers to this as Progress 59 because it is the 59th Progress to resupply the ISS, but Progress spacecraft have been launched since 1977 to resupply Soviet space stations.  There have been several dozen launches over those decades and the spacecraft has been upgraded several times. 

A SpaceX cargo spacecraft, Dragon, is currently docked with the ISS and delivered food and other supplies.   The United States uses two cargo spacecraft -- Dragon and Orbital ATK's Cygnus -- to take cargo to the ISS.  Orbital ATK is currently recovering from a launch failure of its Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft last October, but is planning to launch a Cygnus using a different rocket later this year.   In addition to those two spacecraft and Russia's Progress, Japan's HTV spacecraft can also deliver cargo.  (Europe's ATV was used in the past, but it has completed its final flight.)

Senate Approves Newman As NASA Deputy Administrator, Cruz Misses Vote

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Apr-2015 (Updated: 27-Apr-2015 10:39 PM)

Today the Senate confirmed Dava Newman's nomination to be the next Deputy Administrator of NASA.

The vote was 87-0.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness that oversees NASA, did not vote.   He also was absent from the committee vote that forwarded Newman's nomination to the Senate in March. His absence from the votes is notable because of his leadership position on NASA issues as chairman of that subcommittee, although he is earning a reputation for missing important votes on unrelated topics as well.  His office often explains that scheduling conflicts are the problem.  Cruz is campaigning for the Republican Presidential nomination.

He was not the only Senator to miss the vote.  According to a list in The Hill newspaper, 12 other Senators who did not vote were Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), and David Vitter (R-Louisiana). 

Newman is from Montana and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana) spoke in favor of her nomination on behalf of Republicans.  Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) spoke on behalf of Democrats.  Both briefly summarized her career achievements.  Daines particularly praised her career as an inspiration to young Montanans to pursue careers in space and engineering.  Nelson spoke mostly of his participation in a space shuttle mission piloted by current NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden and said that Bolden needed help to run the agency and Newman is "just the right person."

In statements after the vote, Bolden said he was "personally ecstatic to welcome her aboard," noting that he has "known and admired Dava for several decades," while Newman said it is an "enormous honor" to serve at NASA and thanked the President, the Senate, Bolden and "everyone at MIT -- I can't wait to come aboard."

Newman is an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems and director of MIT's technology and policy program. She was originally nominated by President Obama in October 2014 and renominated when the 114th Congress convened in January 2015.   Her nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on March 25, 2015 and today's vote by the full Senate was scheduled last week.  She will succeed Lori Garver, who left the agency in September 2013.


MIT Professor Dava Newman. Photo Credit:  MIT

Earth Science Takes Hit in Proposed House NASA Authorization Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Apr-2015 (Updated: 26-Apr-2015 06:49 PM)

The NASA authorization bill for 2016 and 2017 that will be marked up by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on Thursday would make deep cuts to NASA’s earth science program under either of the two funding scenarios laid out in the bill – “aspirational” or “constrained.”  Top-line funding for NASA would be the same as the President’s FY2016 budget request ($18.5 billion) under the aspirational level or the same as its current funding ($18.0 billion) under the constrained scenario.  Overall, the bill favors human space exploration, planetary science, and astrophysics.

According to a copy of the legislation obtained by, most of the 129-page bill is policy provisions that appear to be virtually identical to those passed by the House in February in the 2015 NASA Authorization Act.  That bill’s funding recommendations were only for FY2015, which is in progress and reflected what had already been appropriated. This Republican-sponsored bill substitutes funding recommendations for the next two years, FY2016 and FY2017.

In theory, the government should make policy and then propose (and enact) budgets to implement the policy, but in reality it is often the reverse.  The Washington adage that “budgets make policy” is often true, and this bill provides an example.  While the policy section endorses the National Research Council’s Decadal Survey for earth sciences and directs NASA to implement a program that is consistent with its recommendations and priorities, and to ensure a “steady cadence of large, medium and small missions,” the funding section cuts the earth science budget to an extent that it seems impossible to achieve that policy.

The funding section is complicated because two budget levels are recommended depending on whether Congress removes the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).

  • The first set of funding recommendations assumes the BCA caps are lifted.  A press release from committee Republicans refers to those levels as “aspirational.” 
  • The second set assumes the BCA caps are not lifted; the press release calls that set “constrained.” 
  • A third scenario is mentioned – where the funding falls somewhere in between – in which case any additional funds above the BCA caps would be applied proportionately across all of NASA’s funding accounts.

In total, the aspirational level for FY2016 is the same as the President’s request of $18.529 billion.  The constrained level is what NASA received for FY2015 -- $18.010 billion.  There are many differences, however, in how the legislation would allocate that money compared to the President’s request.

Table 2 in’s fact sheet on NASA’s FY2016 budget request displays the figures in the House bill compared to NASA’s current funding (FY2015) and the President’s request for FY2016.

The proposed cuts to NASA’s earth science program are likely to be the topic of strong debate at the markup.   Whether compared to NASA’s current FY2015 budget or the President’s FY2016 request, under either the aspirational or constrained scenario, earth science would be sharply reduced.

NASA’s earth science program is funded at $1.773 billion in FY2015.  The request for FY2016 is $1.947 billion.   Under the bill’s aspirational scenario, it would receive $1.450 billion in FY2016.  Under the constrained scenario, it would receive $1.199 billion.  Using current funding and the aspirational scenario for FY2016, it would be an approximately 18 percent cut.  Compared to the President’s request, it would be a roughly 26 percent cut.  If the BCA caps are not removed and the constrained scenario plays out for FY2016, it would be about a 32 percent cut compared to current funding or a 38 percent cut compared to the President’s request.

