Commercial Space News
The House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) will meet tomorrow to markup the draft FY2014 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill. As drafted, the bill would reduce AST from its requested level of $16.01 million to $14.16 million.
The T-HUD subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), is scheduled to meet at 10:00 am ET tomorrow in 2358-A Rayburn House Office Building. In total, the bill provides $44.1 billion in discretionary spending, $13.9 billion below the request. House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said the bill exemplifies the difficult choices that need to be made. The bill focuses on funding "transportation infrastructure critical to our economy and maintaining housing options for our most vulnerable citizens," he said, while "reducing or eliminating funding for lower-priority programs."
One of those lower priority programs apparently is AST. AST facilitates and regulates the commercial space transportation industry. AST was funded at $16.27 million for FY2012, $15.4 million in FY2013 (after adjusting for the sequester), and the FY2014 request is $16.01 million.
The draft bill would cut AST to $14.16 million, $1.85 million (about 12 percent) less than the request or $1.24 million (about 8 percent) less than its current level. An AST spokesman said the office does not comment on pending legislation, so he could not characterize the impact of such a cut if it survives the appropriations process.
Mike Gold, Director of D.C. Operations & Business Growth for Bigelow Aerospace, said "These cuts are ill-advised to say the least. At a time when we're depending so heavily on commercial space transportation to do this to the FAA-AST will have serious consequences, causing delays throughout the industry and even potentially putting lives in danger. It's certainly my hope that all of the AST's funding can be restored."
GenCorp announced today that it has completed acquisition of "substantially all operations" of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne from United Technologies. It will be combined with GenCorp's Aerojet subsidiary and called Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Rocketdyne has gone through several corporate mergers and acquisitions. It has been part of North American Aviation; North American Rockwell; Rockwell International; Boeing; and Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of United Technologies.
United Technologies agreed to sell Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne to GenCorp in July 2012 for $550 million. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approved the sale on Monday despite concerns that it would create a "monopoly in the market for a type of advanced missile defense interceptor propulsion system." The FTC said that it was approving the sale "primarily because the Department of Defense wishes to see the transaction go forward for national security reasons."
GenCorp President and CEO Scott Seymour said that the addition of Rocketdyne "almost doubles the size of our company and provides additional growth opportunities as we build upon the complementary capabilities of each legacy company, including their talented people and innovative technologies."
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today approved the nominations of Anthony Foxx to be Secretary of Transportation and Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce.
The votes were unanimous. Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said both were "excellent nominees" with "strong bipartisan support" and urged his colleagues to quickly schedule a floor vote to confirm them.
Both departments play important roles in space policy. The Department of Transportation is home to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). AST facilitates and regulates the commercial space launch business.
The Department of Commerce is the parent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the nation's weather satellites and licenses commercial remote sensing satellites, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees federal government use of spectrum. It also is in charge of exports of dual use items and is working with the State Department in the effort to transition commercial satellites from the State Department's Munitions List and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to the Commerce Department's less strict Commerce Control List. The Secretary of Commerce position has been vacant for a year. Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank was serving as acting Secretary, but she recently left the Administration to become Chancellor of the Unviersity of Wisconsin-Madison.
Peter Marquez, well known and highly regarded in Washington space policy circles, is joining asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc.
Marquez was a national security space policy analyst in the Department of Defense when, in 2007, he moved to President George W. Bush's National Security Council (NSC) as Director of Space Policy. He remained at the NSC when Barack Obama became President and spearheaded the efffort to produce a new National Space Policy just 17 months after Obama took office - lightning fast in Washington terms. He left the Obama White House in November 2010 and joined Orbital Sciences Corp. as Vice President of Strategy and Planning. He also is a Fellow of the George C. Marshall Institute. He is a frequent participant in panel discussions around town on a wide range of space policy issues.
Planetary Resources is an entrepreneurial company that wants to mine asteroids and recently started a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $1 million to help launch a very small space telescope. The company said Marquez will "engage with key U.S. government entities on matters of strategic domestic and global interest" to help the company achieve its goals.
