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Commercial Space News

CFR Panel: NASA, Congress Need to Embrace New Paradigm for Space Leadership

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2015 (Updated: 22-Nov-2015 10:45 PM)

A panel of space policy experts told the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday that NASA has an important role to play in the future, but one different from its roots.  They believe NASA, and Congress, must embrace a new paradigm where the agency leads commercial and international partnerships, rather than dominating the program.

The panel -- Lori Garver, John Logsdon and Charles Miller -- covered a broad range of civil space topics, but the focus was human space exploration program, particularly the role of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) between NASA and the commercial sector, and international cooperation, especially with China.

Garver is General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association and was NASA Deputy Administrator from 2009-2013. Logsdon is an eminent space policy historian and Professor Emeritus at George Washington University.  Miller has a long history in entrepreneurial space endeavors and held several positions at NASA in support of commercial space; he is now President of NexGen Space, LLC.

The PPP concept was espoused by Garver when she served at NASA and is exemplified by the commercial cargo and commercial crew programs.  The commercial cargo program was initiated by former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin under the George W. Bush Administration.   Commercial crew was a concept at that time, but the Obama Administration took the idea and ran with it.

Garver, Logsdon and Miller see those PPPs as harbingers of a new era of space exploration featuring a much greater role for innovative “new space” companies.  They view Congress and entrenched NASA-industry interests as obstacles that, for example, led to the requirement for NASA to build the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion capsule using “old space” government procurement methods.

Garver recounted the plan the Obama Administration put forward in the FY2011 budget request, released in February 2010.  She is widely viewed as a primary architect of that plan.

The Obama plan called for cancelling the Bush Administration’s Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2020.   Instead, the NASA budget would get a $6 billion increase over 5 years to facilitate the development of commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), with another $3 billion invested in “game changing” rocket technologies to enable human exploration beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).  The U.S. commitment to the ISS was extended for 5 more years (to 2020, later extended again to 2024).  No destination or timetable for human exploration beyond ISS was included, since investment in new technologies was needed before such decisions were made.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress were furious.  They had passed NASA Authorization Acts in 2005 and 2008 under Republican- and Democratic-led Congresses, respectively, endorsing the Constellation program and given little or no forewarning of the dramatic shift the President was about to propose.   Consequently, Obama was forced into a position of making a speech at Kennedy Space Center two and a half months later (April 15, 2010) setting a destination and timetable – send astronauts to an asteroid by 2025 – though it did little to ameliorate the situation.

Those factors in Congress’s reaction to the Obama plan were not mentioned at the CFR event.   Instead, after Garver outlined her efforts at NASA to expand the commercial role, Logsdon said “One thing that’s holding us back is the U.S. Congress... full stop.”

The complaint was that Members of Congress often focus on the needs of their constituents and the jobs in their States and districts created by government programs.  In addition, traditional industry contractors and many inside NASA resist change.  Logsdon called it a “space industrial congressional bureaucratic classic triangle that still has a lot of power over the civil program."

Garver went so far as to say the human spaceflight program “has become largely a jobs program.” She compared the NASA of today to what it was in the early days of the Space Age: “NASA was the very symbol of capitalist ideals … and now what we’re working with is more of a socialist … plan for space exploration, which is just anathema to what this country should be doing.”

Miller added that if the focus is only on making sure the jobs are "in your district," human space exploration can only be accomplished by adding $5-10 billion to NASA’s budget.  Alternatively, “you can let go of control” and still have the same number of jobs by allowing “dynamic innovation” by the commercial sectorHe argued that even though three attempts to provide enough NASA funding to pursue human exploration of Mars failed (during the Nixon, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations), some people are still “grasping” for a “central plan … controlling all the strings.”

