Latest News

Weather Satellites First Up for Space Hearings in 114th Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Feb-2015 (Updated: 06-Feb-2015 12:02 AM)

The first hearing of the 114th Congress focused specifically on space issues will be about weather satellites.  Two subcommittees of the House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on February 12 on "Bridging the Gap:  America's Weather Satellites and Weather Forecasting."

The hearing is before HSS&T's Subcommittee on Environment and the Subcommittee on Oversight and features witnesses from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), NOAA and NASA.  One of the NOAA witnesses, Alexander McDonald, is also the President of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

NOAA's satellite programs are under the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) and its new associate administrator, Steve Volz, is one of the witnesses (he is Mary Kicza's successor).  The NOAA/NESDIS budget request is $2.38 billion, of which $2.189 billion is for procurement, acquisition and construction of satellites.   It is virtually all for "weather" satellites if one includes space weather in the definition.  The Obama Administration is proposing that responsibility for all civil earth observation satellites other than weather (including space weather) be shifted to NASA, such as ocean altimetry and the Total Solar and Spectral Irradiance Sensor (TSIS).  That likely will be one of the topics explored at the hearing.

Funding is ramping down for the first two Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) spacecraft and the four spacecraft in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOES-R) series, but they still consume most of the budget request:  $808.9 million and $871.8 million respectively.  This year's request includes a new line item for the next two JPSS satellites, JPSS-3 and -4, under the designation "Polar Follow On."  That request is $370 million.  NOAA is also requesting $2.5 million to begin planning for another space weather satellite.   The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), scheduled for launch on Sunday (February 8), has a design life that ends in FY2019, NOAA says, so it needs to begin looking at a follow-on.

The hearing is at 10:00 am ET in 2318 Rayburn House Office Building.

NOAA Keeps Weather and Space Weather Satellites Under FY2016 Budget Proposal

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Feb-2015 (Updated: 04-Feb-2015 01:29 AM)

NOAA will focus on weather and space weather satellites in the future if the Administration's FY2016 budget proposal is adopted, shifting other satellite responsibilities to NASA.  NOAA's FY2016 request also includes a new Polar Follow On program to acquire two more Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites in addition to the two already under development.

The $2.38 billion request for NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) includes funding for Operations, Research and Facilities (ORF) and Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction (PAC).   The PAC account funds development of JPSS, the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R series and other satellite programs familiar to readers of this website.  The PAC request is $2.189 billion.

The request for GOES-R is $871.8 million, a decrease from last year largely due to development ramping down.  JPSS would be funded at $809 million, also a reduction from last year for the same reason.  NOAA is also requesting $370 million to initiate the Polar Follow On (PFO) program to build two more JPSS satellites, JPSS-3 and -4, and $10 million for an "Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave (EON-MW) miniature microwave sounder" that approximates the functions of an instrument on JPSS-1 (the Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder) in case something goes awry with it. 

Funding ramps down for the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) space weather satellite and the Jason-3 ocean altimetry mission, both of which will be launched soon.  The request continues funding for COSMIC-2, a radio occultation mission.

NOAA also is requesting $2.5 million for a "Space Weather Follow On"  to analyze options for and initiate development of a new space weather satellite.

NOAA has been trying to find a way to accommodate three instruments that were intended to be launched on the since-canceled NPOESS platforms:  the Total Solar and Spectral Irradiance Sensor (TSIS), the Advanced Data Collection System (A-DCS), and the Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) instruments.   NOAA called this SIDAR in last year's budget request, but Congress cut funding for it.   For FY2016, agreement was reached for TSIS to be transferred to NASA.   The request for A-DCS and SARSAT under the SIDAR account for FY2016 is just $500,000, with no funds projected for future years (it simply says TBD) even though the budget documents say they will be launched in FY2019.

The Obama Administration is proposing that NASA assume responsibility for some activities, like TSIS and future ocean altimetry missions in the Jason series, that currently are under NOAA's purview. NASA and NOAA FY2016 budget documents use the same phrasing to describe the new framework: "NOAA will be responsible only for satellite missions that contribute directly to" its "ability to issue weather and space weather forecasts and warnings to protect life and property."  NASA's budget documents go a bit further to clarify that "Geostationary and polar-orbiting weather satellites, radio occultation satellites, and space weather satellites remain within the NOAA budget."