The following space policy events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
Monday, June 10
Tuesday, June 11
Tuesday-Friday, June 11-14
Wednesday, June 12
Wednesday-Friday, June 12-14
Thursday, June 13
Friday, June 14
Sea Launch AG announced today completion of its investigation into the cause of the January 31, 2013 (Pacific Time, February 1 Eastern Time) failure of the launch of the Intelsat-27 satellite. Corrective actions are underway and do not require hardware changes, the company said.
The launch failure was another blow not only to Sea Launch itself, but to the reputation of the Russian and Ukrainian companies that produce the Zenit rocket's three stages. The first two stages of Sea Launch's version of Zenit, the Zenit-3SL, are Ukrainian, with a Russian third stage on top. The rocket is launched from a Norwegian-built mobile ocean-going platform based in Long Beach, CA and towed to a position close to the equator for launch. Boeing originally was a 40 percent partner in Sea Launch, but the company declared bankruptcy in 2009 after a spectacular launch failure in 2007. The company reorganized and now is 95 percent owned by Russia's Energia RSC. Boeing retains a very small share of the company.
The Failure Review Oversight Board (FROB) for the January 31 failure issued its final report on May 31, concurring with earlier findings that the failure was isolated to the rocket's first stage hydraulic power supply unit and corrective actions involve additional inspections and tests, Sea Launch said today. Company executives will now meet with customer and insurance representatives to convince them the rocket is ready to return to flight.
House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) has released the text of the draft FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) his committee will markup on Wednesday. Among the provisions in the 426-page bill, H.R.1960, is one that requires the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to answer questions about why DOD leases communications satellite services from certain countries subject to U.S. sanctions.
At a hearing before HASC's Strategic Forces subcommittee in April, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro revealed that DOD is leasing services on a Chinese-owned communications satellite. The revelation came as a surprise considering that many House Republicans are opposed to civilian space cooperation with China and the law prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any money in connection with China unless certain conditions are met. No similar restrictions have been placed on DOD, however. At least not yet.
Noting that 40 percent of DOD's satellite communications are provided through commercial satellites, the draft bill requires the SecDef to explain why DOD uses satellite services from "certain foreign providers." The bill identifies those as countries subject to sanctions and laws such as section 1261(c)(2) of the FY2013 NDAA and the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). "While the committee has received some information from the Department ... the responses to straight-forward questions have changed over time. The committee is disappointed by the Department's lack of clarity ... and ... concerned that the Department has not established effective management controls over commercial satellite leases, and in particular, ones regarding certain foreign providers."
Among the topics the SecDef is required to address is why "other commercial or U.S. Government providers, including the Operationally Responsive Space office, were not available or tasked to fill the requirement." The fate of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office itself was not addressed in either the draft bill or a summary of its main provisions released by HASC today. Congress rejected DOD's proposal to terminate ORS last year, but the Air Force has again proposed terminating it this year. In the material released today, it does not appear that HASC is changing any of the funding requests for DOD space activities.
On other commercial space matters, the summary of main provisions says that the bill requires DOD to "develop a strategy to lower the cost, through multi-year procurement, of commercial satellite services." Separately it "reforms DoD's business process with commercial satellite companies ensuring that strategic competitors do not gain inadvertent access to vital systems or information." Details on what the committee has in mind on those two fronts hopefully will be in the report to accompany the bill, which was not released today.
Overall, the bill would provide $552.1 billion for national defense (of which $526.6 billion is for the core DOD budget) plus $85.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. the war in Afghanistan). The $85.8 billion is $5.1 billion more than the President's request. McKeon said the funding figures are consistent with the House-passed budget resolution, but Jeremy Herb, writing for the The Hill newspaper, reports that the $526.6 billion for the core DOD budget is $52 billion above the spending cap in the 2011 Budget Control Act that created sequestration. "If the budget stays over the caps and sequester is not reversed, the Pentagon would face another across-the-board cut," Herb says.
