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What's Happening in Space Policy June 18-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jun-2017 (Updated: 18-Jun-2017 12:51 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 18-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will begin marking up the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week.  Most military space programs are under the jurisdiction of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.  Its markup is on Thursday morning.  Across Capitol Hill, Senate defense appropriators will begin drilling down into the budget requests from the three services.  They heard from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford last week about the broad scope of funding issues facing DOD.  This Wednesday they will hear from Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein specifically about Air Force needs.  Most military space programs are in the Air Force budget and Wilson is the Principal DOD Space Advisor.  Separately, Dunford will give a luncheon address at the National Press Club tomorrow (Monday) and Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, will talk about space, nuclear and missile defense modernization Tuesday morning as part of the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute space breakfast series (one must register in advance to attend).

On the space science front, NASA will hold a briefing tomorrow (Monday) at NASA's Ames Research Center on recent discoveries from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope.  The briefing is in conjunction with the fourth Kepler Science Conference taking place there all week.  

Back here in Washington, NASA is sponsoring back-to-back briefings on Wednesday about the upcoming solar eclipse.  On August 21, for the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will pass over the United States.  The total eclipse will be visible in 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina.  The rest of North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe will see a partial eclipse. It is such a rare event that huge traffic jams and other disruptions are expected and it is vitally important that people wear special "eclipse glasses" to look at the sun.  NOT sunglasses.  You need eclipse glasses.  They are inexpensive and readily available from many retailers as a quick look on Amazon.com will reveal.  NASA has arranged these briefings two months before the eclipse so people have plenty of time to get prepared.  The first Wednesday briefing is on logistics and the second is on the science of solar eclipses.  They will take place at the Newseum in Washington and broadcast on NASA TV.

The space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a third hearing on commercial space issues on Wednesday (unfortunately at the same time as the NASA eclipse briefings as well as a very interesting CSIS seminar on "Small Satellites, Big Missions").  Subcommittee chairman Ted Cruz is holding a series of hearings under the rubric "Reopening the American Frontier."  The first two were on April 26 and May 23.  This one is focusing on partnerships between the government and the private sector.  Bob Cabana, director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC), is the lone government witness.  He has been leading the conversion of KSC from a NASA center to a multi-user spaceport populated almost as much by other government agencies and private sector companies as by NASA itself.  Joining him at the witness table will be Gwynne Shotwell from SpaceX (which leases KSC's iconic Launch Complex 39A from NASA), Jeff Manber from Nanoracks (which arranges to send cubesats to the International Space Station for deployment into orbit), Moriba Jah from the University of Texas at Austin (an expert on space situational awareness), and Tim Ellis from Relativity (a company whose website says it is "reimagining the way orbital rockets are built and flown").

This is also Paris Air Show week with the venerable event taking place as usual at Le Bourget outside Paris, France.

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

Sunday, June 18

Monday, June 19

Monday-Friday, June 19-23

Monday-Sunday, June 19-25

Tuesday, June 20

Tuesday-Thursday, June 20-22

Wednesday, June 21

Thursday, June 22

Thursday-Friday, June 22-23

Senate-Passed Sanctions Bill Includes Exception for NASA, Commercial Space Launches

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jun-2017 (Updated: 15-Jun-2017 06:54 PM)

The Senate passed a Russia-Iran sanctions act today by a vote of 98-2.  During debate, the Senate adopted an amendment to clarify that the bill is not intended to prevent commercial launch service providers from using Russian engines on rockets that launch NASA or commercial payloads.

The amendment was sponsored by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and co-sponsored by his Democratic counterpart (Bennet), both Republican Senators from Alabama (Shelby and Strange), both Democratic Senators from Virginia (Warner and Kaine), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) spoke against the amendment.  His opposition to use of Russian RD-180 engines for national security launches using United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket is well known.  During consideration of last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he finally relented in his efforts to require ULA to terminate its use of those engines by 2019, agreeing to a more gradual transition as U.S. companies work to develop alternatives.

His passion to end U.S. reliance on Russian engines has not waned, however.  Today he turned his attention to the use of Russian engines for civil and commercial customers. 


Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).  Photo Credit: McCain's Senate Website

ULA's RD-180-powered Atlas V already is sometimes used for launching Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  In the future, it will be used by Sierra Nevada for Dream Chaser cargo missions and by Boeing for launches of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft.  Atlas V is also used for NASA science missions and for NOAA weather satellites, as well as commercial customers.

Orbital ATK uses its own Antares rocket for Cygnus launches to ISS, too.  Antares is outfitted with Russian RD-181 engines.