NASA's budget request for earth sciences would increase substantially in FY2016 partially as a result of its new responsibilities.   NASA spokesman Allard Buetel said via email today that of the $174.8 million increase requested for earth science for FY2016, approximately $54 million is due to the transfer of NOAA activities to NASA.  He identified TSIS-1 and -2, RBI, OMPS-L and AFO as the programs moving over to NASA.  RBI is the Radiation Budget Instrument; OMPS-L is the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite-Limb Profiler; and AFO is Altimetry Follow On, future ocean altimetry missions.

NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce and the Obama Administration is again proposing to reorganize several Executive Branch agencies, including the Department, to create a new department that would "focus on business and economic growth."  Under the proposal, NOAA would be transferred to the Department of the Interior.  The proposal has not received much support in the past.


President Requests $18.5 Billion for NASA, How Will Congress React?

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Feb-2015 (Updated: 04-Feb-2015 09:44 AM)

President Obama submitted his FY2016 budget request to Congress today.  It includes $18.5 billion for NASA, a 2.9 percent increase over the FY2015 appropriated level, which itself was a half-billion increase over the President's request for FY2015.  In less than 12 months, NASA's budget fortunes have improved considerably though, predictably, not enough to satisfy everyone.  Also not surprisingly, the President's request has not been welcomed with open arms by everyone in Congress, though statements today focused more on the overall request, not specifically that for NASA.

Those who see the glass as half empty point to the fact that the President decided to ignore the budget caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act, and requested a 6 percent increase for research and development spending across the federal government.  They see the 2.9 percent increase for NASA as too small.  On the other hand are those who see the glass half full, a decided improvement over what the President requested last year ($17.460 billion) and what the White House projected last year would be the request for FY2016 ($17.635 billion). has a free fact sheet summarizing NASA's FY2016 budget request and identifying four of the top issues likely to arise as Congress considers it.  In brief, they are:

  • Earth Science.  The request of $1.947 billion is a $174.8 million increase over FY2016.  Some of that -- though NASA officials could not say today how much -- is because the Administration is proposing that some NOAA satellite activities be transferred to NASA.  One is the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1).  NASA also is requesting funds for a "multi-decadal sustainable land imaging program" that includes money to build the next Landsat satellite (Landsat 9) for launch in 2023; a separate free-flyer for an infrared sensor for launch in 2019; and funds for technology development and system innovations to reduce the costs of Landsat 10 and beyond.  Such an increase for earth science may encounter opposition from Members who are climate change skeptics and see little need for government programs in this area, or who think that NOAA should not shift its responsibilities to NASA.
  • Planetary Science.   The request of $1.361 billion is a decrease of $76.6 million from the FY2015 appropriated level and includes only $30 million for a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa.  Planetary science is very popular on Capitol Hill and any decrease is likely to be met with opposition.  The new chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), is an ardent supporter of planetary exploration and Europa in particular.   He has led efforts to add money to NASA's budget for Europa.  Congress provided $100 million for FY2015, an increase of $85 million above NASA's request.
  • Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).  NASA continues to struggle to convince the space community and Congress of the value of ARM.  The NASA Advisory Council is asking pointed questions about the cost of ARM and its relevance to NASA's long-term goal of sending humans to Mars.  NASA has missed self-imposed deadlines for choosing between two options for implementing ARM:  Option A (move a small asteroid to lunar orbit) or Option B (pluck a boulder from a large asteroid and move that to lunar orbit).  NASA Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski revealed today that the Mission Concept Review (MCR) for ARM has been delayed by at least a month, from the end of February to the end of March, and he does not know when the Option A versus B decision will be made.  It could be made days from now, at the MCR, or afterwards he said, he simply does not know.  The FY2016 budget request includes $220 million for the "Asteroid Initiative" of which ARM is part, though Radzanowski stresses that most of that money is "leveraged," meaning that NASA would spend it anyway, even if there was no ARM.   Our FY2016 NASA Budget Request fact sheet includes a table showing where the ARM money is in the NASA budget, which is difficult to track because ARM is not a program with its own line item in the budget; the money is spread across three of NASA's four mission directorates.  
  • Space Launch System/Orion/Commercial Crew.   Once again, NASA is requesting less for SLS/Orion than Congress appropriated, and more for commercial crew than has been requested in the past.   NASA and Congress have had a tense relationship over these programs since a compromise was reached in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act wherein Congress would fund both the commercial crew program proposed by the Obama Administration to build commercial systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station in low Earth orbit (LEO), as well as a new NASA-developed crew transportation system -- SLS and Orion -- to take crews beyond LEO that Congress preferred.  Congress insists that the Obama Administration favors commercial crew over SLS/Orion and routinely adds money for SLS/Orion and cuts funding for commercial crew.  This year's request for commercial crew is $1.244 billion, a substantial increase over the $805 million appropriated for FY2015.   NASA explains that full funding is needed to pay for the milestones its two contractors, SpaceX and Boeing, are expected to meet through the end of FY2016 and if Congress does not provide the funds, the fixed-price contracts will have to be renegotiated.  In that event, NASA says, it cannot promise that the systems will be available by the end of 2017 as currently planned.

