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Commercial Space News

Senate Floor Action on New NASA Authorization Act Could be Imminent

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Nov-2016 (Updated: 29-Nov-2016 07:25 PM)

Senate and House negotiators reportedly are close to agreement on a final version of a FY2017 NASA authorization act.   Senate floor action on a draft compromise bill could come as early as tomorrow.

NASA's most recent authorization law was enacted in 2010 -- the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.  It provided funding recommendations only through FY2013, but the policy provisions remain in force.  NASA's authorization committees in the House and Senate have been working on a new bill for several years to update policy and provide authorization direction, but without success.  Last year the House passed a FY2015 NASA authorization bill, H.R. 810,(which was very similar to a bill in passed for FY2014), but the Senate did not take it up.  A House bill for FY2016-2017 (H.R. 2039) never reached the floor after clearing the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on a party line vote.  Significant cuts to NASA's earth science program were a major partisan sticking point.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved a FY2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act (S. 3346) in September.  It avoided the issue of NASA's earth science activities by not mentioning them.  It also recommended authorization funding levels only for FY2017, which is already underway, using a combination of figures approved separately by the House and Senate appropriations committees.

A draft of a revised version of the bill reportedly reflecting compromise with the House is now circulating and rumors are that the Senate may take it up as early as tomorrow. SpacePolicyOnline.com obtained a copy of the new draft.  A quick glance suggests that it is similar to what cleared the Senate committee, while incorporating elements of H.R, 810 and H.R. 2039 plus new provisions.  These are a few highlights of the 114-page draft.  

  • Authorizes $19.508 billion for NASA for FY2017, the same total as approved by the House Appropriations Committee, but allocated differently;
  • Requires a study of alternatives to the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) for demonstrating the technologies needed to send humans to Mars, but does not terminate the program;
  • Supports the Space Launch System, Orion, the International Space Station (ISS), and a stepping-stone approach -- including intermediate destinations such as the surface of the Moon, cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Lagrangian points and Martian moons -- to human journeys to Mars, in cooperation with international, commercial and academic partners where practical, including the "peaceful settlement of a location in space or on another celestial body and a thriving space economy in the 21st century";
  • Prohibits acquisition of non-U.S. (e.g. Russian) crew transportation services to the International Space Station (ISS) unless there are no U.S. alternatives and the non-U.S. provider is a "qualified foreign entity";
  • Establishes as policy that the United States should maintain an uninterrupted capability for human space flight in and beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) once such a capability is demonstrated;
  • Requires an independent study of a potential 2021 human flyby of Mars, a particular interest of House SS&T chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX);
  • Supports utilization of ISS through at least 2024 (already codified in law in the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act) with an evaluation of continuing it at least through 2028;
  • Requires a plan to transition in a step-wise manner from the current ISS regime that relies on NASA sponsorship to one where NASA is one of many customers;
  • Requires a plan to meet NASA's projected communications and navigation needs for LEO and deep-space missions for the next 20 years;
  • Allows NASA to provide third-party indemnification for commercial service providers for NASA launches and reentries that are "unusually hazardous or nuclear in nature" under certain conditions;
  • Allows NASA to provide for medical monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment of former U.S. government astronauts or payload specialists for conditions associated with their spaceflights, but none are required to participate;
  • Directs NASA to contract with the National Academies for one study on astrobiology as it relates to the search for life in the solar system and extrasolar planetary systems and another assessing NASA's robotic Mars exploration program;
  • Directs NASA to report to Congress on how public private partnerships could be used to advance astrobiology as well as efforts to detect, track and catalog Near-Earth Objects (NEOs);
  • Prohibits NASA from terminating science operations of SOFIA;
  • Requires a study from NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) analyzing the requirements for radioisotope power system material needed for robotic planetary missions; and
  • Requires an assessment from OSTP on how to protect the Apollo landing sites.

The new draft bill does not call for terminating the Asteroid Redirect Mission, but, incidentally, House SS&T Chairman Smith and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who chairs its space subcommittee, sent a letter to NASA today requesting all documents associated with a report and press release the agency issued two weeks ago concluding that the project now has the support of the scientific advisory community.

As in the Senate committee-approved bill, NASA's earth science activities are not specifically mentioned.

The draft bill contains many "sense of Congress" statements and '"findings" that are not legally binding, but express congressional views.  Among them are support for several specific space science missions (James Webb Space Telescope, Wide-field Infrared Space Telescope, a mission to Europa, and Mars 2020), satellite servicing as a "vital capability," small satellite missions, and a robust aeronautics research program.

 

 

NASA Gets First "Landing Party" Member -- Chris Shank

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Nov-2016 (Updated: 29-Nov-2016 02:04 PM)

The Trump transition team named the first member of its "landing party" for NASA today -- Chris Shank. Shank was part of the leadership team at NASA while Mike Griffin was Administrator and is currently on the staff of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee.   Mark Albrecht, who had been rumored as a candidate for the NASA landing party, instead has been assigned to DOD's transition team.