Invoking the same rhetoric he used in the RD-180 debate, McCain insisted that buying engines from Russia puts money into the pockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "cronies."  He said the language agreed to in last year's NDAA put DOD on the path to eliminate dependence on Russia as soon as possible while fostering competition among American companies and "NASA needs to do the same.  NASA needs to do the same.  NASA needs to do the same."  Repeating it three times for emphasis, he urged a no vote on the Gardner amendment (SA 250).

He conceded that the amendment would pass despite his objections and he was correct.  It passed 94-6.

Gardner insisted that putting NASA on a path to phase out reliance on Russia is, in fact, the intent of the amendment, but just like DOD, time is needed for that transition to occur.   He characterized the amendment as an effort to avoid an "unintended consequence" of the underlying bill, S. 722.

The bill, "An Act to Provide Congressional Review and to Counter Iranian and Russian Governments' Aggression," came out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  It imposes additional sanctions on Iran and on Russia, but as committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said, it also "reasserts congressional authority" over imposing or ending sanctions on those countries.  "For decades, Congress has slowly and irresponsibly ceded its authorities to the executive branch, particularly as it relates to foreign policy." 

Corker added that the bill provides the Trump Administration with "appropriate national security flexibility."  Its intent to prevent the President from unilaterally ending sanctions, particularly on Russia, however, is clear. Hence, the fate of the bill is in question.  It still must pass the House and be signed into law by the President to become law.  If it passes the House, it seems unlikely that any President would sign a bill limiting his authorities.  If Trump vetoes the bill, Congress could override it with a two-thirds vote of the House and of the Senate.  The 98-2 Senate vote today clearly would meet that margin, though voting to override a veto is quite different from voting on a piece of legislation at this stage of its development.   All eyes will be on the House to see what it does with the bill.

What's Happening in Space Policy June 11-16, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Jun-2017 (Updated: 15-Jun-2017 12:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 11-16, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week. 

During the Week

This week it's DOD's turn to talk to authorizers and appropriators about the FY2018 budget request. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford are the witnesses at each of the four hearings on successive days beginning tomorrow (Monday).  It's not clear whether military space programs will come up to any great extent, but the hearings should provide some sense of where space activities sit in DOD priorities. Mattis and Dunford testify to the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow, Senate Armed Services on Tuesday, Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday, and House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Thursday.

On Monday, Orbital ATK and NASA will hold a briefing at Wallops Island, VA, home to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the launch site for Orbital ATK's Antares rocket.  The briefing will provide an update on the next Orbital ATK cargo mission on a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), which will launch on Antares from MARS at Wallops. The launch is currently expected in September.  Orbital ATK has launched Cygnus on both Antares from Wallops and United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral.  At first, Orbital ATK used ULA's Atlas V while it was getting Antares back to flight after an October 2014 failure.  Antares returned to service in October 2016, but the company's most recent Cygnus mission used the Atlas V again reportedly at NASA's request.  Atlas V can lift more mass than Antares. 

Orbital ATK officials have said they are happy to use either rocket depending on the customer's requirements, but with this briefing, clearly are trying to highlight Antares and the MARS facility, which is located at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, but owned and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight  Authority ("Virginia Space").  NASA Wallops Director Bill Wrobel and Virginia Space Executive Director Dale Nash will join Orbital ATK's Frank Culbertson and Kurt Eberly for the briefing, which will be livestreamed.  The briefing will take place one day after the most recent Cygnus mission ended.  After about six weeks attached to ISS and one week in independent flight, the S.S. John Glenn fired its engines for a last time today and descended into the atmosphere and disintegrated, as intended. Only one of the ISS cargo resupply spacecraft is designed to survive reentry, SpaceX's Dragon.

SpaceX's most recent Dragon arrived at the ISS last Monday and Russia will launch its next Progress cargo resupply mission this Wednesday (with docking on Friday if all goes well).  All these cargo spacecraft comings and goings illustrate the challenges of sending people on lengthy trips beyond low Earth orbit.  Tough enough to provide all the needed supplies and equipment when they are close to home.  It's going to take a lot of technology development for life support and other systems, and many logistics flights, to support such missions.

NASA's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) is meeting Monday-Wednesday at Goddard Space Flight Center.  Michele Gates is on the agenda on Tuesday for 15 minutes to talk about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which consumed a lot of SBAG's attention for the past couple of years.  Presumably her task at this point is just to inform SBAG that the Trump Administration has terminated ARM, but two aspects of it -- high power solar electric propulsion development and asteroid hunting -- will continue nonetheless.  NASA's Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green and Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson are also on the agenda along with many other presentations that sound quite interesting, including two by representatives of asteroid mining companies.  The meeting is available remotely through Adobe Connect.

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

Monday, June 12

Monday-Wednesday, June 12-14

Monday-Friday, June 12-16 (continued from last week)

Tuesday, June 13

Wednesday, June 14

Thursday, June 15

Friday, June 16

What's Happening in Space Policy June 4-10, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Jun-2017 (Updated: 06-Jun-2017 03:28 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 4-10, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session this week.