More information on these issues in available in our fact sheet.

House Science Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said he was disappointed the NASA request does not adequately support programs to take us to "destinations like Mars" and includes "costly distractions, such as climate funding better suited for other agencies, and an asteroid retrieval mission that the space community does not support."

House SS&T Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) did not mention NASA in her statement about the budget, but said she is pleased with the 6 percent increase in funding for R&D across the government.

Senator John Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, also did not mention NASA or other agencies.  Instead, he criticized the President's request overall as clinging to the "same old failed top-down economic policies of spending increases and tax hikes..."

On the appropriations side, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, and Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, each rejected the request out of hand. Neither mentioned NASA or any other agency, but reacted to the budget proposal overall.  Shelby called it "unserious" and called for a balanced budget.  Rogers called on Congress to "reject this irresponsible budget plan."   The Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey (D-NY), praised many aspects of the request, but the only scientific area she mentioned was biomedical research.  

Clarification.  Sen. Shelby chairs the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee, not the full committee as earlier wording in this article suggested.

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

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Feb-2015 (Updated: 01-Feb-2015 05:18 PM)

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

During the Week

This is budget week in Washington.  The President will submit his FY2016 budget request to Congress tomorrow (Monday), kicking off debate over how much the government should spend and on what in the "discretionary spending" portion of the federal budget.  FY2016 begins on October 1, 2015.   Discretionary spending is generally broken into two parts -- defense and non-defense.   NASA and NOAA are part of non-defense discretionary spending.  Although by law the sequester goes back into effect in FY2016, a senior administration official told reporters last week that the President's budget request will not adhere to the spending caps set by the law.  The President apparently believes that the deeply unpopular sequester rules will be waived again (as they were for FY2014 and FY2015) or repealed or replaced entirely.  

Most departments and agencies hold budget briefings the day the budget is released, as does the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  Typically the budget is posted on the Office of Management and Budget's website in mid-morning, followed by the individual briefings.  Traditionally the NASA Administrator holds a budget briefing in Washington, but this year Administrator Bolden will be at Kennedy Space Center and instead will "address the progress made and the exciting work ahead on the agency's exploration initiative that secures America's leadership in space."  That talk will be broadcast on NASA TV, especially to all the NASA field centers, which are holding "State of NASA" events for the public that include tours, briefings, and listening to Bolden.  For all the budget-watchers and policy wonks, explaining the budget request will be left to NASA Chief Financial Officer (CFO) David Radzanowski, who succeeded Beth Robinson as CFO last year.   He will hold a telecon with the media at 4:00 pm ET that will be broadcast on NASA's News Audio website.

Another big event this week will be the confirmation hearing for Ash Carter to be the new Secretary of Defense.  That hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 am ET.

Also on Wednesday, as well as Thursday, is the annual Commercial Space Transportation conference sponsored by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.  It will be held at the National Housing Conference Center in Washington, DC, the same locale as the last several years.

On Thursday, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will hold its 2nd annual "State of the Universe" briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight new discoveries about the universe in the past year.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, February 2

Monday, February 2 - Friday, February 13

Wednesday, February 4

Wednesday-Thursday, February 4-5

Thursday, February 5

Rogozin Enlists Russian Citizens to Monitor Work at Vostochny

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jan-2015 (Updated: 30-Jan-2015 11:54 AM)

Irritated by continuing delays in construction of Russia's new Vostochny launch site, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said today that he will use webcams to allow "people's monitoring" of construction there by the citizenry at large.   The new launch site is intended to replace much of Russia's use of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, but its construction has dragged on for many years.

Rogozin oversees Russia's space sector and he and other high level Russian officials. including President Vladimir Putin, have visited the site in Russia's Far East many times and routinely complain about the delays in construction.  Rogozin just completed another visit and said today that "the state of affairs ... leaves much to be desired." 

