International Space News
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 30 - June 4, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
During the Week
Tomorrow (Monday) is Memorial Day in the United States, where we honor the men and women who have died in the service of our country. Federal offices will be closed and the House and Senate have taken the week off from legislative business to check in with their constituents back home. It is the unofficial start of summer and a lot of people are off on vacation -- but not everyone!
The Secure World Foundation (SWF) has an interesting panel discussion on Tuesday about national security space strategy that (unfortunately) is at exactly the same time as a meeting of NASA's Applied Sciences Advisory Committee (i.e. applied earth sciences). The NASA advisory committee meeting was rescheduled from April and will be held by telecon. If you're interested in both, but there's only one of you, SWF usually records its seminars and posts the audio on its website soon after the meeting. The speaker line-up is terrific: Joan Johnson-Freese from the Naval War College, Todd Harrison from CSIS, Peter Hays from GWU, John Sheldon from ThorGroup, and Brian Weeden and Victoria Samson from SWF.
Another NASA advisory committee -- the Planetary Protection Subcommittee of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council -- meets in person at NASA HQ on Wednesday and Thursday. There is nothing specifically on the agenda about the new NASA-SpaceX agreement on Red Dragon, which includes NASA providing "consultation and advice" to SpaceX on planetary protection, but perhaps it will come up anyway.
The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference (NSRC) 2016 runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, CO, while back in Washington, the National Air and Space Museum hosts "Space Day" on Saturday with family oriented activities.
Elsewhere in the world, the fourth European Space Solutions conference on "Bringing Space to Earth" is taking place at The Hague all week, the ILA Berlin Air Show is Wednesday-Saturday, and the second Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) conference is Wednesday-Friday in Nice, France.
Those and other activities we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for new events that are added later to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, May 29 - Friday, June 24 (four weeks)
Monday-Friday, May 30-June 3
Tuesday, May 31
Wednesday-Thursday, June 1-2
Wednesday-Friday, June 1-3
Wednesday-Saturday, June 1-4
Thursday-Saturday, June 2-4
Saturday, June 4
The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today. Few details have been released, but in at least one area -- Russian RD-180 rocket engines -- the schism between Senate appropriators and authorizers seems destined to continue. The full appropriations committee will mark up the bill on Thursday. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 26.]
Senate appropriators and authorizers clashed last year over the number of Russian RD-180 rocket engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) may obtain for its Atlas V rockets for launching national security satellites. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), limited the number to an additional nine. The Senate Appropriations Committee essentially lifted that limit in the FY2016 appropriations act at the urging of two of its most senior members -- Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). ULA builds its rockets in Alabama. It is a 50-50 joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, IL.
McCain vehemently opposes the appropriations action and SASC's FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- which is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor this week -- would repeal that section of the law. (McCain and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, introduced stand-alone bills in January to repeal that provision, but there has been no action on them.)
The ongoing argument over the number of engines has overshadowed related issues. One is highlighted in the Senate Appropriations Committee's brief summary of the bill approved at subcommittee level today.
"Space Launch/RD-180 Engines – The Committee recommendation includes a general provision, as requested by the Administration, which requires all competitive launch procurements to be available to all certified launch providers regardless of the country of origin of the launch vehicle rocket engine."
That appears to push back on language in McCain's NDAA that prohibits the Secretary of Defense from certifying any entity to bid for the award or renewal of a contract for space launch services if that entity would use a rocket engine designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation. If enacted, that would preclude ULA from bidding for national security launches using the Atlas V since its engines are built in Russia. ULA operates two launch vehicles -- the Atlas V and Delta IV. SpaceX is the only other certified provider for national security launches and ULA argues that its Delta IV is not cost competitive with SpaceX, so Atlas V is its only option in such competitions. SASC's NDAA addresses that issue by allowing half of the money allocated for developing a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 to be used to offset increased launch costs (presumably for using the pricey Delta IV).
The appropriations subcommittee also approved $396.6 million, $100 million above the request, to develop a U.S. alternative to the RD-180. The markup was short and sweet. It lasted only about 30 minutes and the topic of rocket engines did not arise. Full committee markup on Thursday begins at 10:30 am ET. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 26.]
(Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See SpacePolicyOnline.com's "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)
The House Appropriations Committee not only wants NASA to replace the Asteroid Redirect Mission with a focus on returning humans to the lunar surface, but it has other big plans for the agency. One is to develop interstellar propulsion to enable a probe to be sent to Alpha Centauri at one tenth the speed of light in 2069. Overall, the committee recommends $19.508 billion for the agency, an increase of $223 million above its current FY2016 funding level.
The draft Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) FY2017 appropriations bill and report were released today in preparation for full committee markup tomorrow (Tuesday). Subcommittee markup took place last week. The bill and report remain a draft until markup is completed, and that is only one step in the lengthy congressional appropriations process, but the committee certainly offers some far ranging recommendations for NASA's future. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 24. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) offered an amendment to increase funding for earth science by $342 million, but then withdrew it because he did not have offsetting cuts elsewhere to recommend.]
Key committee decisions are outlined in SpacePolicyOnline.com's NASA FY2017 Budget Request fact sheet, updated today. Typically in such reports, comparisons are made between a committee's recommendations and the President's budget request, but that is not useful this year. As our fact sheet explains, the request included funding from non-appropriated "mandatory funding" accounts. Appropriations committees have no jurisdiction over mandatory funding. Both the House and Senate appropriations committees criticized the President's request as a "gimmick" and rejected it. In the committee reports, comparisons are made to the President's request for appropriated funds, not the mandatory funds, which makes it very difficult to follow. In our fact sheet, and in the narrative below, we compare the committee's actions to the appropriated levels for FY2016, not to either version of the request.
Among its major actions, the House committee --
Committee markup is at 10:30 am ET tomorrow (May 24). [UPDATE: As noted, the committee approved the bill on May 24.]
The House Appropriations Committee is recommending that no funds be provided for planning robotic or crewed missions to asteroids as envisioned by President Obama's Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The committee's recommendation is in its draft report on the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which will be marked up at full committee level tomorrow (May 24). Overall, the committee recommends an increase for NASA above its current funding level: $19.5 billion compared to the $19.3 billion it received for FY2016. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 24.]
Under the heading "Mission to Mars," the committee states that while there may be technological benefits to "asteroid redirect and retrieval missions" -- an apparent reference to ARM, whose name has varied over the years -- they do not "appreciably contribute" to the overall goal of sending humans to Mars.
In an April 2010 speech at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, President Obama directed NASA to send astronauts to an asteroid as the next step in human spaceflight with the long term goal of sending them to orbit Mars in the 2030s. The concept evolved over the years and now, instead of sending astronauts to an asteroid, the plan is to send a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid, pluck a boulder from its surface, and move ('redirect") the boulder from its native orbit into an orbit around the Moon where it can be visited by astronauts. They would obtain samples of the asteroid for analysis back on Earth.
This is entirely separate from NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission to send a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid and return a sample to Earth. That mission is scheduled for launch in September 2016 and its sample will return to Earth in 2023. (Japan has already retrieved a small sample from an asteroid on its Hayabusa mission. It launched a second sample-return spacecraft, Hayabusa2, in 2014. The sample should be returned to Earth in 2020.)
ARM has received little support politically outside the White House or from the scientific community. House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) frequently criticizes ARM as "unjustified" and a "distraction" from achieving the humans-to-Mars goal. Scientists argue that robotic spacecraft like OSIRIS-REx and Hayabusa2 can fulfill the need to acquire asteroid samples; astronauts are not needed.
Congress has not prohibited spending money on ARM in the past, but the House Appropriations Committee, for example, has made clear that its interest is primarily the development of high power Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), which is part of ARM. That type of propulsion is considered necessary for supporting human journeys to Mars and many other purposes.
NASA separates ARM into two portions: the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) and the Asteroid Redirect Crewed Mission (ARCM). The "R" has variously represented "redirect" or "retrieval." NASA asserts that the cost of the robotic portion, ARRM, excluding launch costs, is $1.25 billion, although the Government Accountability Office pegged that number at $1.72 billion in a recent report. No cost estimate has been provided for the crewed portion. Many are skeptical of the ARRM cost estimate and it has been the subject of intense debate by the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), which advises the NASA Administrator.