House and Senate Republicans on NASA’s authorization committees argue that NASA’s unique expertise is space exploration and studying the Earth should not be one of its priorities.   Although many also are climate change skeptics, publicly they do not frame their arguments in that context, instead insisting that other agencies should pay for that research, not NASA.  Republicans on this committee proposed deep cuts to NASA’s earth science budget in 2013 and Democrats introduced their own bill with more favorable funding.  The Republican bill was approved, and the Democratic bill rejected, on party line votes in committee.  That bill was never taken to the floor for a vote by the House, however.  Instead, the House has since passed two NASA authorization bills that avoided partisan discord over funding by using figures that already were approved in the appropriations process.  That tactic cannot be used this time since the bill is for future years.

Space technology is another area that would suffer compared to the President’s request.   It is currently funded at $596 million.  The President’s request for FY2016 is $725 million.  Under the bill’s aspirational scenario, it would receive $596 million – its current level – for FY2016.  Compared to the request, that is a cut of about 18 percent.  Under the constrained scenario, space technology would receive $500 million, approximately 16 percent less than today and about 31 percent less than the President’s request.

By comparison, NASA’s human exploration program – the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion, and associated ground systems – and planetary science and astrophysics fare much better. The commercial crew program is fully funded under the aspirational scenario.

SLS is currently funded at $1.7 billion.  The President’s request would reduce that to $1.357 billion.  The House bill would restore it to $1.7 billion for FY2016 under either the aspirational or constrained scenarios.  Similarly, the President requested less for Orion in FY2016 ($1.096 billion) than it currently receives ($1.194 billion) and the House bill would provide $1.2 billion under both the aspirational and constrained scenarios.  So while the House bill is a significant increase compared to the President’s request, it is essentially level funding compared to what Congress provided for FY2015.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress complain that the Obama White House underfunds SLS and Orion knowing full well that they are congressional priorities because the White House favors the commercial crew program.  The House bill does provide the full request for commercial crew in FY2016 ($1.244 billion) under the aspirational scenario, but less ($1.136 billion) in the constrained scenario.  The latter would be a cut of about 9 percent compared to the request, but a significant increase (about 41 percent) over the current funding level of $805 million.

Planetary science, another congressional favorite, is funded at $1.438 billion this year and the President’s request would cut that down to $1.361 billion.  The House bill instead would raise it to $1.5 billion regardless of what happens with the BCA caps. The bill states that up to $30 million is specifically for the Astrobiology Institute.   Astrophysics (excluding the James Webb Space Telescope, which has its own budget account) is currently funded at $685 million and the President’s request would increase it to $709 million.  The House bill would raise it even more, to $731 million, under the aspirational scenario.  In the constrained scenario, it would receive the $709 million requested.

Overall, the House bill demonstrates well known differences between Republicans and the Obama White House over NASA’s priorities.  Congressional Democrats also disagree with the Obama Administration on many of those issues, but earth science funding is one area where Democrats, in the past at least, have tried to protect NASA’s program.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 26-May 2, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Apr-2015 (Updated: 26-Apr-2015 11:59 AM)

This week's space policy related events begin today (Sunday) with many more coming up for the week of April 26-May 2, 2015. The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

It's another busy week in the space policy business that begins today and runs all the way through Saturday.

Tonight (Sunday), the CBS 60 Minutes program will air a segment on Air Force Space Command and threats posed to U.S. satellites.  In a preview on the CBS website, Gen. Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, is asked if we will defend our satellites by force if necessary and he replies "That's why we have a military.  I'm not NASA."

Hyten will have a different kind of appearance later in the week (Wednesday) when he and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces subcommittee about the FY2016 budget request for military space programs.  They will be joined by GAO's Cristina Chaplain.  That same day the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will be marking up its version of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including recommendations on the military space program that were adopted by the HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee last week.  Full committee markup is typically a lengthy affair with many amendments debated.  Check back here for a recap of any related to the space program.  

Speaking of NASA, Dava Newman's nomination to be NASA Deputy Administrator is scheduled for debate and (hopefully) passage by the Senate on Monday beginning at 5:00 pm ET.  The agreement between the parties is for 30 minutes of debate divided equally, so if all time is used, the vote would be at 5:30 pm ET.  Later in the week (Thursday) and across the Hill, the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) committee will markup a new NASA authorization bill.  This one (no bill number yet) covers 2016 and 2017.  The House already passed a bill for 2015, so together they would provide a three-year authorization for the agency.  The Senate has not acted on a new NASA authorization bill, but indications are that they plan to do so, although the timing is not clear.  NASA's most recent authorization act covered only through FY2013.

Meanwhile, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation will learn how its FY2016 budget request fares in the House Appropriations subcommittee that provides its funding.  The Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee markup is on Wednesday morning.

Many more events are on tap, including one that is just plain fun.  If you're in the Washington, DC area on Saturday, you and your family can enjoy Space Day at the National Air and Space Museum downtown.  This year it commemorates 50 years of spacewalks.  Astronauts will be on hand to give talks and there are kid-friendly activities planned.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.

Sunday, April 26

Monday, April 27

Monday-Friday, April 27 - May 1

Tuesday-Thursday, April 28-30

Wednesday, April 29

Thursday, April 30

Thursday-Saturday, April 30 - May 2

Friday, May 1

Saturday, May 2

Events of Interest

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


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