While the tone of many of the comments could be construed as negative towards NASA and the government in general, Garver stressed that it is not an either/or situation, government or commercial.  The two must work together:  “we’re not in a race, in a lane in a swimming pool that everybody is racing against each other with our own industry.  We’re in maybe a cycling race, where we should be running point in the government with others drafting behind us, and if someone comes alongside because they can pass us because they found a better way, we don’t get out our tire pump and stick them in the spokes. You know, we take the next hill that will help them go even farther.”

Miller echoed that sentiment:  “We can open space using a partnership between the best of government and the best of private industry.”

Logsdon said he is asked whether NASA is even needed any more and the answer is yes, because the government must take the risks that the private sector will not.

As for international partnerships, in addition to endorsing cooperation with NASA's traditional partners, all three supported cooperation with China.  Logsdon believes China should be made part of the ISS program in the not too distant future.   Garver noted that space cooperation can be used as either a carrot or a stick and believes it should be used as a carrot with China to find a way to “work together peacefully.”  Garver also asserted, however, that China “basically purchased their space program from Russia,” and is not “innovating like we are, but they will get there, and their interest … in going to the Moon will likely inspire us to go back.”

Logsdon and Miller endorsed a human return to the lunar surface.   Logsdon called the Moon “an offshore island” and “I think we should stop at the Moon on the way out” to Mars.

Miller argued that landing on the Moon is a top priority for NASA’s traditional international partners and should involve commercial partnerships, too.  “We could have a strategy to go back to the Moon today that would fit within our budget and establish a permanent base there.  … It would send a great message around the world.”   He led a recently published study for NASA that concluded “we could return humans to the Moon using commercial partnerships by the end of the second term of the next President, and do it within NASA’s existing budget.”

It was the Obama Administration that terminated U.S. plans to return astronauts to the Moon, however.  Garver asserted that it did so only because there was not enough money in the budget to pay for a lunar lander and it was a “budget reality, not a ‘we’ll never go to the Moon again’ policy.”

The President’s words in 2010, though, conveyed exactly that finality: “Now, I understand that some believe that we should attempt a return to the surface of the Moon first, as previously planned.  But I just have to say pretty bluntly here:  We’ve been there before. … There’s a lot more of space to explore, and a lot more to learn when we do.”

Garver argued that NASA now is more interested in Mars than the Moon partially because it needs to justify building the SLS.  She has made no secret of her disdain for the SLS since leaving NASA.  She supports the development of in-space fuel depots instead that would obviate the need for very large rockets.

Although she left no doubt that she sees the need for a dramatic change in how NASA approaches the future, Garver also said that NASA is “doing a lot of amazing things for the nation and the world” and there is “a lot of political support for that.”

What's Happening in Space Policy November 23-December 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Nov-2015 (Updated: 22-Nov-2015 12:11 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy events.  This edition covers two weeks instead of one since the coming week includes the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and not much is scheduled.   The House and Senate are in recess for the holiday week.  The Senate returns on November 30; the House on December 1.

During the Weeks

As of Sunday morning, we are not aware of any space policy events on tap for Thanksgiving week, but President Obama has two space-related bills on his desk that could be signed into law once he returns to the States:  the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.

The following week, Congress gets back to work on, among other things, finalizing a FY2016 budget.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) currently funding the government expires on December 11.   Despite the budget deal agreed to earlier this month, there are enough controversial policy issues at stake that laying odds on getting full-year appropriations passed by then remains risky.

Apart from that, the NASA Advisory Council meets at Johnson Space Center on December 1-3, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James will speak at the National Press Club on December 2, and Orbital ATK will return its Cygnus capsule (though not its Antares rocket) to flight on December 3.  Cygnus will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, FL.  Orbital ATK hopes to resume Antares launches from Wallops Island, VA in May 2016.

Also on December 1, NASA's Mars Exploration Program Scientist, Michael Meyer, will give an update on NASA's Mars program at the next Space Policy & History Forum.  This one is being held at the Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Laurel, MD, rather than at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in D.C.   APL and NASM co-sponsor this quarterly lecture series. 

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.   Check back to see any additions to our Events of Interest list that we learn about later.