Transition teams or "landing parties" typically are named for each federal department and agency by incoming presidential administrations to do an initial review of an agency's portfolio and identify pressing issues that the new administration will have to address quickly. 

Shank is an experienced space policy professional.  From 2001-2005, he served on what was then the House Science Committee staff specializing in human spaceflight and Earth science issues.  After joining NASA as a special assistant to Griffin in 2005, he was appointed NASA's chief of strategic communications in 2008.  He left NASA in January 2009 at the end of the Bush Administration and worked first at the Applied Physics Lab and later Honeywell Aerospace.  He returned to Capitol Hill in 2011 as Deputy Chief of Staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), who is now chairman of House SS&T, and in 2013 was appointed policy and coalitions director for the full committee.


Chris Shank.  Photo Credit:  NASA/Bill Ingalls

He has a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado and a bachelor's in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame.  Before his first stint on the committee, he served in the Air Force for 11 years, working at the Pentagon, National Reconnaissance Office and Air Force Space Command.

Landing teams usually have several  members, so additional appointments are expected.  Transition teams exist only until the inauguration, but it is not uncommon for many of their members to join the respective agency's staff thereafter.

Albrecht is another veteran member of the space policy community.  He was Executive Director of the White House National Space Council during the George H.W. Bush Administration and later was President of Lockheed Martin's International Launch Services (ILS), which at the time (1999-2006) marketed launch services on Lockheed Martin's Atlas and Russia's Proton rockets.  He currently is Chairman of the Board of U.S. Space LLC.  Prior to his tenure in the George H.W. Bush White House, he was a legislative assistant for national security affairs for then-Senator Pete Wilson (R-CA).  He has bachelor's and master's degrees from UCLA and a doctorate in public policy analysis from the Rand Graduate School.  Albrecht wrote a book, Falling Back to Earth, about his experiences on the National Space Council and at ILS, including relationships with Russia.


Mark Albrecht.  Photo Credit:  U.S. Space, LLC

He was appointed to the DOD transition team, which already has quite a few members.  Albrecht appears to be the only one so far with a space background, although another member, Trae Stephens, is a principal at Founders Fund which has investments in SpaceX according to Space News.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 28-December 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 27-Nov-2016 (Updated: 27-Nov-2016 03:49 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 28 - December 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House and Senate return to work this week.  They must pass an appropriations measure by December 9 to keep the government operating and there is a strong desire to complete action on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but apart from that, it appears that the plan is to wait until next year to deal with most issues.   Appropriations likely will be handled by extending the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) through March 31 and agreement on the NDAA seemed close just before Thanksgiving.  The 114th Congress could adjourn "sine die"  ("without a day" for recovening, meaning it is the end of the session) as soon as those are passed.  A slim chance remains for getting the NASA Transition Authorization Act passed, but time is running out.

The Presidential election is over -- sort of.  Officially it is not final until after the Electoral College votes on December 19 and Congress certifies that vote on January 6, 2017 (CRS has a very useful report about the Electoral College for those who are interested).  At the moment, Donald Trump is expected to win the Electoral College decisively with at least 290 votes (270 are needed to win) versus 232 for Hillary Clinton.  Clinton has decisively won the popular vote by more than 2 million (64,637,503 for Clinton versus 62,409,389 for Trump according to Cook Political Report ).  Under the Constitution, it is the Electoral College vote that determines the winner.  The race in Michigan still has not been called for either candidate, but its 16 electoral votes are not enough to change the outcome.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has demanded a recount in Wisconsin and plans to ask for recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan.  Stein says she is doing it to ensure the "integrity" of the election process and it "is not intended to help Hillary Clinton."  Indeed, few (if any) expect the outcome of the election to change, including Clinton herself.  Her spokesman made that clear, saying they are "fully aware" that the vote margin in the closest of the states (Michigan) is much larger than any margin ever overcome in a recount.  Any recounts must be completed before the Electoral College meets.

The Trump transition team continues its work, announcing a number of White House appointments and three Cabinet nominees (Attorney General, Secretary of Education and Ambassador to the U.N.).   While there are strong rumors about who will be nominated for Secretary of Defense (national security space programs) and Secretary of Commerce (NOAA satellite programs), Trump has not made any official pronouncements.  Nothing has been said about NASA so far. 

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets in public session on Wednesday in Palmdale, CA, near NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Facility (available by WebEx/telecon). The agenda has not been posted yet, so there is no way to know what they plan to discuss, but any news about a "landing team" being assigned to NASA and the impact of operating under a FY2017 CR for 6 months instead of just 3 months are possible topics.  This is the last NAC meeting under the Obama Administration and, presumably, Charlie Bolden's tenure as Administrator.  The NASA Administrator appoints the members of NAC, so its composition could change before the next meeting.