Acknowledging that the weather in that region of the country is "hard," he said that is all the more reason for the work to be well organized.

He plans to increase supervision not only by himself, but by the people of the country, using webcams.  Concerned about continuing delays last year, he had webcams installed that allow him to monitor progress using his office computer.  He now plans to expand that opportunity to the citizenry at large. "This is people's construction project and I want the webcams that we installed at the mail facilities to be connected not only to my Moscow office computer, but also to the websites of Roscosmos and [Military-Industrial Commission] Collegium. ... this will be a kind of 'people's monitoring' over the construction progress," Rogozin said.

Russia's plans to build a new launch site in the Russian Far East date back to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which left one of its main launch sites, Baikonur, in a different country - Kazakhstan, previously a Soviet republic.  Russia has been leasing Baikonur from Kazakhstan since then, but wants a new site within Russian borders to fully or partially replace its launch activities there.  In the mid-1990s, the decision was made to convert a former strategic missile site, Svobodny 18, in the Amur region near the city of Blagoveshensk, into a space launch site. 

Work at Svobodny proceeded slowly and although a few space launches were conducted there using Start-1 and Rokot, Putin discontinued the project in 2007.  The idea of a new launch site in that region was soon resurrected, however, and within a few months plans for a launch site, Vostochny, nearby were announced.  Construction of launch pads capable of supporting Soyuz-2 and the new Angara launch vehicle family has been a slow process.  Rogozin and Putin have made a number of trips to the site, each time complaining about the lack of progress.  Last fall, Putin pledged 50 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) to accelerate construction, but judging by Rogozin's comments today, the situation remains unsatisfactory.

A 2012 Roscosmos video (in English) features Putin explaining the importance of the new site, which is described as the centerpiece of a future new "science city."  At the time the video was made, the goal was for the first launch to take place in 2015 and for human spaceflight launches to begin in 2016.  Today, the goal apparently still is for a first launch this year, but human spaceflights have slipped to 2018.

NASA Safety Panel Criticizes Commercial Crew Program for Lack of Openness

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jan-2015 (Updated: 28-Jan-2015 10:34 PM)

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) released its annual report today.  Among its key points is criticism of NASA's commercial crew program for its lack of openness, preventing the panel from offering "any informed opinion" on the certification process or "sufficiency of safety."  The report's release coincides with NASA's Day of Remembrance in honor of the astronauts who died as the result of spaceflights.  The first of those accidents, the 1967 Apollo fire, led to Congress creating ASAP to advise NASA on safety.

The panel's criticism of the commercial crew program was direct and unambiguous and levied at the very beginning of the report so as not to be missed:

"Within NASA, there are outstanding examples of programs that have inculcated a culture of clear and candid communications.  Their approach to accountability, good systems engineering, and respect, both up and down the organization chart, would find strong favor with the authors of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report.

"The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is an exception to the culture of open communications.  Regrettably, the Panel has been denied the necessary timely access to information and is therefore unable to offer any informed opinion regarding the adequacy of the certification process or the sufficiency of safety in the CCP.  The NASA Administrator has committed to making the changes necessary to resolve this situation and to ensuring that these barriers are removed going forward into 2015."

ASAP's complaint comes just two days after NASA held a press conference with its commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, to herald the progress they are making to provide services to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) by the end of 2017.

In a color-coded "traffic signal" chart later in the report, ASAP rated "risk transparency -- Insight and communications" as red, meaning an issue of "long-standing concern or an issue that has not been adequately addressed by NASA."  It is the only one of nine areas designated that way.  In describing its concerns in that area, ASAP includes not only commercial crew, but the Space Launch System and Orion programs.

"Risk communications concerning commercial crew activities by the Director of Commercial Spaceflight Development has been less than forthcoming.  Because Probabilistic Risk Assessment results provide a risk assessment of the design capability at maturity, actual risks for early operations of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion could be significantly higher than the calculated or 'advertised' risk.  Because the perception of external stakeholders is vitally important, NASA's Office of Communications must be cautious not to create or reinforce inaccurate perceptions of risk."

A second key concern of the panel is what it calls the need for "constancy of purpose" at NASA.  It reflects the panel's assessment that there is a "perceived lack of a well-defined mission for NASA's space program" and a mismatch between NASA's budget and what it is expected to do.  Reiterating what it said in prior years, ASAP finds that it is "imperative that NASA unambiguously articulate a well-defined purpose, including a path toward the execution of that mission, the technologies that need to be developed and matured, and the resources needed to accomplish that mission."