Full committee markup begins at 10:00 am ET on Wednesday and will be webcast on the committee's website.
The "unprecedented project that will change the way humanity explores the cosmos" promised by Planetary Resources Inc. turned out to be a Kickstarter crowdsourcing campaign to raise $1 million for portions of its ARKYD space telescope project. The "unprecedented" part apparently is that "the crowd" will have a voice in what targets the very small telescope observes.
A bungled webcast might have been a bad portent for the prospective asteroid mining company, but within two hours of the press conference that was available only to reporters on site at Seattle's Museum of Flight, Planetary Resources raised 10 percent of its $1 million goal. A second part of the event, which also is supposed to be livestreamed, is scheduled for this afternoon.
The company proclaimed earlier this week that it would be "opening the space frontier to all." Details were to be presented today at a press conference at 10:00 am Pacific (1:00 pm Eastern) followed by a "community" event (3:30 pm Pacific, 6:30 pm Eastern) featuring Brent Spiner, the actor who portrayed Data on Star Trek: Next Generation. Both events were to be livestreamed. The livestreaming did not work for the first event. Hopefully the technical issues will be fixed for the second.
Meanwhile, the company issued a press release explaining what they had trumpeted as an "unprecedented project that will change the way humanity explores the cosmos." It is a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1 million. The money will not be used to pay for the ARKYD space telescope itself, but to --
The company's mission is to mine asteroids and it plans to build space telescopes to search for suitable targets. That is not what this telescope is for, however, The Kickstarter page states that "this satellite is very different from those that we intend to launch for the purpose of locating asteroids." It is a 15 kilogram (33 pound) satellite that will be 425 millimeters (16.7 inches) in length when deployed in space, with a wingspan of 600 mm (23.6 inches) and peak power of 50 watts.
What Planetary Resources asserts is unprecedented is that it will be the first "publicly accessible space telescope" that will be "controlled by YOU, the crowd." What that actually means is difficult to discern from the company's prose on Kickstarter. One section says "you can use your telescope time" to do certain things while another asks "don't know what object in space you'd want to take a picture of?", implying that individual contributors will be directing the spacecraft to look at certain objects. Other sections, however, suggest the opposite. For example, that phrase about how ARKYD will be "controlled by YOU, the crowd" goes on to say "through your pledges and community involvement." Later the text explains that "you'll get the opportunity to help decide which science centers and museums are the beneficiaries of ARKYD telescope time," and contributors will "get voting access to make your voice heard in the future direction of the satellite!"
Whatever the company is actually promising, its public relations strategy appears to be working. Within two hours of the press conference, even without the webcast, the company raised over $100,000,10 percent of its goal. Pledges can be made through June 30.
Planetary Resources Inc. has an august list of backers, including Google's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and Ross Perot Jr. Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson founded the company in 2009.
The Air Force wants input from industry about its ongoing National Security Space Launch Assessment. But hurry! Comments are due in three weeks.
Specifically, the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space is seeking "views and perspectives to inform an ongoing strategic National Security Space Launch Assessment" by getting answers to four questions:
The announcement was published in today's Federal Register. Any member of the public may comment and information is for U.S. Government use only and will not be shared with external parties.
Responses, preferably in electronic form, are due by June 21, 2013 to:
Lt, Col. Robert Long
UPDATE, May 27: Planetary Resources announced a second event on Wednesday, and NASA will hold a media telecon on Thursday on Curiosity's radiation findings.
The following events may be of interest in the next two weeks. Congress is in recess for the Memorial Day holiday this coming week (May 27-31), but will be back in action the week of June 3.
Tuesday, May 28
Wednesday, May 29
Wednesday-Friday, May 29-31
Thursday, May 30
Monday-Wednesday, June 3-5
Tuesday, June 4
Wednesday, June 5