The Ministerial Council of the European Space Agency (ESA) will meet in Switzerland on December 1-2.  The ministers responsible for space activities in each of ESA's 22 member countries get together every 2-3 years to make policy and funding decisions.  ESA says this meeting will "further the vision of a United Space in Europe in the era of Space 4.0."   A press conference is scheduled for the end of the meeting on December 2 at approximately 13:00 CET (7:00 am ET).  One of the topics they will consider is whether to provide an increase of approximately 400 million Euros  to complete the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars program. The first two ExoMars spacecraft -- the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli lander -- were launched together in March and arrived at Mars last month.  TGO successfully entered orbit, but Schiaparelli crashed.  Schiaparelli was a technology demonstrator for a Russian lander and ESA rover scheduled for launch in 2020 (delayed from 2018).  Costs for the 2020 mission have grown, necessitating a decision by the Council on whether to proceed.   ESA's portion of the total program cost was estimated in 2008 at 1.3 billion Euros.  ExoMars originally was an ESA-NASA program, but the Obama Administration declined to fund the U.S. portion, so ESA turned to Russia instead.

Mars is but one planet in our beautiful solar system.  NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group (VEXAG) meets Tuesday-Thursday at NASA Headquarters to discuss future exploration of that planet.  The meeting will be available remotely via WebEx and telecon.

And then there's Earth itself!  The American Astronautical Society and the American Meteorological Society will hold an event to highlight Space-Based Environmental Intelligence on Thursday evening at the Naval Heritage Center in Washington, DC.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is the speaker.  He chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and crafted provisions in law to create commercial weather data pilot programs at NOAA and DOD (NOAA's is underway; the DOD provision is in the FY2017 NDAA).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn of later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Tuesday-Thursday, November 29-December 1

  • VEXAG, NASA HQ, Washington, DC

Wednesday, November 30

Thursday, December 1

Thursday-Friday, December 1-2

 

What's Happening in Space Policy November 21-25, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2016 (Updated: 20-Nov-2016 02:50 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 21-25, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are not in session this week.

During the Week

The United States celebrates Thanksgiving on Thursday.  Across the nation, people are focused on shopping, cooking and traveling to celebrate with friends and family more than attending meetings on space policy or anything else.  We do not have a single space policy event on our list for this week in the United States and only one that will be held abroad (see below).

This is, indeed, a good time to take a breath after a fractious election season.  Melanie Kirkpatrick, acting editorial features writer for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), published a commentary on Thursday noting that "healing" is the watchword of post-election America.  Author of "Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience," she shared the story of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday at a time of national strife and urged that this year it serve as "a moment to focus on our blessings as Americans, on what unites us, not on what divides us."  

The tale of the First Thanksgiving with Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621 is fairly well known, but how the holiday evolved over the centuries less so.  Presidents had occasionally designated national days of thanks since the time of George Washington, but the holiday did not achieve permanence at the national level until it was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.  Yes, 1863, in the middle of the Civil  War and just months after the horrific Battle of Gettysburg with its approximately 50,000 casualties (killed, wounded or missing).  Poet, novelist and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale (a very interesting woman) had made it her mission to establish a single national day of Thanksgiving.  Over three decades, she convinced many states to declare a day of thanks, but they were on various dates.  Her goal was a single national day every year.   Lincoln agreed as part of an effort to unite Americans on both sides of the conflict by reminding them of all that is good about our country even in such a painful time.  He issued a Proclamation on October 3, 1863 designating the last Thursday of November (the date originally chosen by George Washington) as a day of thanksgiving.  Kirkpatrick's commentary is behind the WSJ paywall unfortunately, but her bottom line is "Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation was profoundly hopeful, reminding the American people of the nation's capacity for renewal.  It's a message that resonates today."

On that note, SpacePolicyOnline.com wishes everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, there is one space policy-related conference that we know about this week -- in Dubai.  Sponsored by the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), this "High Level Forum" focuses on space as an economic driver for socio-economic sustainable development.  Among the co-sponsors are the Secure World Foundation, Sierra Nevada Corporation's Space Systems Division and the International Committee on Global Navigation Systems.   It is part of the lead-up to UNOOSA's UNISPACE+50 conference that will take place in 2018, the 50th anniversary of the first UNISPACE conference (two others were held in 1982 and 1999).   The website does not indicate if any of this week's conference will be webcast.

Congress Poised to Punt on FY2017 Appropriations, Extend CR Instead

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Nov-2016 (Updated: 19-Nov-2016 09:12 AM)

It looks like Congress will delay finalizing FY2017 appropriations until next year after Donald Trump is sworn in as President.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) announced today that his committee will now focus on writing a bill extending the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) until March 31, 2017.  The Senate has not officially agreed with the House plan of action, but signs are that it will.  Whether the incoming Trump Administration and 115th Congress will be ready to finalize FY2017 funding by that date, or just kick the can further down the road, remains to be seen.