During the Week

Better late than never?  The Trump Administration finally sent its FY2018 budget proposal to Congress on May 23.  As they say, the President proposes and Congress disposes.  This week Congress gets about its job in earnest with many, many hearings on various aspects of the budget request.  It is just a request. Only Congress decides how to spend the nation's money.   The reaction to the request in the halls of Congress is much like what was heard during the Obama Administration -- dead on arrival.  Still, they had to wait until the request was in hand to get busy coming up with their own plan.  Describing how difficult that's going to be would make this missive far too long, especially since the budget debate may well get entangled in the debate over increasing the debt limit.  Even though Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House, there are many intraparty divisions, never mind trying to reach a deal that at least some Democrats can support.

For this week, the focus is on information gathering for both appropriations and authorizations (not sure of the difference -- see our What's a Markup? Fact Sheet).   From a space policy perspective, the hearings to watch are NASA budget (two on Thursday -- the House SS&T space subcommittee in the morning; House Appropriations CJS subcommittee in the afternoon), FAA reauthorization, including FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (Wednesday, Senate Commerce Committee; Thursday, House T&I Committee), Air Force posture hearing (Tuesday, Senate Armed Services); and Department of Commerce budget, which includes NOAA (Thursday, Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee).

The House SS&T Committee also has scheduled a markup of the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017 on Thursday at 1:30 pm ET.  A draft bill has been circulating for several weeks. Although it has not been formally introduced yet, the committee posted the current draft text that the committee will consider that day.

Off the Hill this week, the annual GEOINT conference begins today in San Antonio and runs through Wednesday.  The theme this year is Advancing Capabilities to Meet Emerging Threats.

The American Bar Association is holding its annual space law symposium in Washington, DC (note the location changed and is now at the University Club) on Thursday.   It's got a GREAT line up of speakers.  Most unfortunately, it turns out to be competing with four hearings and one markup.  Not to mention a Space Transportation Association luncheon with Bob Cabana, former astronaut and Director of Kennedy Space Center.

Speaking of astronauts, amidst all this NASA will announce the members of its new astronaut class at Johnson Space Center on Wednesday.  Vice President Mike Pence will be in attendance.  He said in March during the signing ceremony for the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act that President Trump will reestablish the National Space Council and he (Pence) will lead it.  Everyone has been waiting for further news since then - perhaps he'll have more to say on Wednesday.

Lots of other really interesting things going on in D.C. and the rest of the world as well including Beijing (GLEX 2017); Vienna, Austria (UNCOPUOS); and Kerkrade, The Netherlands (Overview Symposium).

The list of everything we know about as of Sunday morning is shown below.  Check back throughout the week to see others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday, June 4 (continued from June 3)

Sunday-Wednesday, June 4-7

Monday, June 5

Tuesday, June 6

Tuesday-Thursday, June 6-8

Wednesday, June 7

Wednesday, June 7 - Friday, June 16

Thursday, June 8

Friday, June 9

  • The Space Mission Force (AFA Mitchell Institute), Capitol Hill Club, 300 1st St., SE, Washington, DC, 8:00 am ET  pre-registration REQUIRED

Friday-Saturday, June 9-10

What's Happening in Space Policy May 22-27, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-May-2017 (Updated: 22-May-2017 06:34 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 22-27, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week. [Updated with more information about Tuesday's contingency ISS spacewalk].

During the Week

The BIG EVENT this week is release of President Trump's complete FY2018 budget request, which will formally kick off debate thereon more than three months late.  Presidents are supposed to submit their annual budget requests to Congress by the first Monday in February, though the first year of a new President's term is almost always an exception.  Trump sent a "budget blueprint" or "skinny budget" with the broad outlines of his proposal in March. (NASA and NOAA fared pretty well all things considered and defense spending overall would get a big boost.)  Without the details, though, the appropriations committees couldn't get started on hearings and deliberations.  

That will change on Tuesday when the complete budget is expected to be submitted.  Remember -- only Congress has the power of the purse. The President PROPOSES a budget, but only Congress decides how much money will be spent and on what. They are supposed to conclude their budget work by September 30 so the new budget is in place by the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, but that rarely happens.  For this year (FY2017), they finally got the budget done on May 5, seven months late.  Considering that this budget request isn't even being submitted until May 23, the chances of bills passing by September 30 are virtually non-existent.  Not to mention that quite a few Republicans and Democrats said the Trump budget was "dead on arrival" because of its substantial cuts to agencies like the State Department, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  It'll be another long budget debate complete with shutdown threats -- which already have been issued not only by Democrats, but the President himself who tweeted on May 2 that the country needs a "good 'shutdown' in September."  Hang onto your hats.