Thursday, November 26


Tuesday, December 1

Tuesday-Thursday, December 1-3

Wednesday, December 2

Thursday, December 3

Friday, December 4


NASA Orders First SpaceX Commercial Crew Launch

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2015 (Updated: 20-Nov-2015 06:43 PM)

NASA today formally placed its first order with SpaceX for a commercial crew mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  The date for the launch, and whether SpaceX or Boeing will conduct the first such trip to the ISS, will be determined later.

SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts by NASA in September 2014 to take crews to and from the ISS at least twice and up to six times on their Dragon Crew and CST-100 Starliner capsules respectively.   Dragon Crew will launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.  Starliner will launch using United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets.  ULA is owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

NASA says that it needs to place orders for the flights under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts two-three years before launch to give the companies adequate lead time to build the launch vehicles and capsules.  It placed its first order with Boeing in May.  

NASA remains hopeful that the first commercial crew flights can take place by the end of 2017, while insisting that Congress must provide full funding for the program in FY2016 to make that happen.  NASA requested $1.244 billion.  The House-passed Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill provided $1.000 billion and the companion bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee provides $900 million.  Both amounts are higher than what was provided for FY2015, though less than the request.   Congress and the Obama Administration recently agreed on a revised budget plan for FY2016 and FY2017 that could mean more money for NASA, but negotiations are still underway.

NASA asserts that the commercial crew launches will cost less than what it pays Russia for flights on Soyuz, but that is on a per-seat basis.  SpaceX's capsule theoretically can accommodate seven people, for example, but NASA must pay for the entire capsule even though it plans to fill only four of those seats.  Cargo will fill any remaining volume. Soyuz seats currently cost about $75 million each.  NASA's Office of Inspector General said in a 2014 report that the commercial crew program's "independent government cost estimates project significantly higher costs" for commercial crew.

Cost is only one factor in the Obama Administration's 2010 decision to direct NASA to facilitate the development of at least two U.S. commercial crew systems through public-private partnerships (PPPs).  Another major objective is ending U.S. reliance on Russia for access to the ISS.  As Members of Congress and NASA often say, they want to be able to launch American astronauts from American soil on American rockets.  NASA has not had the ability to launch people into space since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.  

Under the commercial crew PPP, NASA and the companies share the development costs and the government guarantees a certain market for the resulting services.   NASA officials have publicly acknowledged that NASA is paying 80-90 percent of the development costs, but argue that it is still much less than what the government would have paid using traditional procurement mechanisms.

ULA To Introduce 24-Cubesat Dispenser for Atlas V, Offer Free Rides to Universities

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Nov-2015 (Updated: 20-Nov-2015 06:37 AM)

United Launch Alliance  (ULA) President Tory Bruno announced yesterday that the Atlas V rocket will be equipped with a system capable of taking 24 cubesats into orbit at once as secondary payloads beginning in 2017.   Universities can use it for free and the University of Colorado-Boulder will get the first free slot.

ULA is headquartered in Colorado and Bruno made the most of that connection in announcing the new program at the Colorado State Capitol building in Denver.   Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and the President and the Chancellor of the University of Colorado, Bruce Benson and Philip DiStefano, joined him for the event.

Bruno said the  program itself does not yet have a name and invited universities, educators, and students to submit suggestions by December 18, 2015.  The winner will get the second free ride.  Entries should be sent to using a campus email address.

More broadly, this "transformational" cubesat launch program, as the company advertises it, offers competitive opportunities for universities to launch at least six CubeSats on two Atlas V missions for free.  The company plans to also offer such opportunities on the new Vulcan rocket it is developing to replace the Atlas V.  Bruno said it is part of ULA's support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.   Universities should contact ULA by December 18, 2015 to indicate they are interested in participating.  A request for proposals will be released by ULA in early 2016 and winners will be announced that August.