Rogers has valiantly advocated for a return to "regular order" in the congressional appropriations process where all 12 regular appropriations bills are considered and approved at subcommittee level, then by the full committee, then debated and passed by the House, and conferenced with Senate counterparts to present a final bill to the President.

He successfully pushed his 12 appropriations subcommittees to finish their work in a timely manner this year, but only one bill, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA), made it through the process.  It is incorporated into the existing CR.  The CR funds all the other government departments and agencies at their FY2016 funding levels just through December 9.  Congress must pass some type of appropriations by then to keep the government operating. 

In the week since the election, congressional leaders have been weighing whether to finish the other 11 bills, packaging them into a single "omnibus" spending bill or several smaller "mini-buses," or delay action until Trump takes office.

The latter choice was made today.

In a press release, Rogers made no secret of his disappointment, but remained philosophical.

"While I'm disappointed that the Congress is not going to be able to complete our annual funding work this year, I am extremely hopeful that the new Congress and the new Administration will finish these bills. I am also hopeful for a renewed and vigorous 'regular order' on future annual funding bills, so that the damaging process of Continuing Resolutions will no longer be necessary."

House rules set 6-year term limits for committee chairs and Rogers has reached that limit, so will not chair the full Appropriations Committee in the next Congress. He is vying to become chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Speaking at a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) luncheon this afternoon, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), a member of the Appropriations Committee and just elected to his third term, was more blunt.   Kilmer calls his Seattle-area district, which is home to Blue Origin and Planetary Resources among others, the "Silicon Valley of space."  He was a key figure in passage of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act last year, and this year in convincing the Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee to fully fund the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. 

Asked about the decision to extend the CR instead of providing full-year funding, he said he could not "explain the inexplicable" or "defend the indefensible" and Congress needs to return to regular order and pass appropriations bills.   "I don't think that is a good way to do business. ...  When I chose to run for Congress it was with the knowledge that what Congress does and doesn't do has a big impact on industry for good and for bad. Some of that is positive investments in workforce, infrastructure, and establishing a regulatory framework that provides certainty.  Some of that is budget certainty."   When Congress does not pass appropriations bills on time, it not only is disruptive to government agencies, "but also has a negative impact on industry."

Outgoing Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) also expressed her dissatisfaction.   She is retiring from the Senate next month.

"This is deeply disappointing.  Once again, Republicans are stymying our ability to do our job and meet our constitutional responsibility to produce full year appropriations bills for the American people," she said in a press release.

Mikulski chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA, when Democrats were in control of the Senate.  She is the top Democrat on the committee and subcommittee now and an ardent advocate for NOAA and NASA's space and earth science programs in particular.   "We believe we can finish the job.  We do not want a government shutdown.  Our principles remain the same: parity between defense and non-defense, no poison pill riders and compliance with the Bipartisan Budget Act. ... We could do it.   Where there's a will there's a way.  Republicans instead have decided to procrastinate rather than legislate."

CRs typically fund agencies at their prior year levels unless exceptions are made.  In this case, there may be more exceptions than usual.  The Obama Administration just sent a supplemental request to Congress for additional defense spending, for example, that likely will be wrapped into the CR, and there is concern that attempts will be made to include some of those "poison pill" provisions Mikulski referenced (such as ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood).  

On the other hand, some Senate Republicans reportedly are arguing to pass a CR for the rest of FY2017, not just to the end of the March, so they do not have to deal with the issue in the spring when other Trump Administration priorities are being debated.

It may take a while to develop a new CR that can get enough votes to pass Congress and win President Obama's signature. They have until December 9 to do something.

Assuming a new CR passes -- which should not be taken for granted, although a government shutdown just before Christmas would not be to either party's advantage -- how much longer the 114th Congress will remain in session thereafter is up in the air.   It would not be surprising if they adjourned as soon as the CR is passed, further limiting the amount of time to get other legislation, like the FY2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act, finalized.

No Transition Team for NASA "At This Time"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Nov-2016 (Updated: 17-Nov-2016 12:03 AM)

It was just one week ago today that the world learned Republicans swept the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Today, all three bodies are gearing up for a new presidency and a new session of Congress, but there is little clarity about how the space program will be affected.  Despite all the recent rampant rumors about who would be on the Trump transition team for NASA, for example, it turns out there will not be one at all, at least for now.

Election Results and the Incoming Trump Administration

Votes in Michigan are still being tallied, but as of this morning Politico shows that nationally Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about 1 million, while Donald Trump won the Electoral College 290-232 (270 are needed to win).  Under the Constitution, it is the Electoral College, not the popular vote, that determines the winner.  The Electoral College does not meet until next month to make the vote official, but Trump's lead is sufficient that it is just a formality.  Who wins Michigan's 16 electors will not change the outcome.