A Washington think tank, the Third Way, got a leaked copy of an Excel spreadsheet with the budget request numbers for budget accounts throughout the government and posted it on its website.  There's still not enough detail to know what the Administration has in mind for DOD or NOAA space activities, but the budget account breakdown for NASA is there. In the order presented in that spreadsheet (which is different from how NASA usually lists it):  

  • Space Operations - $4,740.8 million;
  • Science -  $5,711.8 million;
  • Safety, Security and Mission Services - $2,830.2 million;
  • Exploration - $3,934.1 million;
  • Aeronautics - $624 million;
  • Education - $37.3 million;
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance - $496.1 million;
  • Space Technology - $678.6 million.

That adds up to $19,052.9 million, which would round to the $19.1 billion advertised in the budget blueprint.  It's significantly lower than the $19.65 billion Congress appropriated for FY2017.  The Administration proposed eliminating NASA's Office of Education so it will be interesting to see what the $37.3 million is for. That's roughly how much money is in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) budget for its education-related activities, so perhaps it is being moved into the Education budget account instead of Science.  We should know on Tuesday.   DOD and NASA usually hold public budget briefings the day the budget is submitted, but we haven't seen any announcements of those briefings yet. We'll post any information we get.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the FY2018 request for the Department of Commerce on Thursday,  It will cover all of the department's activities, of which NOAA is only one part.  Might be interesting, though.

The Senate Commerce space subcommittee will hold a non-budget related hearing on Tuesday.  It will hear testimony from two panels of witnesses on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and whether it needs to be modified to reflect all that has changed in the intervening 50 years.  Witnesses include space lawyers and representatives of companies affected by the treaty's provisions.

On Thursday, the annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) gets underway in St. Louis.   On Friday, NASA will have a briefing on what's going up to the International Space Station (ISS) on the next SpaceX cargo mission, SpX-11. The launch itself is scheduled for June 1.

One of the two mulitplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay boxes on the ISS failed yesterday.  The crew is fine, but NASA wants to replace it sooner rather than later.  It announced today (Sunday) that a contingency spacewalk will take place no earlier than Tuesday.   A final decision on when and which astronauts will conduct the spacewalk is expected later today.  Peggy Whitson, currently in command of the ISS, surely will be one of the two. It would be her 10th spacewalk.  The question is whether her partner will be NASA's Jack Fischer or ESA's Thomas Pesquet.  We'll post more information when it becomes available. [UPDATE:  Whitson and Fischer will conduct the spacewalk on Tuesday, May 23, beginning about 8:00 am ET.  NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET.]

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

Tuesday, May 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 23-24

Tuesday-Thursday, May 23-25

Thursday, May 25

Thursday-Monday, May 25-29

Friday, May 26

Correction: The Space Diplomacy event on Thursday is in 2043 Rayburn, not 2062 as we originally posted.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 15-19, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-May-2017 (Updated: 15-May-2017 10:36 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 15-19, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The D.C. space community looked forward every year to Sen. Barbara Mikulski's (D-MD) annual speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) to get her take on the congressional landscape for civil space.   She retired at the end of last year, making Sen. Ben Cardin the senior Senator from Maryland and he will take her spot this year.  His talk is tomorrow (Monday) at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, MD.  [Curiously, the MSBR website today does not show this event, but it seems to have reverted to a 2015 schedule instead of 2017.  MSBR assures us the luncheon is on.]

Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006 after two decades in the House, but left space program issues to Mikulski so probably is not well known to readers of this website.  He does not serve on any of the Senate committees responsible for NASA or NOAA, so this will be the first opportunity for many to hear his views.  Mikulski's successor, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, won assignment to the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee on which Mikulski served for so many years (sometimes as chair), but as a freshman will not have as much power as she did.  Cardin has 10 years of seniority in the Senate overall, so could be more influential even though he does not sit on the space committees. 


Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).  Photo Credit:  Senator Cardin's Senate website.

On Tuesday, a seminar entitled "On the Launchpad: Return to Deep Space" will be held at the Newseum in Washington, DC from 1:00-5:00 pm ET and will be webcast.  For those planning to watch the webcast, note that the session itself is only from 1:30-4:00 pm ET. The rest of the time is for registration at the beginning and a reception afterwards.  It has an interesting lineup of speakers.  Among them are NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot; Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), chair of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee; former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan; Bob Zubrin of the Mars Society; Chris Carberry of Explore Mars; Mary Lynne Dittmar of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.

Heather Wilson was confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force last week and this week she gets her first turn at the witness table in that position.  On Wednesday, she will testify along with the top Air Force space leadership (Gen. David Goldfein, Gen. John Raymond, and Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves)  and Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office.  The hearing, "Military Space Organization, Policy and Programs," is before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  SASC usually webcasts its hearings on its website.   