ASAP criticizes NASA's current "capabilities-based approach" which it believes is driven by budgets rather than a "purposeful, schedule-driven, goal-oriented endeavor." While acknowledging that may be a pragmatic approach that could bridge a transition between presidential administrations, ASAP believes NASA would be better served to "focus on doing fewer things and on doing them better." 

Without a clear and consistent goal, ASAP worries that schedule will become a "casualty" that could affect SLS and Orion in particular. 

The panel expressed other concerns about Orion and its use for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).   The panel assessed ARM itself as "a reasonable approach to a mission that is achievable," but worries that the lack of an airlock on Orion adds risk because the entire capsule will have to be depressurized to allow the crew to exit and collect samples of the asteroid.  That means the crew will be entirely reliant on their spacesuits.  The spacesuits used for ISS spacewalks are "unworkable" for Orion, ASAP said, and although NASA officials have indicated that they have no plans to develop new spacesuits for ARM, ASAP suggests otherwise: "design and development of new-design suits, while underway, are still preliminary and untested."   In addition, the panel notes, Orion is small and does not have much room for astronauts to move about or exercise even though the missions may last as long as three weeks:  "This long duration, crew habitability risk remains to be assessed and evaluated in order to develop an objective mission risk estimate."

ASAP also is concerned about the small number of flights planned for SLS in terms of maintaining ground crew proficiency.   SLS and Orion are part of NASA's Exploration Systems Development (ESD) program, which ASAP rates as "progressing very well." but "there is much more work to be done ... [in] defining the risks and the road to Mars.  These risks should continue to be communicated openly and transparently."

The full ASAP report is posted on NASA's website.   ASAP submits it both to NASA and to Congress.  ASAP chairman Vice Admiral Joseph Dyer (retired) typically is invited to testify to Congress about the panel's findings each year.

ASAP was created by Congress in the NASA Authorization Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-67)  following the January 27, 1967 Apollo fire that killed Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch ground test of what was expected to be the first Apollo mission.   Fourteen more astronauts subsequently died in two space shuttle accidents.  The January 28, 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy killed NASA astronauts Francis "Dick" Scobee, Mike Smith, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Judy Resnik; Hughes Aircraft engineer Greg Jarvis; and New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.  On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during its return to Earth, killing NASA astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark, and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon.

Each year NASA holds a Day of Remembrance honoring all the astronauts who lost their lives in spaceflights.  Today is NASA's 2015 Day of Remembrance,  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, members of the Challenger families and others participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery.  Several NASA centers held their own remembrance events.

Welsh: Sequestration Bill Is Due for AF Space Launch Infrastructure

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Jan-2015 (Updated: 28-Jan-2015 05:20 PM)

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III told a Senate committee today that the bill has come due for a number of infrastructure activities that were postponed because of sequestration, including space launch infrastructure.  By law, sequestration returns in FY2016 and Welsh and the other military service chiefs warned about the impacts if the law is not changed.

Welsh began his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) by commenting that the Air Force is the smallest it has ever been, with 54 fighter squadrons, down from the 188 at the time of Operation Desert Storm in 1990, and 200,000 fewer active duty airmen than the 511,000 in place at that time.  Additional cuts will be required if sequestration -- part of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) -- returns, making the Air Force "even smaller and less able to do the things that we're routinely expected to do," Welsh said.

"Now, I would like to say that that smaller Air Force would be more ready than it's ever been, but that's not the case," he continued.  Even though the last two years, when BCA budget caps were relaxed, have permitted improvements, there is a "broader readiness issue" involving infrastructure, including space launch infrastructure, that was "intentionally underfunded" in order to ensure individual and unit readiness instead.   "That bill is now due, but BCA caps will make it impossible to pay," Welsh warned.

More broadly, he worried about technological gaps that could develop if sequestration is not reversed.  One of those is space:  "we cannot forget that that is one of the fastest growing and closing technological gaps," Welsh said.   Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert also mentioned space capabilities as an area of concern saying that "we're slipping behind and our advantage is shrinking very fast" in "electronic attack, the ability to jam, the ability to detect seekers, radars, satellites ...." 

SASC is a friendly audience for airing such concerns.  SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) referred to the "mindlessness of sequestration" and its requirement to cut $1 trillion from defense spending by 2021.  "If we in Congress don't act, sequestration will return in full in fiscal year 2016, setting our military on a far more dangerous course."   The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), put it in a broader context saying that sequestration relief is needed at DOD "and for other critical national priorities, including public safety, infrastructure, health and education."