The President-Elect Transition Team (PETT) is still getting its sea legs. The sudden decision last week to replace the transition organization set up by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and replace it with a new team led by Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has disrupted the process.  Reports are widespread in Washington about intense in-fighting within PETT although Trump officials insist that is not true.  Ironically, Congress passed a law allowing presidential transition teams to begin their work earlier than in the past -- after the party conventions instead of waiting until the election -- because issues are so complex that more time is needed to allow for an orderly transfer of power.  Christie's team consequently was put in place after the Republican Convention in July, but much of that effort appears to have been for naught.  Who is or is not working on the Pence transition team changes daily.

Typically, presidential transition teams assign small groups -- currently called Agency Review Teams (ARTs) -- to each department and agency.   There have been many rumors about who is on the NASA team, but today NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot sent a memo to NASA employees stating that NASA has been informed that no ART will be assigned to NASA for now.

"The President-Elect Transition Team (PETT) has indicated that NASA will not be receiving an Agency Review Team (ART) at this time.  NASA, as all federal agencies, stands ready to support the PETT at a future date."

A NASA transition team could be set up later, although time is getting short, or the incoming Administration could wait until after the inauguration to address NASA and other space issues.

Rumors were that former Congressman Bob Walker would be very involved in a NASA transition team.  He was the point man for space policy during the final weeks of the Trump campaign.  He co-authored two op-eds for Space News, one on civil space policy, the other on national security space, and spoke to the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) on October 26 outlining top-level Trump space priorities.  Walker became a lobbyist after he retired from Congress and is now executive chairman of one of the top lobbying firms in Washington, Wexler|Walker.  The lobbyist ban presumably excludes him from serving now.   Mark Albrecht is another person frequently mentioned as a potential NASA transition team member.  He was Executive Director of the White House National Space Council during the George H. W. Bush Administration.  Reviving a National Space Council to coordinate U.S. national security, civil and commercial space policy is a key feature of what Walker has described as Trump space priorities.  

The quadrennial parlor game of guessing who will be nominated to fill various positions, like NASA Administrator, is in full swing, but it is far too early for any useful reporting on that score.  All that is known is that current Presidential appointees must submit their resignations as of the end of the Obama Administration on January 20. The new President can accept the resignations or not.  If not, the individual can decide whether or not to remain.  Dan Goldin survived two presidential transitions, serving almost 10 years as NASA Administrator.  He was appointed in the last year of the George H.W. Bush Administration, stayed through the Bill Clinton Administration and into the first year of the George W. Bush Administration.  It does not seem likely that current Administrator Charlie Bolden is interested in trying to beat that record, but whether he would be willing to stay, if asked, until, for example, a new NASA Administrator is confirmed is something only he knows.  He has been Administrator since July 17, 2009.

Wrapping Up the 114th Congress, Preparing for the 115th

Up on Capitol Hill, the Republicans retained control of the House and Senate.  Not all contests are completed yet, but as of today, Politico reports today there will be 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats in the House, and 51 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents in the Senate.  Four House races and one for the Senate (Louisiana) are not final yet.  A run-off election in Louisiana for the Senate seat and two of the House seats is set for December 10.  The other two House seats that have not been called yet are in California.

Yesterday and today, House and Senate Republicans reelected their party leaders -- House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).  Senate Democrats elected Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as Senate Minority Leader to replace Harry Reid (D-NV), who is retiring.  House Democrats decided yesterday to delay their decision on who will be House Minority Leader in the next Congress.  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the incumbent and while the delay may signal some dissatisfaction with her remaining in that position, the betting is that she will keep the job though there might be changes in other leadership positions as there were in the Senate.  Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), for example, was appointed to a Senate Democratic leadership post even though he is not a Democrat, but an Independent.  His strong showing during the primaries convinced Senate Democrats that he was connecting with a part of the electorate they want and need.

The 114th Congress still has a few weeks to go before the 115th Congress convenes in January.  During that time, Congress must pass one or more appropriations bills to keep the government operating after December 9 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.  A decision has not yet been made on whether to extend the current CR or pass full-year appropriations bills. 

Congress is expected to complete work on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and could pass the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act, which cleared the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in September.  The Senate has not passed the bill yet.  Whether it gets through Congress and to President Obama's desk depends on how deeply motivated members on both sides of Capitol Hill are to conveying their civil space policy preferences to the new President through legislation.

The first day of legislative business for the 115th Congress has not been formally announced yet, but the House is expected to meet to count the electoral votes on January 6. (Officially new Congresses begin on January 3, but that is a Sunday in 2017.) 

Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th U.S. President on the steps of the Capitol on January 20. 