Launching cubesats -- very small satellites 10 centimeters on a side that weigh approximately 1.3 kilograms -- as secondary payloads has become commonplace in recent years.   ULA's cubesat dispenser will be able to take 24 of them at a time.  ULA did not announce prices for customers other than universities who win the free rides through the competitive selection process.  





US-China Commission Wants Review of Export Restrictions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Nov-2015 (Updated: 18-Nov-2015 10:50 PM)

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recommends in its most recent report, released today, that the U.S. government review items on the State Department's Munitions List and the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List (CCL) to determine which items China could obtain on the open market regardless of U.S. restrictions and which continue to require U.S. protection.

The USCC was created by Congress in the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to review the national security implications of trade and economic ties between the United States and China.   It is currently chaired by Willilam Reinsch, President of the National Foreign Trade Council and former Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration (later named the Bureau of Industry and Security).   Its comprehensive annual report to Congress is among the many reports it produces.

The 631-page report for 2015 presents a summary and analysis of China's space program based on testimony to the Commission by experts and its own research.   On February 18, the Commission took testimony from nine experts on China's space program, including Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College, Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation, and Kevin Pollpeter of the University of California-San Diego.

Today's report repeats familiar themes about China's growing capabilities across the broad spectrum of space activities to further its national security, economic and political objectives.  These include direct ascent and co-orbital antisatellite (ASAT) capabilities that threaten U.S. satellites up to geosynchronous orbit, the report says.  "China has become one of the top space powers in the world" and even though its "space capabilities still generally lag behind those of the United States and Russia, its space program is expanding and accelerating rapidly as many other nations' programs proceed with dwindling resources and limited goals."

One of China's goals is to capture 15 percent of the global launch market and it did so in 2011 and 2012, but not in 2013, the last year for which data is available, the report says.  It also wants to export commercial satellites to developing countries, which contributes to demand for use of China's launch services. 

However, citing testimony to the Commission by Tate Nurkin of IHS Jane's Aerospace, and comments by former NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright (Ret.) at a May 2015 Center for Strategic and International Studies event, the Commission writes that U.S. export restrictions under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) "are not currently in line with the pace of technological innovation and are therefore in need of reform in order to protect the U.S. space industry's global competitiveness."  Europe's development of "ITAR-free" satellites is an example of the challenges to U.S. industry posed by the export restrictions, it says.

Against that backdrop, the Commission recommends that: "Congress direct appropriate jurisdictional entities to undertake a review of (1) the classification of satellites and related articles on the U.S. Munitions List under the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations and (2) the prohibitions on exports of Commerce Control List satellites and related technologies to China under the Export Administration Regulations, in order to determine which systems and technologies China is likely to be able to obtain on the open market regardless of U.S. restrictions and which are critical technologies that merit continued U.S. protection."  

Congress and the Obama Administration have modified export regulations for space products in recent years, but exports to China and certain other countries were excluded.

The report goes on to warn that China may attain greater prestige in human spaceflight because it plans a new space station for launch in 2022, while the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for "deorbiting" in 2024.   

ISS is not, in fact, scheduled to be deorbited in 2024.   The U.S. is committed to operate the ISS until 2024, and Russia and Canada have agreed (Japan and the European Space Agency still have not formally done so), but NASA human spaceflight officials have made clear they hope to keep it operating at least until 2028, the 30th anniversary of the launch of the first modules.

Nevertheless, the Commission sees the possibility of China having "the only space station in orbit" as giving it "a diplomatic tool" that it can "leverage to execute its broader foreign policy goals.  Furthermore, given current Congressional restrictions on U.S.-China space cooperation, the United States would not participate in China's space station program barring changes to annual appropriations legislation. For the first time in decades, the United States could be without a constant human presence in space."

The Commission does not have a corresponding conclusion or recommendation, other than to say that "China's rise as a major space power challenges decades of U.S. dominance in space...."