The BCA was enacted in 2011 when Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration could not reach agreement on how to fund the government in the face of political gridlock over Republican insistence that the deficit be reduced through spending cuts alone and Democratic insistence that it be achieved through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.   A congressional "supercommittee" was created to find a solution, with the "poison pill" that if they did not, then automatic across-the-board cuts -- sequestration -- would ensue for all departments and agencies funded by congressional appropriations.  They did not reach agreement, and sequestration went into effect.  Across-the-board cuts do not allow choosing priorities -- every budget account is cut by the same percentage.  Republican and Democrats in Congress and the White House oppose sequestration and agreed to temporary relief through the Ryan-Murray agreement in December 2013, but that covered only FY2014 and FY2015.

President Obama is expected to submit his FY2016 budget request on Monday (February 2), the formal kick-off of the FY2016 budget debate.  The BCA was enacted when the House was controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats.   Now both chambers are under the control of Republicans, but whatever they pass still must be signed into law by a Democratic President, so the outcome of the debate is still very much up in the air.  Whether either side has moderated its views on the amount of deficit reduction required or how to achieve it will become known in the coming months.

House SS&T Committee Starts Off 114th Congress on Partisan Footing

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Jan-2015 (Updated: 27-Jan-2015 06:34 PM)

The House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee held its organizational meeting for the 114th Congress this morning.  The typically routine meeting held at the beginning of each new Congress had a strong partisan flavor to it this year, however.   The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), issued a sharply worded news release detailing changes Republicans made to committee rules on party-line votes, calling it the "single greatest attack" on the rights of the minority party in the history of the committee.

Johnson is the "ranking minority member" of the committee, meaning the highest ranking member of the party that is not in power.  In the 114th Congress, Republicans are the Majority Party and Democrats are the Minority Party in both the House and Senate.

Historically, the House SS&T committee and many other congressional committees have trumpeted the fact that they work in a bipartisan manner, but party-line votes undermine such claims.

In fact, in his opening statement, committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) heralded the fact that in the last Congress the committee approved 20 bills (of which six became law), 18 of them on a bipartisan basis, and said he hoped "we can build on this bipartisan success and do more in this Congress."

Despite that sanguine note, Republicans then voted down all the Democratic amendments to modify the proposed rules (on one of the eight votes today, one Democrat voted with the Republicans).  Smith said in a statement after the meeting that what the committee adopted "preserves the legitimate rights of the Minority."  He said during the meeting that the goal was to eliminate duplication and align the committee's rules with those of the House (which also have been amended in this Congress). 

Johnson, who has served on the committee for 23 years under both Democratic and Republican leadership, clearly disagrees.  She listed the following changes that she believes diminishes the Minority's rights: 

  • shortened notice requirements for markups and allowing the Majority to waive notice requirements entirely;
  • eliminating review periods for Members to review legislative reports prior to filing;
  • requiring more Members to support a request for a recorded vote;
  • allowing the Majority to hold a hearing without a single Minority member present;
  • providing the committee chair with unilateral subpoena authority;
  • eliminating requirements for consultation with the Minority; and
  • the Committee receiving blanket deposition authority in House Rules "for the first time in the half century history of the committee."

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) contrasted this committee's stance with that of another committee on which she serves, House Transportation and Infrastructure, where the entire organizational meeting, including adoption of rules, took "five minutes" rather than beginning "a new Congress and a new year fighting about the rules."

A webcast of the contentious meeting is on the committee's website.

The rules may seem arcane (read our "What's a Markup" fact sheet to learn what some of them mean), but they give the Majority power to hold hearings, subpoena witnesses and documents, and to more easily pass legislation out of committee and to the floor of the House on a partisan basis.  Of all the changes, giving the chairman unilateral authority to issue subpoenas could have the greatest impact.  In the last Congress, only the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA) had such power.  House SS&T is one of several committees planning to give their chairs such authority in this Congress.  Smith said repeatedly that the authority is necessary because of the Obama Administration's "dilatory tactics in responding to letters from this committee" and its "lack of transparency."