One of first tasks for the new Trump Administration will be developing a FY2018 budget request to be submitted to Congress in the spring.   By law, the budget is supposed to be submitted on the first Monday in February.  The Obama Administration rarely met that schedule (in part because Congress did not finish work on the prior year's budget in a timely manner) and any incoming Administration clearly cannot get it done in such a short time.  

Whenever it is released, it will be the first real indication of the new Administration's budget priorities for all federal government departments and agencies, including space activities at NASA, NOAA, FAA and DOD.  As tempting as it may be to speculate, it is important to wait before building up or dashing hopes.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 14-19, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 13-Nov-2016 (Updated: 14-Nov-2016 08:21 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 14-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House and Senate return to work for one week beginning tomorrow (Monday).  The House meets for legislative business Monday-Thursday; the Senate will be in pro forma session on Monday and meet for legislative business the rest of the week.  Then they will recess again until after Thanksgiving.

With Republicans retaining control of both chambers, there will be less organizational work to prepare for the 115th Congress that convenes in January.  The one "must do" item between now and the end of the year is passing appropriations bill(s) to fund the government past December 9.  As we wrote yesterday, it's not clear how that will play out, but it's hard to imagine anyone wants a government shutdown at this point, so they will have to work something out.  One "probably will do" is complete action on the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  A number of other pieces of legislation could also be completed, such as the NASA Transition Authorization Act, if the various parties can reach agreement.  It's doubtful any of that will be finalized this week, but progress may be made behind the scenes.

Everyone is still catching their breaths after the stunning election results. The quadrennial parlor game of guessing who will be to tapped to lead NASA and NOAA (and every other government agency) is in full swing along with prognosticating about the incoming Trump Administration's space priorities.  It's far too early to know based on the limited information the Trump campaign issued, but that doesn't mean it's not fun to play.  We'll refrain from speculating on new agency leaders, but, programmatically, here's our two cents worth on NASA's future.  Human spaceflight will be fine, though we think the days are numbered for the Asteroid Redirect Mission and fully expect a human return to the surface of the Moon to be restored to the long term plan; space science will hold its own, though within a more constrained budget if deficit-cutting regains popularity; and earth science will not do very well not only because President-elect Trump is a climate change skeptic, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski is retiring so will not be in a position to rescue it.  We don't have a good feel for aeronautics or space technology.  Both are very popular in theory, but routinely underfunded in practice.  One worry is that if the total NASA budget is constrained due to broad deficit cutting goals, and human spaceflight programs exceed current cost targets -- let's be honest, that would hardly be surprising -- other parts of the NASA portfolio will pay the price.   Meanwhile, public private partnerships will continue to be encouraged, as will interagency and international cooperation/coordination.

That will all take place over the next months and years.   Getting back to this week, there is, as usual, a lot of very interesting events coming up.  To pick just three, tomorrow's meeting of the NASA Advisory Council's Human Exploration and Operations Committee at JSC could be interesting (available remotely by WebEx/telecon).  Kathy Lueders, program manager for the commercial crew program, is on the agenda for 1:45 pm Central Time (2:45 pm Eastern). Perhaps she will address some of the issues raised in the letter that Tom Stafford and his ISS Advisory Committee sent to Bill Gerstenmaier about SpaceX's plans to fuel the Falcon 9 rocket while crews are aboard.  At a minimum, she should provide an update on when the Trump Administration can expect to see American astronauts on American rockets sent to the ISS from American soil.  Instead of launching on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan, as will happen on Thursday when Peggy Whitson and her Soyuz MS-03 crewmates, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Roscosmos's Oleg Novitsky, blast off from Baikonur.

Our second top pick this week is Saturday's launch of NOAA's GOES-R satellite. NASA TV is in the unenviable position of needing to cover the Soyuz MS-03 launch and GOES-R pre-launch briefings both on Thursday afternoon, and the Soyuz MS-03 docking at ISS and GOES-R launch, both on Saturday afternoon.  NASA TV has a public channel and a media channel; if you don't find the programming you're looking for on one, try the other.   GOES-R is the first of four next-generation geostationary weather satellites that NOAA has been developing for many years.  It will be redesignated GOES-16 once in orbit.  The other three have launch dates stretching out into the mid-2020s.   The spacecraft has an on-board orbit-raising engine similar to one that failed on MUOS-5, but NASA and NOAA are confident that a backup system will get GOES-R to its correct orbit no matter what.