In addition to the export control recommendation, there are three other space-related recommendations in today's report, that Congress --

  • continue to support DOD's efforts to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. space assets;
  • direct DOD, the Air Force, and the Intelligence Community to perform a net assessment of China's counterspace capabilities; and
  • allocate additional funds to the Director of National Intelligence Open Source Center for the translation and analysis of Chinese-language technical and military writings to deepen U.S. understanding of China's defense strategy, particularly related to space.

Compromise Commercial Space Bill Passes House -- Next Stop, the President

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Nov-2015 (Updated: 25-Nov-2015 09:53 PM)

UPDATE, November 25, 2015:  The President signed the bill into law today.

ORIGINAL STORY, November 16, 2015: The compromise version of new commercial space legislation passed the House this evening, clearing the measure for the President.  The bill, H.R. 2262, covers a broad range of commercial space policy issues from third party indemnification to asteroid mining.

The compromise bill, which retains the House number following negotiations on House- and Senate-passed versions of the bill, includes the following provisions:

  • Formally extends operation of the International Space Station from 2020 through 2024.  President Obama announced last year that he was extending it until then, but this will make it law.  Canada and Russia have agreed with the extension; Japan and Europe have not publicly endorsed the extension yet.
  • Extends the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight through September 30, 2023.  Under current law, the prohibition on the FAA promulgating new regulations for the commercial human spaceflight business expires on March 31, 2016.
  • Extends third party indemnification for launch services companies through September 30, 2025.  Under current law, the authority for the FAA to indemnify commercial space launch companies from certain amounts of claims from the uninvolved public in the event of a launch accident expires on December 31, 2016.
  • Directs the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to assess and recommend approaches for oversight of commercial non-governmental activities in space.  The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities.
  • Establishes a legal right to resources U.S. citizens obtain from asteroids consistent with current law and international obligations.  Directs the President to facilitate and promote space resource exploration and recovery.
  • Provides a use policy for NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).  SLS may be used for missions to extend human presence beyond low Earth orbit (LEO), for other payloads that can benefit from its unique capabilities, for government or educational payloads consistent with NASA's mission to explore beyond LEO, and for "compelling circumstances" as determined by the NASA Administrator.

The original version of HR. 2262 passed the House in May.  The Senate version, which was quite different, passed in August.  The two chambers have been working out their differences ever since.  This final version passed the Senate last week.

The House version combined four separate pieces of legislation that cleared the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee in May.  It was collectively named the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act when it passed the House.  The Senate bill, S. 1297, was more narrowly cast in some respects, although it included a provision extending operations of the International Space Station until at least 2024.

The bill passed the House today by voice vote under suspension of the rules and now goes to the President for signature.

The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) whose district includes the Mojave Air & Space Port.  He said the bill "ensures America remains the leader in space exploration and innovation in the 21st century."   House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Space Subcommittee chairman Brian Babin (R-TX) echoed those sentiments.

Among the organizations applauding passage of the bill are the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Deep Space Industries (DSI).  CSF called the bill "one of the most significant modernizations of commercial space policy and regulatory legislation" since the 1984 Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).  DSI, one of two entrepreneurial companies seeking to clarify rights to resources mined from asteroids, also praised passage of the bill.  DSI Chair Rick Tumlinson said it "builds on our national space legacy and will help enable the rapid and sustainable growth of America's space economy."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who led efforts to obtain Senate approval of the compromise last week, today called it "a new era for our commercial ventures in space, which will likely include the development of new drugs, the possibility of mining asteroids and an explosion of new technology as we advance our outreach in space."

What's Happening in Space Policy November 16-20, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Nov-2015 (Updated: 14-Nov-2015 07:18 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 16-20, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House may take up the compromise commercial space bill (H.R. 2262) on Monday.   It passed the Senate on November 10.   It is a broad bill that deals not only with traditional commercial space issues like third party indemnification (extending the FAA's authority through 2025) and the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight (extending the prohibition on new FAA regulations until 2023), but new ones like asteroid mining.  This version is a compromise between the bill that passed the House in May and a bill that passed the Senate in August (S. 1297).  The lead sponsor of the House version is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents the district that includes the Mojave Air and Space Port.   Assuming the bill passes the House, it then will go to the President for signature.