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hasn't posted its hearing schedule yet, but the National Journal's Daybook reports that HASC will have a national security space hearing itself on Friday.  The witness list isn't available yet, but the title is "FY2018 Priorities and Posture of the National Security Space Enterprise."  We'll add more information to our calendar entry when it is available.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for President Trump to submit his full FY2018 budget request to Congress.  He sent up a budget blueprint or "skinny budget" in March, but the details were missing (this is common in a new President's first year).  There were rumors a couple of weeks ago that it would be submitted on May 15, but more recent rumors are that it will be May 22.  FY2018 begins on October 1, so everyone needs to get rolling on that.  If you thought reaching agreement on FY2017 was tough, that was child's play compared to FY2018 when, by law, the budget caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act are back in force.  Some congressional Republicans and Democrats declared the March budget request dead on arrival due to its huge cuts to agencies like the State Department, National Institutes of Health, and Environmental Protection Agency, all while sharply increasing military spending.  All things considered, NASA did pretty well in the budget blueprint.  NOAA's two main weather satellite programs (JPSS and GOES-R) also are OK, but cuts apparently are in store for NOAA's other satellite activities.

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

Monday, May 15

Monday-Tuesday, May 15-16

Monday-Friday, May 15-19

Tuesday, May 16

Wednesday, May 17

Friday, May 19

 

Note:  This article was updated to reflect the confirmation from MSBR that the Cardin luncheon is, indeed, on for tomorrow, and to add the IAA Planetary Defense conference in Tokyo.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 8-12, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-May-2017 (Updated: 08-May-2017 08:28 AM)

Here's our list of space policy events for the week of May 8-12, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week; the House is in recess.

During the Week

Although the House is taking a week off from Washington duties to check in with constituents back home, the Senate is in session.  Tomorrow (Monday) it is scheduled to vote on the nomination of former Congresswoman Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force. Her nomination was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month.  If approved, the Republican who represented the 1st district of New Mexico from 1998-2009 will succeed Deborah Lee James in that role.  Lisa Disbrow has been serving as Acting SecAF since James left on January 20 when the Obama Administration ended.  Wilson would become the first service secretary confirmed in the Trump Administration.  Trump's original nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because of financial entanglements.  Trump then nominated Mark Green to be Secretary of the Army, but he withdrew last week because of opposition that developed in reaction to views he is said to have expressed that were offensive to the LGBT community and to Muslims.  Green denied them, but said his nomination had become a "distraction" and therefore withdrew.

Tuesday-Thursday is the 4th Humans To Mars (H2M) Summit, organized by Explore Mars and once again held at George Washington University in Washington, DC.  The event will be webcast.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will speak at 9:00 am ET on Tuesday, followed by a panel of NASA's Associate Administrators (AAs) for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier), Science (Thomas Zurbuchen), and Space Technology (Steve Jurczyk).  Gerstenmaier's deputy for policy and plans Greg Williams then will lay out NASA's current planning for a Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport.   And that's all in just the first two hours!  It's a jam packed agenda.  For those who will be there in person, Leonard David will have a book signing event on Tuesday at lunchtime for his National Geographic book "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet."   David will also be on a panel discussion at a pre-event on Monday evening (separate registration required) with Pascal Lee (Mars Institute), Penny Boston (NASA Astrobiology Institute), and Keith Cowing (NASAWatch).  On Wednesday morning, Jeff Foust (Space News), Frank Morring (Aviation Week) and your faithful SpacePolicyOnline.com editor will be on a panel moderated by former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan.  On Thursday morning, there's a panel on "Is the Moon a Good Step on the Way to Mars" with Scott Pace (GWU Space Policy Institute and former NASA AA for program analysis and evaluation); Doug Cooke (former NASA AA for Exploration Systems), Tony Antonelli (Lockheed Martin, former astronaut), and Peter McGrath (Boeing), moderated by Kathy Laurini (NASA Senior Advisor for Exploration and Space Operations).  Lots more than can be previewed here.  Check out the agenda.

For anyone who can tear themselves away from H2M on Tuesday, the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) is hosting a luncheon with a very interesting group of speakers on "Defense Space Priorities in the New Administration."  It's at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA (not to be confused with the Army & Navy Club on 17th St. in D.C.).  Moderated by Todd Harrison from CSIS, the speakers include: John Hill, Acting DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy; David Hardy, Associate Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space; Col. Sidney Conner, USAF, Deputy Director Space Programs Assistant Secretary (Acquisition); Chirag Parikh, Deputy Director, Counterproliferation, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; and Lindsay Millard, Program Manager, Tactical Technology Office, DARPA.  Hope you've got your tickets already.  Pre-registration ended May 5.