Third is a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) luncheon on Thursday featuring Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA).   He represents a Seattle-area district that is home to companies like Blue Origin and Planetary Resources -- he calls it the Silicon Valley of space.  He is one of the congressional champions of creating a legal and regulatory environment conducive to new types of commercial space ventures and worked with Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) earlier this year to get the House Appropriations Committee to approve the full requested funding level for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. He may have some insight as to what Capitol Hill will do in these closing weeks of the 114th Congress and his own prognostication of what the next four years have in store for space.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, November 14

Monday-Tuesday, November 14-15

  • NAC Aeronautics Committee, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA (WebEx/telecon, but must contact NASA in advance to get call-in information)
  • Small Satellite Workshop (USGIF), NGA East Campus, Springfield, VA (Nov 15 sessions are classified)

Tuesday, November 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 15-16

Tuesday-Thursday, November 15-17

Wednesday-Friday, November 16-18

Thursday, November 17

Thursday-Friday, November 17-18

Friday, November 18

Saturday, November 18

 

Correction: an earlier version of this article listed the start time for Monday's NAC/HEO meeting as 9:00 am Central Time, but it begins at 9:30 am CT (10:30 am ET).

FY2017 Appropriations -- It's Not Over Till It's Over

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Nov-2016 (Updated: 12-Nov-2016 04:40 PM)

While everyone is focusing on what a Donald Trump presidency means for the future of NASA and the rest of the space program, it is important to bear in mind that the FY2017 appropriations process is not finished yet.  He may have an early shot at those decisions if Congress pushes final action into next year.

FY2017 began on October 1.  Action on the FY2017 appropriations bills was not completed, so the House and Senate passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund agencies at their FY2016 levels through December 9.  The one exception is that the CR incorporated full-year funding for activities in the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill.  The other 11 "regular" appropriations bills, including Defense and Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) that fund the lion's share of national security and civil (NASA, NOAA) space programs, are in various stages in the congressional process.

To keep those and other agencies operating after December 9, Congress will have to pass and President Obama will have to sign one or more new appropriations measures. 

Before the elections, the betting was that Congress would pass one "omnibus" spending bill incorporating all 11 of the remaining appropriations bills or bundle them together into several smaller packages (mini-buses).  While differences remain between the House and Senate on their versions of these bills, for NASA, at least, the picture was looking positive for Congress to add about $1 billion in appropriated funds above what President Obama requested.  (His request included $763 million that purportedly was to come from the mandatory portion of the federal budget, which Congress ignored since NASA is funded by appropriations and the appropriations committees have no control over mandatory spending.)

Congress was able to add such a large amount in part because of a deal reached last year among the President, then-House Speaker John Boehner, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to relax spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.   Ultra conservative House Republicans objected to that budget deal and to the amounts being approved by the appropriations committee for FY2017 for non-defense discretionary agencies like NASA.

The results of last week's elections, which kept Republicans in control of the House and Senate and handed them the White House as well, could intensify efforts to rein in the deficit through budget cuts alone, not in tandem with tax increases proposed by Democrats. Republicans want more, not less, defense spending, so the non-defense agencies likely would bear the brunt of any reductions.

The path forward for FY2017 appropriations therefore has become more complicated. Congressional Republicans are debating whether to complete action on FY2017 appropriations before the end of the year or extend the CR into next spring. If they finish it now, and keep the committee-approved funding levels in place, any criticism of exceeding the budget caps could be aimed at the departing Obama Administration.  If they push it into next year, it would give the new Trump Administration an opportunity to set its own priorities and determine whether or not to exceed the caps.

Optimism that NASA would do quite well in FY2017 now must be tempered with Yogi Berra's caution that "it ain't over till it's over."

Congress returns to work this week after a multi-week recess for the elections.  The House meets for legislative business beginning on Monday.  The Senate meets in pro forma session on Monday and for legislative business beginning Tuesday.   Each chamber plans to meet only this week and then recess again until after Thanksgiving.

Republicans Win it All

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Nov-2016 (Updated: 09-Nov-2016 03:17 AM)

The Republican Party swept the 2016 national elections, winning the White House and retaining control of the House and Senate.

Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States on January 20, 2017, with Mike Pence as his Vice President.  The House and Senate will remain in Republican hands, though leadership elections will determine who is Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader.   House Speaker Paul Ryan, for example, has not been an enthusiastic supporter of Trump and very conservative Republicans had earlier indicated they might mount a challenge to his speakership when the 115th Congress convenes because of policy differences.

From the perspective of the space program, the Trump campaign's few remarks suggest little change in civil space except in the area of earth science.  Trump is a climate change skeptic, as are key members of Congress who oversee NASA and NOAA's budgets.  Otherwise, he and his representatives have expressed support for U.S. leadership in space with a bold exploration program that includes international and commercial partners.  Two space advisers, Bob Walker and Peter Navarro, wrote in a Space News op-ed that Trump would restore a National Space Council in the White House to ensure "proper coordination" among the various space sectors.

As for national security space, in a separate op-ed, Walker and Navarro asserted that Trump's priorities would be to reduce vulnerabilities, assure commands have the tools they need, reduce the cost of space access, and create new generations of satellites to deal with emerging threats.