The President could sign the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, although the bill has not officially been presented to him yet.  It can take a couple of days for clerks to look through the bill and make any necessary "technical and conforming changes" before sending it on to the White House.  The Senate passed it on November 10 (the House did so on November 5).

On Thursday, United Launch Alliance (ULA) will announce what it calls a "new program that will transform the way our nation's CubeSats are launched."   The announcement (which will be webcast) will take place at the Colorado State Capitol with the State's Lieutenant Governor participating.  Both the President and the Chancellor of the University of Colorado also will join ULA President Tory Bruno on stage.  ULA is headquartered in Colorado.

Those and other events we know about as of Saturday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for updates to our Events of Interest list on our home page.

Tuesday, November 17

Tuesday-Wednesday, November 17-18

Tuesday-Thursday, November 17-19

Wednesday, November 18

Thursday, November 19

Friday, November 20

What's Happening in Space Policy November 9-13, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Nov-2015 (Updated: 08-Nov-2015 03:13 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of November 9-13, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week except for Wednesday (Veterans Day, a federal holiday). The House is in recess all week.

During the Week

NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will become more widely known in the DC-area space community this week as she speaks at two luncheons -- the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on Tuesday in Greenbelt, MD, and the Washington Space Business Roundtable on Thursday in Washington, DC.   She also will speak to the annual meeting of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research on Wednesday morning at 8:30 am ET (will be webcast -- h/t to NASAWatch's Keith Cowing for bringing it to our attention).  These are not her first public speeches since being sworn in last May, but she has kept a relatively low profile until now. Should be interesting to hear what she has to say, though it's easy to guess that NASA's "Journey to Mars" and "inspiration" slogans will be repeatedly repeated.

The American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) holds its annual meeting this week at National Harbor, MD, just outside Washington, DC.   DPS is the key event where planetary scientists announce new discoveries and with all that's been going on this year, it should be a treasure trove of news throughout the week.  Press briefings are scheduled Monday-Thursday at lunchtime and although the live webcasts are only available to journalists, they will be archived and then anyone can watch them.   On Friday, DPS chair Bonnie Buratti (JPL) will moderate a lunch-time briefing on Capitol Hill (385 Russell) to highlight key findings, with New Horizons PI Alan Stern, NEOWISE PI Amy Mainzer, and Georgia Tech graduate student Mary Beth Wilhelm who studies biomarkers on Mars and is a science team collaborator for the Curiosity mission.

On Capitol Hill, the House is taking the week off, but the Senate will be hard at work except for Veterans Day (Wednesday).  On Tuesday, it plans to vote on the revised version of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).   President Obama vetoed the original bill in large part because of a "gimmick" used by Republicans to add money for defense without increasing funds for non-defense activities.  Now that the White House and Congress have agreed to the budget/debt limit bill, the NDAA has been revised to fit within those funding caps by cutting $5 billion.  The new bill, S. 1356, passed the House on Friday.  The policy provisions remain the same and the President objected to two of them in his veto message (that the bill prevented needed reforms and did not allow the closing of Guantanamo), but the White House has not issued a new veto threat on the revised bill.

The NDAA is an authorization bill that sets policy and recommends funding levels.  Only appropriations bills actually give money to agencies, and Senate Democrats blocked consideration of the defense appropriations bill last week because of concern that if that bill moves forward on its own, Republicans might not pass the non-defense appropriations bills and force the rest of the government to operate under a year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) instead.  The current CR expires on December 11, so they have that much time to reach agreement or a new CR, either short- or long-term, will be needed.  The House is scheduled to be in session for only 12 days between now and then.  The Senate plans to be in session throughout that period except for the week of Thanksgiving (November 23-27).