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

Monday, May 8

Tuesday, May 9

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 9-10

Tuesday-Thursday, May 9-11

  • Humans to Mars (H2M) Summit, George Washington University, Washington, DC, webcast  (pre-event activities on Monday, May 8, require separate registration)

Wednesday, May 10

Thursday, May 11

Friday, May 12

What's Happening in Space Policy May 1-6, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Apr-2017 (Updated: 30-Apr-2017 02:15 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 1-6, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

SpaceX scrubbed its launch of a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite (NROL-76) at the last minute this morning.  They will try again tomorrow (Monday) morning at 7:00 am ET at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A.  Today's problem was a "sensor issue" apparently in the first stage.  This is SpaceX's first launch for NRO.  The nature of the satellite is classified, of course.  SpaceX provided a webcast today, so probably will tomorrow as well.

In Washington, it is STILL Groundhog Day.  Congress did not complete action on FY2017 appropriations last week.  Instead, it passed another extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that has been funding the government since October 1.  This is just a one-week extension, to this Friday, May 5.  They appeared to be fairly close to agreement at the end of last week after the White House backed away from its insistence that funding be included in the FY2017 bill for the border wall with Mexico, but Democrats continue to worry about "poison pill" provisions the Republicans may be planning.  No bill has been introduced yet, so the actual text is not available for perusal.  The House plans to be in recess on Friday (and all of the following week), so they have four days to work everything out -- or pass another extension.  The President plans to send his complete FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 15 (he sent over a "blueprint" in March, but with few details), so it would be nice if they could finish FY2017 before then.

We still don't know very much about what the President's plans are for space.  In the meantime, the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are holding a symposium on Tuesday to offer their views.  In 2009, ASEB and SSB published the report America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs to provide advice to that new President, Barack Obama.  The study committee that wrote the report was chaired by Gen. Lester Lyles (Ret.) who went on to become chair of ASEB and now chairs the NASA Advisory Council.   He will recap the key points of his 2009 study as a lead in to Tuesday's discussion on "America's Future in Civil Space."   Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, other NASA officials, and distinguished members of the space science, engineering and policy communities will be there.  Registration for in-person attendance has closed because all the seats are taken, but the event will be webcast. 

ASEB itself is meeting tomorrow (Monday) and, among other things, will celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Happy Birthday, ASEB!  SSB will meet Wednesday and Thursday.  SSB's committee performing the mid-term review of the planetary science Decadal Survey is meeting Thursday and Friday.   Some sessions of all of those meetings are closed, but many are open.

An interesting symposium will be held in one of the Senate meeting rooms tomorrow (Monday) morning on Ultra Low Cost Access to Space (ULCATS), a topic on which Air University recently published a report.   It features an impressive list of speakers, including Newt Gingrich and Bob Walker, representatives from Blue Origin, SpaceX, Stratolaunch, and United Launch Alliance, plus high ranking defense department officials and some of the authors of the report.  We've inquired as to whether there will be a livestream or archived audio- or video-cast and will add that information to our calendar item once we get an answer.

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

Monday, May 1

Tuesday, May 2

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 2-3

Wednesday, May 3

Wednesday-Thursday, May 3-4

Thursday-Friday, May 4-5

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6

Trump Wants to Get To Mars Sooner Rather than Later

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Apr-2017 (Updated: 24-Apr-2017 08:57 PM)

During a telephone call with NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) today, President Donald Trump stressed the goal of getting kids interested in STEM education, but he also made clear that he wants to accelerate efforts to get humans to Mars.  While he initially joked about doing it in his first term or "at worst" in his second, he brought it up again later in a seemingly more serious manner and said that he thought it would be done sooner than the 2030s.

Last month, Trump signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 into law.  It has extensive language about the United States leading an effort to get humans to Mars, including a study of a "Mars 2033" mission to be launched that year.  It does not specify whether that mission would be to orbit or land on Mars.

Today, he asked NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson what the timeline was.  She replied that the goal is to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, adding that it is expensive and time consuming.  Trump replied -- with a smile on his face and off-screen onlookers chuckling --  that "we want to try and do it during my first term or, at worst, during my second, so we'll have to speed that up."  During a more serious moment later on, he remarked that "I think we'll do it a lot sooner than anyone is thinking."

Trump phoned Whitson and fellow ISS astronaut Jack Fischer to congratulate Whitson on breaking the record for longest U.S. cumulative time in space. Whitson is part-way through her third long-duration mission to ISS and currently is in command of the facility.  She was the first woman to command ISS during her second mission in 2008 and is the first woman to command it twice.  Today she broke the 534-day U.S. cumulative time in space record held by Jeff Williams.  Fischer just arrived on ISS last Thursday along with Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin.   ESA's Thomas Pesquet rounds out the current ISS crew.  He arrived with Whitson last November. 


NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer aboard the International Space Station while talking with President Donald Trump, April 24, 2017.  Screengrab from NASA TV.

Russia's Gennady Padalka holds the world record for cumulative time in space -- 879 days.   Scott Kelly holds the U.S. record for CONTINUOUS time in space on a single mission -- 340 days.  Russia's Valeriy Polyakov holds the world record for continuous time in space -- 438 days.

President Trump was joined by his daughter Ivanka and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins who recently returned from her own ISS mission where she sequenced DNA in space for the first time.


NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, President Donald Trump, daughter Ivanka Trump, in Oval Office talking to NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer on ISS, April 24, 2017.  Screengrab from NASA TV.

Ivanka Trump pointed out that her father recently signed into law the Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators Researchers and Explorers (INSPIRE) Women Act to encourage woman and girls to study Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.  Rubins and Whitson both explained how they became interested in science and space.

Although much of the roughly 20-minute phone call was about STEM education, the President's FY2018 budget blueprint calls for eliminating NASA's Office of Education.  The disconnect between today's message and the reality of his budget request was not explained.

Similarly, the President's obvious interest in accelerating efforts to send people to Mars is not reflected in his FY2018 budget request.  Trump's FY2018 budget blueprint calls for funding the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion crew spacecraft at their current levels, not to mention a habitat and other needed systems.  The NASA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have both expressed skepticism that those programs can maintain their current schedules.

Whitson also noted that human Mars exploration will require international participation.  Fischer elaborated on that theme, remarking that he launched into space from Kazakhstan with a Russian colleague, arrived at the ISS and immediately set down to work installing experiments in Japan's Kibo module.  The next day he said he watched ESA/French astronaut Pesquet drive Canada's Canadarm2 to grab the Cygnus spacecraft, built in Virginia, to dock with ISS.  "The International Space Station is by far the best example of international cooperation of what we can do when we work together."

In terms of the technology needed to get people to Mars, Whitson pointed out that water is a "precious resource" in space and, to that end, ISS astronauts recycle their urine to make it drinkable and "it's not as bad as it sounds."  Trump affably replied that he was "glad to hear that," but "better you than me."

Whitson spoke confidently about humans going to Mars in the 2030s and encouraged students who might be listening that they will "have a part" in sending people to Mars if they study STEM fields because it will happen soon. 

President Trump's phone call to the ISS today was his first.  He joins a long list of Presidents making phone calls to astronauts in space.  According to a NASA History Office website, President Ronald Reagan made the most (11), President Obama was next (6), followed by George H.W. Bush (5, one of which was when he was Vice President), Clinton (4 - including the first shuttle-Mir flight), George W. Bush (2 - including the return-to-flight mission after Columbia), Richard Nixon (2 - to the Apollo 11 and Skylab 1 crews), and Gerald Ford (1 - during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project).  

Video of the telephone call is posted on NASA's YouTube channel.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 23-28, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Apr-2017 (Updated: 23-Apr-2017 12:17 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 23-28, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

President Trump and his daughter Ivanka will make a 20-minute phone call to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow (Monday) morning at 10:00 am ET.  It will be broadcast on a number of NASA media assets including NASA TV, Facebook, Ustream and YouTube. The Trumps are phoning Whitson to congratulate her on breaking the record for U.S. cumulative time in space -- 534 days (currently held by Jeff Williams).  Whitson is in command of the ISS right now. This is her third trip to the ISS. She was the first woman to command ISS during her second visit in 2008 and now is the first woman to command it twice. She also has set a record for the most spacewalks by a woman (8 so far).  Her duration record is for CUMULATIVE time in space, acquired over three spaceflights.  Scott Kelly holds the U.S. record for CONTINUOUS time in space on a single mission (340 days).

We have no advance knowledge of what the conversation will be about, but might he provide a hint on his plans for human spaceflight?  His proposed FY2018 budget for NASA's human spaceflight program is status quo.  NASA Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen said last week that the agency is expecting flat budgets, not even adjusted for inflation, for the next 5 years, so it seems unlikely that the President has any big changes in mind for the government-funded program.  Since the Trump Administration supports public private partnerships for space activities, might an announcement of a COTS-like "commercial station" program be in the works to kickstart a new low Earth orbit (LEO) space station to succeed ISS?  NASA has made clear the U.S. government will not be building another LEO space station and is looking to the commercial sector to build LEO facilities for which NASA could be one, but only one, user.  Separately, Allen also said that NASA's study of whether to put a crew on the first SLS/Orion mission is completed and the agency is awaiting a "go forward" plan.  Maybe he'll say something about that.  Or perhaps it will just be a friendly phone call.