Trump's own statements and the op-eds provide only the broadest strokes of what his presidency might do with the space program.  Budgets are always key, so further clues will have to wait until he submits his first budget to Congress next year.

In Congress, Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) won the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikuilski (D-MD).  He is expected to follow in her footsteps as a strong supporter of NOAA and NASA (especially earth science and astrophysics programs at Goddard Space Flight Center), though as a freshman Democrat, he will lack her powerful position on the appropriations committee.   

Two other Senators with key roles in the space program won reelection -- John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee, which funds NASA and NOAA.

What's Happening in Space Policy November 7-11, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Nov-2016 (Updated: 06-Nov-2016 12:40 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 7-11, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.

During the Week

Welcome back to Standard Time in the United States.  Daylight Saving Time ended overnight.  Adjust your clocks accordingly!  We lost an hour of sleep in the process, but can catch up on Friday, which is a Federal Holiday (Veterans Day).

One hardly needs to say what the big news is this week.  Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Who will control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the Senate are all at stake and the results are completely up in the air.  Voter turnout will be, as always, a critical factor.  Get out and exercise your right - and your responsibility - to choose our nation's leaders. 

For the space program, especially NASA and NOAA, which are part of the non-defense discretionary part of the budget, the congressional races may be more important than the White House.   The Clinton and Trump campaigns haven't said much about their positions on civil and commercial space, but what they have said is very similar -- they want the United States to be a leader in space with a bold exploration program that incorporates international and commercial partners.  One area of difference, not surprisingly, is NASA's role in earth science research.  The Clinton campaign is enthusiastically supportive of NASA's earth science program and its role in understanding climate change; the Trump campaign thinks NASA should focus on space exploration while other agencies study the Earth.

Congress, however, is still battling over how to rein in the deficit.   The draconian sequestration rules have been held in abeyance since FY2013 by two-year agreements negotiated in 2014 by the Republican House and Democratic Senate (the Ryan-Murray deal), which relaxed budget caps for FY2014 and FY2015, and in 2016 by outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and President Obama for FY2016 and FY2017.  Sequestration is still the law of the land (the 2011 Budget Control Act -- BCA), however, and whether it is strictly followed, loosely followed, or ignored (perhaps repealed) in the future depends in large measure on what parties control which parts of the government.  NASA has fared extremely well in recent years (Congress is poised to give NASA about $1 billion more than President Obama requested in appropriated funds for FY2017) in part because the BCA caps have not been rigorously enforced.  The two parties have been battling for years on how to cut the deficit.  Republicans want to do it entirely through spending cuts.  Democrats want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.  Both parties want to protect the defense budget, though there are many differences on the details.  That leaves mandatory spending programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) and non-defense discretionary agencies (e.g. NASA and NOAA) as the go-to places to look for whatever cuts are to be made.  Generally speaking, Democrats are more protective of those activities than Republicans, hence the inclusion of tax increases in their deficit-reduction strategy to ensure they are not eviscerated in the process, but tax increases aren't very popular. 

This election has been ... draining ... and many look forward to its end, but the nation's problems will still be there on November 9 or whenever the outcome is known (it may not be on November 9 after all, there are many close races). The new leaders, whoever they are, will have a lot to do.  Every vote matters.  GET OUT AND VOTE.

In addition to voting, there are number of interesting things to do this week.  NASA has two media events, tomorrow (Monday) and Thursday, on small satellites for earth science.  Tomorrow's virtual briefing (listen at www.nasa.gov/live) will discuss the agency's overall program of utilizing cubesats and microsatellites for earth science research, including technology developments, and a preview of three upcoming small satellite missions.  Thursday's briefing at NASA HQ (watch on NASA TV) is specifically about one of them -- a constellation of eight small satellites to be launched next month that will gather data on the formation and intensity of tropical cyclones and hurricanes (CYGNSS). 

Meanwhile, out at the National Academies' Beckman Center in Irvine, CA, the steering committee of the Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet tomorrow through Thursday.  On Wednesday, it will hold a webinar for members of the earth science community to get an update on the status of the Survey and ask questions of the co-chairs, Waleed Abdalati and Bill Gail. 

In Paris, European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner will hold a press conference tomorrow morning about the ESA Ministerial Meeting coming up next month.  It will not be webcast, unfortunately, but ESA says a video recording will be posted to the ESA website within 24 hours.

Lastly, the Atlantic Council will hold the next in its "Captains of Industry" series on Wednesday featuring representatives of four leading U.S. and European defense and aerospace companies (Airbus, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Thales USA) and the National Venture Capital Association on "Corporate-Venture Investing in Aerospace and Defense."  It will be webcast.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, November 7

Monday-Thursday, November 7-10

Tuesday, November 8

  • ELECTION DAY IN THE UNITED STATES

Tuesday-Thursday, November 8-10

Wednesday, November 9

Thursday, November 10