The fate of the Export-Import Bank is now in the hands of conferees on H.R. 22, the surface transportation bill that passed the House last week.  The House has already appointed some conferees, but said more will be appointed in the future.  The Senate has not appointed its conferees yet.  The main purpose of the bill is to fund transportation infrastructure projects (highways, rail, etc) that currently are authorized only through November 20, so there is some urgency to get the bill finalized.  We have reported on the  travails of the Export-Import Bank at length, so will not repeat its tortuous history here.  If you need to catch up on what's been going, type Export-Import Bank into the search box at the top of our main page.

The Senate might also take up the compromise version of the Commercial Space Transportation Competitiveness bill, but Sen. Bill Nelson's optimism a week and a half ago that it would be acted on quickly seems to have run into a snag.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning for the coming week are listed below.  Check back throughout the week to see any new events that get added to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday-Friday, November 8-13

Monday, November 9

Monday-Friday, November 9-13

Tuesday, November 10

Tuesday-Thursday, November 10-12

Wednesday-Saturday, November 11-14

Thursday, November 12

Thursday-Friday, November 12-13

Friday, November 13

Note:  This article was updated with the information about the ASGSR meeting.

NASA Again Delays Award of CRS2 Commercial Cargo Contracts; Boeing Out

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Nov-2015 (Updated: 05-Nov-2015 03:09 PM)

Today NASA was supposed to announce the winners of the second round of contracts to provide Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) to the International Space Station (ISS).  Instead, it announced a delay until no later than January 30, 2016.  But there will be fewer competitors.  Boeing has confirmed that it was eliminated from the competition.

NASA contracts with commercial companies to take cargo to ISS.  The first round of contracts went to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK) for missions through the end of 2016, and the contracts were later extended to cover missions in 2017 and early 2018.  Last year, NASA opened a second round called "CRS2"  for flights in 2018-2024. 

Because the selection process is underway, NASA is constrained in what information it can publicly release, including which companies submitted bids.  However, it is widely known that SpaceX, Orbital ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) were bidders. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 1 that Lockheed Martin had been "quietly eliminated" from the competition because of price.

The CRS2 contract awards were supposed to be announced in June 2015, but were delayed to September and then to today.  NASA emailed the following statement to explaining the further delay:

"CRS2 is a complex procurement.  The anticipated award date has been revised to no later than January 30, 2016 to allow time to complete a thorough proposal evaluation and selection.  Since the Agency is in the process of evaluating proposals, we are in a procurement communications blackout.  For that reason, NASA cannot answer questions about this procurement at this time."

This afternoon, Boeing confirmed to that it was notified by NASA that it has been eliminated from the competition.  In an email, Kelly Kaplan said the company is "confirming that we received a letter today letting us know we were eliminated."   She had no further comment at this time.

That apparently leaves three companies in the running:  SNC, Orbital ATK and SpaceX.

SNC's Krystal Scordo said via email that the company was notified this morning that "the Government has decided to re-open discussions with offerors" and "SNC was selected to re-open discussions."

Orbital ATK's Sean Wilson confirmed via email that the company is still competing for the CRS2 contract, but had no comment on the delay.  "We will continue to respond to any additional NASA requests for information" while remaining focused on completing its missions under the original CRS contract.

SpaceX's John Taylor said the company had no comment on the delay.

SpaceX and Orbital ATK are both recovering from failures in their commercial cargo systems, Falcon 9/Dragon and Antares/Cygnus respectively. 

Orbital ATK will resume cargo flights using its Cygnus spacecraft, but launched atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket instead of Antares.  Two such launches are planned.  The first is on December 3, although Sam Scimemi, Director of the ISS program at NASA headquarters, told a NASA advisory committee today that the launch might be moved up one day.  Another Cygnus will launch on an Atlas V in March.  Antares itself, outfitted with different rocket engines, is expected to return to flight in May 2016 taking another Cygnus to ISS, with another launch planned for September-October, according to Orbital ATK President Dave Thompson.