Apart from that, it's Groundhog Day in Washington.  Once again Congress must pass an appropriations bill by Friday or the government will shut down. (Which is to say that agencies that get their money from the discretionary part of the budget -- DOD, NASA, NOAA etc. -- will shut down unless they are exempt for reasons of public safety or meet other criteria). The 114th Congress bumped FY2017 funding decisions over into the 115th Congress with a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on Friday, April 28.  Under the CR, agencies are funded at their prior year (FY2016) levels.  FY2017 is more than half over already, but something needs to be done about the remaining 5 months (through September 30).

When President Obama was in office, it was ultra conservative Republicans that threatened (and in one case succeeded) in shutting down the government.  With Republicans now in control of the House, Senate and White House, it is largely Democrats who are making the threats.  Among their issues is that Republicans want to significantly increase defense spending at the expense of non-defense programs.  As an example, Trump submitted a supplemental request for FY2017 last month that would add $30 billion for defense plus another $3 billion to build the border wall with Mexico, all to be partially offset by $18 billion in cuts to non-defense programs (including $50 million from NASA's space science program and $90 million from NOAA's satellite programs).   Many Democrats and some Republicans also object to the funding for the border wall.  Before the two-week recess that is just ending there were indications that congressional Republicans were agreeing not to fight the border wall battle now so they can finish the FY2017 appropriations process, but the Trump White House reportedly is pushing hard for its inclusion.

It's high stakes politics once again with an uncertain outcome.  Rumors are that they might pass another short term (one week) CR to provide more time to reach agreement.  It is usually true that such decisions are made only when there is an ominous deadline looming, so it's not clear why adding another week would make much of a difference.

Bear in mind that this is all about FY2017, the current fiscal year.  They haven't begun work on funding for FY2018, which starts on October 1.  Trump sent a "budget blueprint" or "skinny budget" outlining the contours of his FY2018 spending plan last month.  That's the request that indicates a status quo budget for NASA ($19.100 billion in FY2018 compared to $19.285 billion for FY2016), with some cuts to Earth science and the elimination of NASA's Office of Education among the more contentious issues.  Some of NOAA's satellite programs are in for cuts, but the blueprint doesn't specify where. The detailed FY2018 budget request is expected to be sent to Congress on May 15.

Also on Capitol Hill this week, the Senate Commerce Committee's space subcommittee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will each hold hearings on Wednesday at exactly the same time (10:00 am ET).  The Senate hearing is on the regulatory environment for commercial space and features the leaders of four prominent commercial space companies (Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Made in Space).  The House hearing is on advances in the search for life with representatives from NASA (Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the Science Mission Directorate), the SETI Institute (Seth Shostak) and academia (Adam Burgasser from UC San Diego and James Kasting from Pennsylvania State University).

The House hearing takes place as the astrobiology community gathers in Mesa, AZ all week for the 2017 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon).  Some sessions and two public lectures (Tuesday and Thursday nights) will be webcast.  A "town hall" meeting today (Sunday) will discuss the results of the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander. The Trump Administration's FY2018 budget blueprint specifically does not include funding for a Europa lander (only for the Jupiter orbiter/Europa flyby "Europa Clipper" mission), but discussions about a lander are continuing since it has strong support by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.  It is Congress, not the President, that decides how government money is spent.  Culberson is convinced life (microbial, not intelligent) exists in Europa's subsurface ocean and is adamant that a NASA probe find it in the next decade.  Today's town hall meeting will be available by WebEx/telecon.  Remember that although Arizona is in the Mountain Time zone, it does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so the offset from your time zone is like Pacific Daylight Time (e.g., add three hours, not two, to get Eastern Daylight Time).

The first meeting of the newly chartered NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee is Monday and Tuesday.  NASA has restructured its advisory apparatus that is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  This group used to be a subcommittee of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), so any findings or recommendations had to go from the subcommittee up to the full committee up to NAC up to the NASA Administrator and then down to the Associate Administrator for Science and then, at last, down to the Astrophysics Division Director.  A long route where advice could be changed or eliminated.  Now the group -- and others that also used to be subcommittees -- can report directly to division directors.  Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz will brief the committee tomorrow morning (9:45-11:45 am ET) and later in the meeting program officials will provide updates on the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), among other topics. The meeting is at NASA HQ in Washington, DC and is available remotely via WebEx and telecon.

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

Sunday, April 23

Monday, April 24

Monday-Tuesday, April 24-25

Monday-Friday, April 24-28

Tuesday, April 25

Tuesday-Thursday, April 25-27

  • Space 2.0, Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley, Milpitas, CA
  • AIAA Defense Forum (SECRET/US ONLY), JHU Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD

Wednesday, April 26

Thursday, April 27