How that will play out in the space policy arena remains to be seen, but the sharp differences between the parties on NASA were evident in 2013 when, under the previous rules, the committee approved on party-line votes a new NASA authorization bill that would have prohibited NASA from proceeding with the Asteroid Redirect Mission, dramatically cut funding for NASA overall and especially for Earth Sciences, and established the position of NASA Administrator as an appointed 6-year term.   That bill was never voted on by the House and a bipartisan version was crafted the next year after budget caps were raised, promoting greater agreement.  That bill did pass the House, but was not considered by the Senate and died at the end of the last Congress, so this Congress will be starting over again.  Smith did say today that he hopes a new NASA authorization bill can clear the committee in a bipartisan manner as it did last year.

The number of committee members from each party is roughly proportional to the ratio of Republicans to Democrats in the full House.  For the 114th Congress, Republicans have 22 slots on the House SS&T committee and the Democrats have 17. 

The Republicans announced their membership, including all their subcommittee assignments today.   Democrats are still awaiting appointment of four of their 17 full committee members by the House Democratic leadership and have not announced subcommittee assignments.  The 13 Democrats currently assigned to the full committee are Johnson, Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Donna Edwards (D-MD), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Ami Bera (D-CA), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Katherine Clark (D-MA), and Don Beyer (D-VA).

The Space Subcommittee, which oversees NASA and the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, will have nine Republicans and six Democrats.  Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) will continue to chair the subcommittee.  The Subcommittee on Environment, which oversees NOAA's weather forecasting activities, will also have nine Republicans and six Democrats and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) will serve as chairman.  The Subcommittee on Oversight, which has broad jurisdiction, including NOAA's Satellite Modernization activities, was very active in the last Congress under the chairmanship of Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), who lost his Republican primary last year.  This year the subcommittee will have six Republicans and four Democrats and be chaired by another Georgian, Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA).

The committee also adopted its oversight plan for the 114th Congress today.  With regard to NASA, NOAA satellite programs, and the FAA's commercial space activities, the language is virtually identical to the 113th Congress plan.  The only notable difference is that oversight of NASA's earth science program is now under the Space Subcommittee's purview; last time it was listed with the Environment Subcommittee.

Commercial Crew To Be Ready by 2017, But NASA Will Keep Flying on Soyuz Too

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Jan-2015 (Updated: 26-Jan-2015 10:52 PM)

NASA held a press conference today with its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) partners Boeing and SpaceX today to highlight progress on developing U.S. systems to take astronauts to space.  Both companies said they will be ready by the end of 2017, but CBS News adds that NASA still plans to use one seat on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft for the duration of the space station program and for Russians to fly on the U.S. systems.

Launching American astronauts on American vehicles from American soil has been a NASA goal since the Obama Administration terminated the space shuttle program in 2011.   NASA currently pays Russia approximately $75 million per seat to launch U.S. astronauts (and those from its Canadian, European and Japanese ISS partners) on Soyuz spacecraft.  Russia is the only ISS partner capable of launching humans into space today.

Last September, NASA picked Boeing and SpaceX to continue to the final phase of developing new U.S. crew space transportation systems in a public private partnership where both the government and the company invest capital in the new systems.  NASA not only pays part of the development cost, but is a guaranteed market for a certain number of flights.

Boeing’s John Elbon and SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell briefly laid out their companies’ plans for meeting the 2017 goal today.  Elbon said that Boeing’s CST-100 spacecraft will have its first uncrewed orbital test to the ISS in April 2017, with a crewed test in July 2017 and operational services beginning in December 2017.   Shotwell said SpaceX’s test flight of the crew version of its Dragon spacecraft would be late in 2016 and the first operational mission in early 2017.   Dragon is already used for uncrewed cargo missions to the ISS – one is docked there right now.

NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, suggested there is some flexibility about the timing, saying that NASA needs the services in the “late 2017, 2018 time frame.”   NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden also was careful in his wording about the date, saying that he is looking to the companies to deliver as promised by the end 2017 and “if we can make that date, I’m a happy camper.”  Lueders also said that Boeing would be the first to fly crews to the ISS, even though Elbon's timeline was later than Shotwell's.

NASA funding is critical to the CCtCAP program and Congress has taken several years to warm up to the idea, initially providing roughly half of the money the Administration requested.   NASA originally hoped commercial crew systems would be ready by 2015, but Bolden often cites congressional underfunding of the program as the reason the date slipped to 2017.

Today, however, Bolden was optimistic that Congress would provide the full amount that the President will request in his FY2016 budget proposal.  The President is expected to submit his FY2016 budget request to Congress on February 2.  Agencies like NASA are not allowed to discuss what is in the budget request until it is released.  For FY2015, the President requested $848 million and Congress appropriated $805 million, the closest Congress has come to appropriating what the Administration wanted for this program.