Scimemi also said that the next SpaceX cargo launch to the ISS, SpaceX-8 (SpX-8), is scheduled for January 2016.  SpaceX plans at least one Falcon 9 launch before that to test changes to the system. SpaceX will launch a set of Orbcomm-2 communications satellites to low Earth orbit, but the company has not announced a date for that launch, saying in mid-October that it would take place in 6-8 weeks.  A launch of an SES communications satellite to geostationary orbit also may precede the cargo flight to ISS.


Export-Import Bank Survives More House Votes - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Nov-2015 (Updated: 10-Nov-2015 06:48 PM)

UPDATE, November 10, 2015:  The House and Senate now have each appointed conferees on the bill; the House on November 5 and the Senate today.  The House said that it may appoint additional conferees subsequently.

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015, 12:01 pm ET:  The House now has passed H.R. 22 (371-54), which includes the Export-Import Bank reauthorization. The Senate now must agree to the House changes to the entire bill or the two sides will set up a conference committee to negotiate a final compromise version.  Each side then would have to approve the compromise.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE, NOVEMBER 5, 2015, 7:45 am ET:  A week after the House voted to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the issue was back on the House floor last night as opponents tried again to restrict the Bank's activities.  After intense debate, 10 amendments ultimately were defeated, however.

Created in 1934, the Bank needs to be periodically reauthorized, a step taken with little notice until recently.  The Bank helps provide financing for U.S. exports, including communications satellites, for example.  The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Satellite Industry Association are among its supporters.  The Bank has not been able to issue new loans since its authorization expired on June 30, 2015.  AIA reports that U.S. companies have lost three contracts to build satellites since then.

Some very conservative Republicans and very liberal Democrats oppose the Bank because they consider it corporate welfare for a few large companies like Boeing and GE.  Supporters argue it is a critical component in the competitiveness of U.S. companies that compete against foreign companies with access to similar lending organizations in their countries.  Supporters have consistently argued that a large majority of House members support the Bank and its authorization lapsed only because a small group of powerful Republicans were preventing the full House from voting on the issue.  Last week, a group of Republicans who support the Bank, led by Rep. Steve Fincher (R-TN), used a rare parliamentary procedure to move a bill (H.R. 597) out of the Financial Services Committee against the objections of its chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).  After fractious debate, the House voted decisively 313-118 to put the Bank back in business with support from a majority of Republicans and Democrats.

The Senate still would have to act on that bill, however, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who opposes the Bank, has said he will not move a stand-alone bill.  Instead he will allow the Senate to consider the issue only as part of a larger measure.  Indeed, in July the Senate passed a surface transportation bill that includes reauthorizing the Bank through 2019. 

The Senate action was taken by amending a House-passed Surface Transportation bill, H.R. 22.  The House refused to take up the Senate version of the bill at that time, but now is doing so. 

(The underlying bill addresses issues unrelated to the Export-Import Bank, but they are just as contentious.  Among them is reauthorizing expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund and since legislation to provide a long-term solution to that and other issues has not cleared both chambers, they have been passing short-term extensions instead.  The short-term extensions do not include the Export-Import Bank provisions.  The most recent, passed last week, extends the Highway Trust Fund authorization through November 20.   Congress presumably will try to get work on H.R. 22 completed before then to avoid the need for another short-term extension.)

Opponents of the Bank offered 10 amendments last night to restrict the Bank's activities, reopening the debate supporters thought they had put to rest last week.  The coalition of Republicans and Democrats that supports the Bank held together and defeated those amendments by votes almost as definitive as the one last week.

The House was in session until 1:05 am this morning (Thursday) debating those and other issues.  It will reconvene at 9:00 am this morning to continue debate.  The House is scheduled to recess at the end of today and remain in recess next week.

The bill still must go back to the Senate and unless the Senate agrees with the House-passed text of the entire bill with no changes, the issue could arise again during conference negotiations.

For today, however, efforts to reopen the Bank have survived another round.