NASA also separates the money requested for ARM into two categories: "direct" and "leveraged." The direct funding is unique to ARM, while the leveraged funding is money that NASA would spend even if the ARM mission did not exist. For FY2017, NASA is requesting approximately $217 million for ARM, of which $69 million is direct funding. The SEP development effort is categorized as leveraged funding. The direct funding is $67.8 million in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate for mission formulation and about $1 million in the Office of Chief Technologist for related activities. (See Table 4 in SpacePolicyOnline.com's NASA's FY2017 Budget Request fact sheet for details.)
The House Appropriations Committee states that "no funds are included in this bill for NASA to continue planning efforts to conduct either robotic or crewed missions to an asteroid." The language presumably is directed at ARM and not OSIRIS-REx and at the $69 million in direct funding for mission formulation, not the leveraged funding for SEP and other activities, although it is not explicit.
The committee argues that the money would be better spent on deep space habitats, accessing and utilizing space resources, and developing entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies to descend through Mars' atmosphere and land on its surface. (The House SS&T Committee held a hearing on deep space habitats last week.)
Importantly, the committee encourages NASA to "develop plans to return to the Moon to test capabilities that will be needed for Mars, including habitation modules, lunar prospecting, and landing and ascent vehicles."
Republicans and Democrats in Congress railed against the Obama Administration's 2010 decision to cancel the George W. Bush Administration's Constellation program to return humans to the lunar surface by 2020 and then go on to Mars. In his April 2010 speech, President Obama said there was no need to return to the Moon -- "We've been there before. ... There's a lot more space to explore."
That statement and his cancellation of Constellation have remained sore points between Congress (on a bipartisan basis) and the White House since that time. Many in the human spaceflight community reject the assertion that returning to the Moon is unnecessary before going to Mars, insisting that systems and humans should be tested closer to home where they could return more quickly in an emergency. Indeed, high ranking NASA officials agree, but explain that the United States cannot afford the systems needed to return to the lunar surface. They hope international and commercial partners will provide that capability as part of a cooperative program where NASA would provide transportation to lunar orbit using the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft and others would take it from there.
Eleven of the 12 space agencies that prepared the 2013 Global Exploration Roadmap called for humans to return to the lunar surface; the United States was the only one that did not. European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner has proposed a "Lunar Village" or "Moon Village" on the far side of the Moon, although ESA as an agency has not endorsed it yet.
The debate over the future of human exploration beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) -- where the International Space Station is located -- has consumed human spaceflight advocates since the end of the Apollo era. While there is widespread (though not universal) agreement that sending humans to Mars is the ultimate goal for the foreseeable future, the steps in between remain as contentious as ever.
If the committee's recommendation is upheld through the remainder of the appropriations process, and President Obama signs the bill into law, it would bring to an end this 6-year chapter, leaving it to the incoming President to make a new proposal and future Congresses to debate it.
Congress typically expresses its policy views through NASA authorization acts, although the most recent law covered funding only through FY2013 (the policy provisions remain intact, however). The House passed a bipartisan FY2015 NASA authorization act, but the Senate has not considered it. The House SS&T committee approved a much more controversial FY2016-2017 NASA authorization bill on a party-line vote and no further action has ensued. Rumors are swirling in Washington that despite the crammed congressional calendar, another attempt may be made at passing a NASA authorization bill before the end of the year, which would inform the new President on congressional priorities.
House Appropriations Committee markup of the CJS appropriations bill is at 10:30 am tomorrow (May 24). The committee will mark up the FY2017 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) bill at the same time. It funds the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and has its own language encouraging commercial development of the Moon. [UPDATE: The committee approved the CJS and T-HUD bills on May 24.]
The House Appropriations Committee encourages the FAA to enhance its processes to provide "security and predictability" to companies planning lunar development. It also urges the FAA to define "non-interference" in the context of such private sector activities. At the same time, it denies half of the requested increase for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) to hire more staff. [UPDATE: The committee approved the bill on May 24 after adopting an amendment that raised funding for FAA/AST to the requested level of $19.8 million.]
The committee released its draft report on the FY2017 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill today, which includes funding for FAA/AST, in preparation for full committee mark up tomorrow morning. The T-HUD subcommittee approved its draft bill last week. [UPDATE: As noted, the committee approved the bill on May 24.]
The President requested an approximately $2 million increase for FAA/AST, from $17.800 million in FY2016 to $19.826 million in FY2017. The committee proposes funding the office at $18.826 million, a $1 million reduction from the request and $1.026 million more than current funding. It notes that the request is for a 20 percent increase in personnel and asserts the amount of funding it recommends should be enough to allow the office "to judiciously hire critical operational staff." Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and 17 other lawmakers wrote a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the T-HUD subcommittee in March urging them to approve the full request, but apparently it was not sufficiently persuasive to win approval of the entire increase. [UPDATE: as noted, an amendment was adopted during committee markup that raises the FAA/AST funding level to the requested $19.8 million.]
Mike Gold, Vice President of Washington Operations for SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral), who chairs FAA/AST's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), said in an interview today that he is happy to see the committee agree to a $1 million increase and even a small amount of money can make a significant difference. He added that he looks forward to working with Congress to see if that figure can be improved as the bill proceeds through the appropriations process. He considers the increase over FY2016 an indication of forward progress, even if it is not as much as the request. [UPDATE: as noted, an amendment was adopted during committee markup that raises the FAA/AST funding level to the requested $19.8 million.]
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the entire $19.8 million.
The House Appropriations Committee also "commends" and "encourages" the FAA regarding facilitating private sector companies that plan lunar development. This year's language builds on prior year committee reports.
Under a heading "Space Launch System," the committee first commends FAA/AST's efforts to promote private sector exploration and development of the Moon "which may require" use of heavy-lift rockets like NASA's SLS. Next, it encourages FAA/AST to define "non-interference" and "to enhance its payload review process to provide companies planning private sector lunar development with the security and predictability necessary to support substantial investments."
In last year's report on the T-HUD bill (H. Rept. 114-129), the committee applauded FAA/AST's efforts to encourage private lunar development by leveraging its existing launch licensing authorities and "ensuring that commercial activities can be conducted on a non-interference basis." This year it is more explicit, encouraging FAA/AST to define the term "non-interference."
The issue arises from Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty, which says, among other things, that any country that has signed and ratified the treaty ("State party") should undertake "appropriate international consultations" if it or any of its nationals (e.g. companies) might engage in any activity that "would cause potentially harmful interference" with activities by other States parties before proceeding. Furthermore, if another State Party thinks someone else may cause potentially harmful interference, it may request consultations. Last year's Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) directs the President to promote the right of U.S. citizens to engage in commercial recovery of space resources free from harmful interference in accordance with U.S. international obligations (like the Treaty). Neither the Treaty nor the law defines interference or its inverse, non-interference, however.
The Treaty also requires in Article VI that governments authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities, like companies. The White House has proposed that the Department of Transportation (of which FAA is part) be assigned that responsibility for activities not already regulated by another U.S. agency.
Gold noted that this is actually the third year the House Appropriations Committee has expressed support for FAA/AST's actions in facilitating private sector activities on the Moon. Several companies are planning lunar exploration in the near-term, he explained, including participants in the Google Lunar X-Prize contest and Bigelow Aerospace, for which Gold worked for many years. Bigelow sought FAA/AST guidance on these issues in 2014 as part of a payload review request. George Nield, FAA's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation and head of FAA/AST replied in a December 22, 2014 letter that his office intended to work to ensure that commercial activities could be conducted on a non-interference basis.
As chair of COMSTAC, Gold said he appreciates the committee's continuing support for the "vital role" of FAA/AST in creating a stable and predictable environment for U.S. companies interested in commercial lunar activities.
In addition to the funding specifically for FAA/AST in the FAA's Operations account, the President's budget request includes $2.953 million for safety-related activities in FAA's Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) account (up from $2 million in FY2016), and $2 million as part of a $20 million request for Air Traffic Management (ATM) in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) account. The latter is for integrating commercial space launches into the National Air Space (NAS).
The House committee approved $2.0 million instead of the $2.953 million requested for safety-related activities in RE&D. No explanation was provided. It also approved the full $20 million for ATM and therefore, presumably, the $2 million for commercial space integration into the NAS.
The Senate committee approved $2.473 million for RE&D safety (labeling it commercial space transportation "security") and the entire $20 million for ATM.
The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the T-HUD bill tomorrow (May 24) at 10:30 am ET along with the Commerce-Justice-Science bill that funds NASA and NOAA. [UPDATE: The committee approved the T-HUD and CJS bills on May 24.]
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 23-27, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
YES! It is, indeed, another busy week. Not to worry -- Memorial Day is coming up next week and Congress, at least, will take a breather. Wanting to get as much done as possible in this first half of the year (before the elections overwhelm everything else), the House and Senate have another full plate.
On the floor, the Senate will debate its version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the House will take up the FY2017 Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA). The IAA is on Tuesday's suspension calendar, indicating that it is expected to pass with minimal debate. The unclassified bill and report require three space-related briefings or reports (on JICSPoC, on actions taken in response to the December 2015 National Research Council report on space defense and protection, and improving U.S.-Japan space cooperation) all of which also are required by the House version of the NDAA.
In committee, the full House Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science bill (NASA and NOAA) and the Transportation-HUD bill (FAA space office) on Tuesday morning. At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will be marking up the FY2017 defense bill, with full committee markup on Thursday.
The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union are holding a lunchtime briefing in one of the Senate meeting rooms (385 Russell) on Wednesday about a really important, but not widely known, issue that could affect utilization of NOAA's new GOES-R weather satellites. The first in the GOES-R series will be launched this fall. The space-to-ground frequency band for GOES-R is being threatened In the ever growing battle between space- and terrestrial-based services over spectrum allocations. The demand for spectrum to satisfy our insatiable desire for mobile broadband services is coming up against our need for critical weather forecasts. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to make the 1675-1680 MHz band available for sale. That band is used for transmitting data from the GOES satellites and for other earth science purposes. AMS has a fact sheet explaining the issue and three experts at the Wednesday briefing (including Scott Pace from GWU's Space Policy Institute) will go into it in more detail. Note than an RSVP is required (lunch will be served).
Of the many other events coming up, one may especially pique the interest of folks who will be in D.C. on Tuesday. New America, which describes itself as "a nonprofit civic enterprise: an intellectual venture capital fund, think tank, technology laboratory, public forum, and media platform," is having an event "over drinks" from 5:30-7:00 pm ET, on "What Can D.C. Learn from Sci-Fi?" Science fiction author Charles Stross will be interviewed by two "tech policy experts (and science fiction fans)" from New America and the American Civil Liberties Union. One topic is "why the idea of space colonization is unrealistic." New voices in the world of space policy are always welcome, so this should be enlivening.
NASA will expand the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that is attached to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday morning. NASA TV coverage begins at 5:30 am ET and there will be a media teleconference at 10:00 am ET with NASA's Jason Crusan and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow. BEAM was delivered to ISS on the SpaceX-8 cargo mission and transferred to a docking port on the Tranquillity module last month.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list that are announced later.
Monday, May 23
Tuesday, May 24
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 24-25
Tuesday-Thursday, May 24-26
Wednesday, May 25
Thursday, May 26
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 16-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them (yes, the 22nd, not the 20th, since ISDC 2016 runs through next Sunday). The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
It's another one of those busy, busy, weeks for space policy aficionados not just in Washington, DC, but in many other places around the world.
On Capitol Hill, House floor debate on the defense authorization bill begins mid-week. The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 4909, was approved by the House Armed Services Committee on April 28. One of the big space-related items was, of course, the RD-180 issue. HASC went along with the Air Force/United Launch Alliance (ULA) position that ULA needs 18 additional RD-180s to ensure Atlas V rockets are available through the early 2020s, instead of 9 engines to keep it available through 2019 as preferred by its Senate counterpart, SASC. (SASC marked up its version of the NDAA last week and stuck to its guns about only 9 more.) Another part of the debate is whether the money Congress is providing for developing a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 may be spent only on the engine or on other elements of an entirely new space launch system. HASC had insisted in previous NDAAs that it be spent only on the engine, but, this year, an amendment was adopted at committee level allowing the funds to be spent on a launch vehicle, upper stage, strap-on motor or related infrastructure. HASC's action on the NDAA is just one step in the defense authorization process. Next, the House Rules Committee will meet Monday and Tuesday to craft the rule that will govern the floor debate. It will decide, for example, which of the 372 submitted amendments may be offered on the floor. Several concern the RD-180/U.S. replacement issues. All of the submitted amendments are posted on the Rules Committee's website.
DOD appropriations also will be tackled this week. The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2017 defense bill on Tuesday morning (subcommittee markup was completed on May 11). Two other FY2017 appropriations measures also will be considered this week, but at subcommittee level. On Wednesday, the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will mark up the CJS bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, at 10:00 am ET and the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee will mark up the T-HUD bill, which includes FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, at 11:30 am ET.
The Humans to Mars (H2M) 2016 summit, sponsored by Explore Mars, will take place at George Washington University Tuesday-Thursday and will be webcast. Among the speakers is Andy Weir, author of The Martian. Not only will he speak there on Wednesday morning, but that afternoon he is scheduled to testify to the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee at a hearing on Deep Space Habitats. NASA no doubt wishes it had the habitats of Weir's fictional characters, both on the surface of Mars and the nifty Earth-Mars transit vehicle, complete with centrifuge. Perhaps he will set an aspirational mood for the subcommittee members and the other witnesses, who hail from NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK. The hearing also will be webcast.
Many interesting conferences (in addition to H2M) will take place this week around the globe: GEOINT 2016 in Orlando, FL; ISDC 2016 in San Juan, Puerto Rico; the European Lunar Symposium in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Astro2016 in Ottawa, Canada; and SpaceOps 2016 in Daejeon, Korea.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list that are announced later.
Sunday-Wednesday, May 15-18
Monday-Tuesday, May 16-17
Monday-Friday, May 16-20
Tuesday, May 17
Tuesday-Thursday, May 17-19
Wednesday, May 18
Wednesday-Thursday, May 18-19
Wednesday-Sunday, May 18-22
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today. Continuing a two-year dispute over how many Russian RD-180 rockets engines may be obtained for United Launch Alliance (ULA) Altas V rockets, the committee insisted on keeping the number at nine instead of raising it to 18 as recommended by its House counterpart. The SASC bill would also repeal language in the FY2016 appropriations bill that lifted the limit set in last year's NDAA.
The fundamental issue is how quickly a U.S. alternative to the Russian engine can be developed and tested sufficiently to assure that U.S. national security satellites can be launched as needed -- called assured access to space. The RD-180 engine was chosen for the Atlas V rocket in the 1990s when U.S.-Russian relationships were good. Since Russia's annexation of Crimea two years ago and its subsequent actions in Ukraine, broad agreement has arisen among Congress, the White House and the Air Force that the United States should not be reliant on Russian rocket engines to place critical national security satellites into orbit. SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) is a leading voice on this issue and often asserts that U.S. dollars should not go to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his "cronies."
SASC and other congressional committees disagree, however, on the timing for the transition from RD-180-powered Atlas V rockets to a new rocket with U.S.-built engines. At the moment, the argument is over whether ULA should be allowed to obtain nine more, or 18 more, than the number already under contract. Currently the Air Force states that it needs 18 more to ensure the Atlas V is available until the early 2020s when a new launch system -- an engine plus the rest of the launch vehicle -- has been tested and certified. McCain and his supporters argue it can be done by 2019 and only nine more engines are needed. (Last year, the Air Force and ULA said 14 were needed, but now it is 18.)
Another element of the debate is a drive to encourage competition in the national security space launch market. ULA has been virtually a monopoly provider of national security launch services since it was created as a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture in 2006. Last year, SpaceX was certified by the Air Force to compete with ULA. Generally, ULA supporters want to obtain enough RD-180s to keep ULA's Atlas V available for as long as possible to compete with SpaceX's Falcon rockets, while SpaceX supporters want to end the use of Atlas V and its Russian engines quickly with the expectation that SpaceX Falcon rockets coupled with ULA's larger Delta IV launch vehicles can satisfy national security space launch requirements.
U.S. national space transportation policy requires that at least two independent launch systems be available for national security launches. If one suffers a failure, access to space is assured by the other. For more than a decade, those two have been Atlas V and Delta IV, both ULA rockets. SpaceX argues that now the two can be its Falcon plus ULA's Delta IV. ULA and its supporters insist, however, that the Delta IV is prohibitively expensive compared to Atlas V and the best choice for the taxpayers is to keep Atlas V available until the early 2020s when ULA's new Vulcan rocket -- with a U.S. engine -- will be able to compete with SpaceX on price.
SASC insists that a new U.S. engine can be ready by 2019 and only nine more RD-180s are needed until that time. That is the number set by the FY2015 and FY2016 NDAAs. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee undermined that authorization language in the FY2016 appropriations bill, essentially removing all limits. (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation? See our "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)
Today, SASC insisted on nine engines only and called for repeal of the appropriations language. A committee summary of its action allocates three paragraphs to the issue:
"Providing Assured Access to Space and Ending Reliance on Russia
"Despite the efforts of the committee, United States assured access to space continues to rely on Russian rocket engines, the purchase of which provide financial benefit to aides and advisors to Vladimir Putin – including individuals sanctioned by the United States – and subsidizes the Russian military-industrial base. This is unacceptable at a time when Russia continues to occupy Crimea, destabilize Ukraine, menace our NATO allies, send weapons to Iran, violate the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and bomb U.S.-backed forces in Syria fighting the Assad regime.
"That is why the NDAA repeals a provision from last year’s omnibus appropriations bill that furthered dependence on Russia and requires that assured access to space be achieved without the use of rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation. In testimony before the committee, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of the Air Force each confirmed to the committee that the United States can meet its assured access to space requirements without the use of Russian rocket engines. Once the nine Russian rocket engines allowed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 are expended, the Defense Department would be authorized to utilize only those launch vehicles that do not require rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation.
"According to the Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) and a study commissioned by the Air Force, the continued use of Russian rocket engines will not provide the cost competitive launch environment the Air Force was hoping would materialize. Given the urgency of eliminating reliance on Russian engines, the NDAA would allow for up to half of the funds made available for the development of a replacement launch vehicle or launch propulsion system to be made available for offsetting any potential increase in launch costs as a result of prohibitions on Russian rocket engines. With $1.2 billion budgeted from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2021 for the launch replacement effort and $453 million already appropriated in fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016, there is more than sufficient funding available and budgeted for a replacement propulsion system or launch vehicle and to offset any additional costs required in meeting our assured access to space requirements without the use of Russian rocket engines."
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up its version of the FY2017 NDAA in April and agreed to the ULA/Air Force position of 18 more. The House is expected to take up the bill next week.
The NASA program managers for the three components of the Space Launch System (SLS)/Orion program, the centerpiece of the agency's plan for future human space exploration, painted an optimistic outlook today for the first SLS/Orion launch without a crew in 2018 and the first with a crew in 2021.
As directed by Congress in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act, NASA is building SLS, a rocket bigger than the Apollo-era Saturn V; Orion, a crewed spacecraft to go with it; and associated ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) through the Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program. The program managers for each of those three components -- John Honeycutt, Mark Kirasich, and Mike Bolger, respectively -- provided an update to the Space Transportation Association (STA) at an event on Capitol Hill today.
NASA has committed to the first SLS/Orion launch -- Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) -- in November 2018. That launch will not carry any people, but will test the rocket and spacecraft out to lunar orbit. NASA has no plans to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon, but expects to spend the decade of the 2020s testing hardware, software, and human beings in "cis-lunar" space before committing to sending them to Mars in the 2030s. The second flight, EM-2, will be the first to carry a crew. NASA committed to launching that mission in 2023, but says it is working towards an internal date of 2021.
Orion program manager Kirasich is confident Orion will be ready for EM-1 in the fall of 2018 and for EM-2 in 2021. The Orion spacecraft for EM-1 is already at KSC and will be outfitted with a variety of systems over the next 18 months. Orion EM-1's service module is being provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) and a structural test article is half way through tests at NASA Glenn Research Center's Plum Brook facility in Ohio.
ESA agreed to provide at least one Service Module as part of a barter arrangement it has with NASA over common operating costs for the International Space Station (ISS).
SLS is also making good progress according to Honeycutt: "This is becoming real." Manufacturing and testing of the core stage are well underway at Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, AL and at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, LA as well as qualification tests for the Solid Rocket Boosters. Progress is also being made on the Interim Cyrogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) needed to send Orion around the Moon.
NASA intends to use the ICPS on EM-1, but there is disagreement about what happens next. A more capable Exploration (or Enhanced) Upper Stage (EUS) is needed for missions beyond EM-2. NASA's FY2017 budget request assumes that ICPS will be used for both EM-1 and EM-2, with EUS following thereafter. However, EUS advocates argue that there is no point in human-rating ICPS for one crewed mission and NASA should get EUS ready in time for EM-2. Congress is persuaded by those arguments and directed NASA to build EUS now. Despite the fact that the NASA budget request pending before Congress assumes ICPS for EM-2, Honeycutt assuredly spoke of using EUS on EM-2.
The ground systems to support SLS and Orion get less attention, but as Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) said "no ground systems, no launches." Posey opened the event today and remained for the presentations. He represents KSC. NASA owns only two launch pads, 39A and 39B, both at KSC. It has leased 39A to SpaceX and is transforming 39B into a "multi-user" launch pad that can accommodate a variety of launch vehicles, including SLS. NASA plans only one SLS launch per year, so the pad would be available for other launches the rest of the time.
SLS ground systems include the launch pad, mobile transporter, and other facilities at KSC, as well as recovery operations for the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean, which were tested in the December 2014 EFT-1 flight. GSDO program manager Bolger said the mood at KSC was "electric" during that two-orbit mission, which took place three years after the final space shuttle flight, instilling optimism about the future of U.S. human spaceflight. "The Journey to Mars begins here" at KSC, he enthused.
Honeycutt said he hopes SLS will launch more often than once per year and cited science missions, like the Europa project, that could utilize the rocket, which will be available in several different configurations launching 70, 105 or 130 metric tons. He also noted that 800 contractors in 43 states are working on SLS. He said that his biggest worry is annual funding. All the speakers expressed appreciation to Congress for providing robust funding for these programs.
Congress has added substantial sums above the President's request for these programs over the past several years and seems poised to do so again this year.
Mike Gold, the Washington voice of Bigelow Aerospace for more than a decade, has joined SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral) as its Vice President of Washington Operations.
Gold is well known in Washington space policy circles as chairman of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), dogged reformer of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), and indefatigable supporter of the Boston Red Sox.
During his time with Bigelow, the company signed an agreement with NASA to attach a test version of Bigelow's expandable habitat to the International Space Station (ISS). The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was delivered to ISS aboard the SpaceX CRS-8 mission last month and is currently attached to an ISS docking port. The process of expanding it to full size is expected to begin later this month. Bigelow and SpaceX also announced plans in 2012 to send people to Bigelow space stations in low Earth orbit (LEO) aboard SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, an effort aimed at the international market.
The international aspect of space is one with which Gold is especially identified because of his role in ITAR reform, which came to fruition in 2014 with changes that make it easier to export communications satellites by moving them from the State Department's Munitions List to the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List.
SSL is one of the world's major manufacturers of communications satellites. Once owned by Loral (and before that by Ford Aerospace), it was bought by Canada's MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates (MDA) in 2012. It also builds other types of satellites and is one of four companies selected by JPL for study contracts for the design of the robotic spacecraft for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission. SSL also is working with JPL on a potential Discovery mission to study the asteroid Psyche and with DARPA on on-orbit satellite assembly.
SSL is based in Palo Alto, CA. SSL President John Celli said in a press statement that Gold "brings a wealth of experience with both civil and defense organizations and will strengthen our ability to make a contribution to government programs."
Gold has a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a bachelor's degree in political science from Brandeis University.