Lueders said that by the end of the program, NASA will have spent about $5 billion on development and the average cost per seat will be $58 million.  She said that figure is not traceable back to the contracts, however.  It is a “derived” value based on the mission costs over five years for crew and cargo (CST-100 and Dragon can carry both).   She said it is not NASA’s intent to have an exact price, but only to indicate that U.S. industry has “stepped up to provide cost effective solutions to flying crews” to ISS.

Bolden emphasized today his desire to end U.S. dependence on Russia, saying he hopes to never have to write a check to Russia’s Roscosmos after 2017.  That does not mean, however, that American astronauts no longer will fly on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.    CBS News space correspondent Bill Harwood reported today on a January 15 interview with ISS Program Manager Mike Suffredini who said that NASA plans to use one seat on Soyuz for the duration of the ISS program and Russians would fly on the U.S. commercial vehicles.  “We’re assuming two Russian seats a year and we’re assuming two Russians will fly in our seats per year … And it’ll just be a quid pro quo, we won’t ask for compensation,” Suffredini told Harwood.

Bolden also said at the press conference today that he thinks the Russians will be “perfectly happy” with the advent of the U.S. commercial systems because they provide redundancy in crew access to the ISS and the “intent is to fly mixed crews.”

Bolden’s theme throughout the press conference was that NASA needs to focus on space exploration, specifically going to Mars, and that will require participation of international and commercial partners.   Turning transportation to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) over to the commercial sector frees NASA to focus on deep space exploration.  After the ISS has fulfilled its purpose around 2024, it will be taken apart and deorbited, he said, and future LEO infrastructure will be provided by commercial companies:  the “world of LEO belongs to industry, it doesn’t belong to the government, it doesn’t belong to NASA at all.”

What's Happening in Space Policy January 26-30, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Jan-2015 (Updated: 25-Jan-2015 02:42 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of January 26-30, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

On the off chance you haven't been watching the weather forecasts, the week starts off with a major winter storm for the Northeast, so if you're headed in this direction for meetings, be prepared for delays.  The Washington, DC area is not expected to get much snow (a few inches) but it may as well be the two feet they're forecasting for New England when it comes to impact. This area just does not do well in snow.

Tomorrow in warmer climes -- Houston -- NASA and its Commercial Crew Transportation Program (CCtCAP) partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will hold a news briefing at Johnson Space Center to provide an update on their progress in developing crew transportation systems to service the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.  The 11:00 am Central Time (12:00 noon Eastern) briefing will be broadcast on NASA TV. 

Or head to Cocoa Beach, FL for the three-day (Tuesday-Thursday) NASA Advanced Innovative Concepts (NIAC) 2015 symposium.  If you can't make it in person, it will be webcast.  

Back here in DC, on Tuesday, when it may still feel like the Arctic, the Secure World Foundation will hold a really interesting seminar on "Space and the Arctic: Why Space Capabilities are Important for Sustainable Arctic Development" from 12:00-2:00 pm ET.  Please RSVP in advance if you plan to attend.

An hour before that, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold its 114th Congress organizational meeting, postponed from last week.  The House Appropriations Committee holds its organizational meeting on Wednesday.  The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) have interesting hearings on broad topics this week.  It is not clear whether national security space issues will come up at all, but they may, and the hearings seem interesting nonetheless.   One SASC hearing  is on the impact of sequestration on national security with the military service chiefs (the sequester comes back into effect in FY2016 unless the law is changed) and the other is on global challenges with three former Secretaries of State (Kissinger, Shultz and Albright).  The HASC hearing is on how to improve DOD's ability to respond to technological change.

If you're interested in a career in space policy and in the D.C. area on Tuesday, don't miss the panel discussion on that topic Tuesday evening at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute.  Five young professionals who are climbing that ladder of success right now will be there to offer their perspectives and advice.

We also want to note that this week begins the anniversaries of the three fatal spaceflight accidents:  Apollo 1 (or Apollo 204) on January 27, 1967; Challenger, January 28, 1986; and Columbia, February 1, 2003.   NASA usually holds a remembrance event around this time, but we have not heard when/where/what it will be this year.

The meetings that we do know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, January 26

Tuesday, January 27

Tuesday-Thursday, January 27-29

Wednesday, January 28

Wednesday-Thursday, January 28-29

Thursday, January 29

Events of Interest

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


Subscribe to Email Updates:

Enter your email address: