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What's Happening in Space Policy October 5-9, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Oct-2015 (Updated: 04-Oct-2015 03:48 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events coming up during the week of October 5-9, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

Today is the 58th anniversary of the Space Age.  The Soviet Union launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth.  Nine months later, after considerable debate and many hearings, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958.  President Eisenhower signed it into law on July 29, 1958 and NASA opened its doors on October 1, 1958.   Hard to imagine anything happening that fast these days.

Kicking the can down the road seems to be the best Washington can manage at the moment.  Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) last week to keep the government operating through December 11 without resolving the issues that have prevented the 12 regular appropriations bills from getting passed.   Now there will be a leadership transition in the House.  The election of a new Speaker to replace John Boehner (R-OH), who is leaving at the end of the month, will take place on Thursday.   Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is still the favorite despite controversial comments he made over the past week.   Two others have announced their own candidacies, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL).  If McCarthy wins, there definitely will changes in other leadership positions since his current post will become vacant, and if one of the others wins, changes also are possible.

Against this backdrop, Congress has a very busy schedule between now and December 11.  Must-pass bills include reauthorizing spending from the Highway Trust Fund (another issue that was kicked down the road in July when it was given a 3-month extension that expires on October 29), raising the debt limit by November 5, and, of course, doing something about appropriations before the CR runs out.  Many consider the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act another must-pass bill and the House and Senate did reach a compromise on it, but most Democrats on the conference committee refused to sign the report and the White House has threatened to veto the bill.  The House passed the compromise last week and the Senate is supposed to take it up this week.  The fate of other bills, such as the House and Senate commercial space bills or attempts to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, remains up in the air.  The provision in existing commercial space law that had to be dealt with -- the learning period for commercial human spaceflight regulations -- because it would have expired on September 30 was given a 6-month extension (to April 1, 2016) in a hastily passed airport and airways bill that extended a number of expiring provisions to give Congress more time to deal with them.

The only space-related hearing that we know about as of Sunday morning is a House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Space Subcommittee hearing on Friday.  The topic is "Deep Space Exploration: Examining the Impact of the President's Budget" with two former NASA human spaceflight officials (Doug Cooke and Dan Dumbacher) as witnesses.

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot will talk to the Space Transportation Association (STA) on Wednesday.  The event is by invitation only, so we do not list it on our calendar, but anyone who is interested can contact STA's Rich Coleman at  The NASA Advisory Council's Planetary Science Subcommittee meets on Monday and Tuesday, and a National Academy of Sciences committee reviewing progress in achieving the vision outlined in the 2010 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey meets in open session on Thursday and Friday.  All of those are in Washington, DC.

Elsewhere in the United States, the annual ISPCS (International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight) is on Wednesday and Thursday in Las Cruces, NM, and there's a LunarCubes workshop in San Jose, CA from Tuesday to Friday.    NASA will hold two briefings on Wednesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA about cubesats that are flying on a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) launch scheduled for Thursday.  NASA sponsored four of the 13 cubesats that will tag along on the launch and funded a fifth in conjunction with NRO.  The remainder are NRO's.

Elsewhere in the world, pre-meetings begin for the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which will be held in Jerusalem, Israel next week.  The IAC combines meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and International Institute of Space Law (IISL).  IAC officially begins next Monday (October 12), but the associated 3-day Space Generation Congress starts this Thursday and the IAA has meetings over the weekend.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for any additional events we learn about and post to our Events of Interest calendar on the right side of's main page.

Monday-Tuesday, October 5-6

Tuesday, October 6

Tuesday-Friday, October 6-9

Wednesday, October 7

Wednesday-Thursday, October 7-8

Thursday, October 8

 Thursday-Saturday, October 8-10

Friday, October 9

NASA Picks Two Venus, Three Asteroid Missions As Discovery Semifinalists

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2015 (Updated: 30-Sep-2015 07:10 PM)

NASA announced the five proposals that it has selected for further development under the Discovery program in the Planetary Science Division.  Two would study Venus, while the other three would study asteroids.  One newsworthy aspect of the announcement is that four of the five principal investigators are women.

Discovery missions are mid-sized missions with a cost cap of $500 million not including launch or post-launch operations.  The program was initiated in 1992 to provide regular opportunities for scientists to compete to develop and launch planetary exploration missions. The missions not only are cost capped, but the development time from mission start to launch can be no more than 36 months.  The goal is to launch a Discovery mission at least every two years, though that is budget dependent.

NASA has launched 11 Discovery missions so far and a 12th, InSight, is scheduled for launch next year.  They span a range of research interests.  The first Discovery mission, NEAR, was the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid (Eros).  The most recent, InSight, will land on Mars to study the structure of its interior by using a seismometer and heat flow package.  Among the 10 in between were spacecraft that studied the Moon, Mercury, and a comet nucleus, and two returned samples of interstellar dust and atoms of the solar wind.  Perhaps the best known today is Kepler, which searched for -- and found -- exoplanets.

The five selected today will receive $3 million each to further develop their plans.  One of the five will be chosen for full development in September 2016.  They are:

  • DAVINCI.   Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging.   Principal Investigator: Lori Glaze, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Goddard would manage the project.
  • VERITAS.  Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission.  Principal Investigator: Suzanne Smrekar, JPL.  JPL would manage the project.
  • Psyche.  A mission to explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche that "is likely the survivor of a violent hit-and-run with another object."  Principal Investigator: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University.  JPL would manage the project.
  • NEOCam.  Near Earth Object Camera, to discover asteroids and comets, generically called Near Earth Objects (NEOs).  Principal Investigator:  Amy Mainzer, JPL. JPL would manage the project.
  • Lucy.  A mission to perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids.  Principal Investigator:  Harold Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.  Goddard would manage the project.

Congress Passes Short-Term Continuing Resolution for FY2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2015 (Updated: 30-Sep-2015 07:11 PM)

First the Senate and then the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) today to keep the government operating tomorrow when FY2016 begins.  The CR lasts through December 11, 2015.

The Senate vote was 78-20.  All 20 no votes were Republicans.  Republican presidential candidates Cruz and Paul voted no, while Graham and Rubio did not vote.  The 78 yes votes were 32 Republicans, all 44 Democrats, and both Independents.  Democratic presidential candidate Sanders (who is an independent in the Senate) voted yes.  The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee (who also chairs a subcommittee) and 6 other subcommittee chairs voted yes, and 4 voted no, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) who chairs the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.  One (Graham) did not vote.

The House vote was 277-151.  All 151 no votes were Republicans.  All 186 Democrats who voted and 91 Republicans voted yes.    The chairman of the full appropriations committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and nine of the 12 subcommittee chairs voted yes. Two voted no.  One, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the House Appropriations CJS subcommittee, did not vote.

Congress is using the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act, H.R. 719, as the legislative vehicle for the FY2016 CR.   The operative part for the CR is Senate Amendment 2689 (SA 2689). 

Agencies are funded at their FY2015 levels except that there is an across-the-board 0.2108 percent reduction to ensure the total does not exceed agreed upon budget caps.

The President is expected to sign the bill, keeping the government open until December 11.  What will happen at that point is anyone's guess.

House and Senate Agree on FY2016 NDAA, RD-180s Still Restricted

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Sep-2015 (Updated: 29-Sep-2015 10:51 PM)

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) announced agreement today on a compromise version of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-CA) said that he expects the bill to reach the floor of the House for debate on Thursday.  One thorny space-related issue, on use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines, was resolved largely in the Senate's favor.

Broadly speaking, the House, Senate, Air Force, DOD, and United Launch Alliance (ULA) agree that the United States should not rely on Russian rocket engines to launch U.S. national security satellites.   ULA was created in 2006 as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing and has been essentially a monopoly launch services provider to the national security community since then.  ULA's Atlas V rocket uses Russian RD-180 engines.  From an engineering standpoint, the RD-180 apparently is an excellent engine and users are reluctant to give it up.

However, the advent of "new entrants" like SpaceX into the launch vehicle market, and the deterioration in the U.S.-Russian relationship following Russia's actions in Ukraine, marked a paradigm shift in the U.S. launch vehicle industry last year.   SASC chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been particularly strident in his views that the United States should not be paying money to Russia for rocket engines that goes into the pockets of "cronies" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.  He also strongly supports the entry of SpaceX as a competitor to ULA.   

In last year's FY2015 NDAA, Congress set 2019 as a deadline for when RD-180s should be replaced by a new domestic rocket engine for national security launches (the provision does not affect the use of Russian engines for commercial or other government launches).  Flexibility was provided by giving the Secretary of Defense waiver authority to certify that additional Russian engines were needed for national security purposes, but the Air Force and DOD have been fighting to get the 2019 deadline extended to 2022 to 2023.  They argue that while a new U.S. engine could be ready by 2019, it would take several years to integrate it into a new rocket and certify the rocket for launching expensive, vital national security satellites.  HASC has been more sympathetic to that view than SASC.

The Senate version of the FY2016 NDAA kept the 2019 deadline and said only nine more RD-180 engines could be obtained.  The House version provided substantial flexibility by expanding the Secretary of Defense's waiver authority.

The compromise version announced today mostly adopts the Senate language.  At a press conference today, McCain vehemently reiterated his opposition to paying Russia for RD-180 engines and his support for SpaceX.  He said that SpaceX asserts that it can have a domestic engine ready to replace the RD-180s by 2017.  The compromise still allows the use of nine more RD-180s, he said, as his committee recommended.  He added, though, that the language does allow more to be purchased if needed "but to commit to 6-7 [more] years is not something I'm prepared to do."  He criticized the ULA-Air Force relationship on this issue as a "classic example of the military-industrial complex."

In a separate press conference, the four Republican and Democratic leaders of HASC and SASC also addressed the issue.  Thornberry said "we want to wean ourselves off of Russian engines as soon as possible and have assured access to space as we do it" and that is what the compromise language does.  HASC ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA) added that "I think we're going to get to a good place sooner than most people realize," but stressed that  "we don't want just one alternative" to the RD-180s. There are companies out there, a number of them happen to be in the State of Washington, as a matter of fact, Blue Origin, Aerojet, bunch of other folks, and they'll get there sooner than we expect. Still, "we can't ... count on that and say that we can't buy the only thing that's actually available."  The language in the bill ensures DOD "has good choices," he remarked, but also pushes "domestic industry to quickly develop an alternative domestically."

Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne are competitors in developing a new engine for ULA's planned Vulcan rocket that will eventually replace both the Altas V and Delta IV, ULA's other rocket.   ULA and Blue Origin announced a partnership last fall where ULA said it would use Blue Origin's BE-4 engine for Vulcan.  The BE-4 is an innovative design that uses methane (liquefied natural gas) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as propellant.    ULA said this spring, however, that it is also considering a traditional LOX/kerosene engine being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne, the AR1, and will make a choice between them next year. Blue Origin is headquartered in Kent, Washington and Sacramento-based Aerojet Rocketdyne has a major facility in Redmond, Washington.  Aerojet Rocketdyne is trying to buy ULA, adding further complexity to the outlook for the U.S. launch services market.

ULA and Blue Origin said last fall that the BE-4 engine is fully funded and no government funds are required, although ULA President Tory Bruno said this spring that he certainly would not turn down government help.   Aerojet Rocketdyne has indicated that it does need government funds.   The compromise version of the NDAA authorizes $184.4 million.

The NDAA is an authorization, not appropriations, bill, so its funding levels only are recommendations.   Democrats still want a grand deal on replacing sequestration, and not only for defense, but for domestic priorities as well.  They object to a maneuver Republicans are using for FY2016 defense spending by putting money into an off-budget account, Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), to get around the existing budget caps.  McCain and Thornberry argue that since the NDAA is only an authorization bill, that debate should not derail this bill.   SASC ranking Democrat Jack Reed (D-RI), said at the press conference today, however, that he would oppose the bill on those grounds.

U.S., China Hold First Civil Space Dialogue Meeting - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2015 (Updated: 30-Sep-2015 04:59 AM)

UPDATED September 30, 2015 with information about NASA's participation.

Details are scant, but the State Department announced that the first meeting of the U.S.-China Dialogue on Civil Space Cooperation was held today (September 28, 2015) in Beijing. 

In a media note, the State Department said the meeting "launches a new initiative to enhance cooperation between the two countries and provide better transparency on a variety of space related topics."  Among the topics discussed today were the countries' respective space policies, space debris and the long term sustainability of outer space activities, and ways to cooperate on civil Earth observation activities, space sciences, space weather, and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).  

Another meeting will be held in Washington, D.C. in 2016.

The meeting was chaired by the State Department and the China National Space Administration.   The media note did not identify which U.S. government agencies participated, but NASA spokesman Allard Beutel confirmed via email on September 29 that NASA was one of the participants.

The decision to inaugurate this "Dialogue" was announced in June following the seventh round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.  Chinese President Xi Jinping just visited the United States, with a White House meeting with President Obama on September 25.  The State Department's statement today did not mention Xi's visit, however, and this meeting was in Beijing, not Washington.

NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are prohibited by law from engaging with China on bilateral space activities unless they get advance approval from Congress.

This article will be updated if more information becomes available.

Senate Advances CR; Shutdown Fears All But Over -- For Now

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2015 (Updated: 28-Sep-2015 08:51 PM)

The Senate advanced a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through December 11, 2015 today, all but ending fears of a government shutdown on October 1.  House Speaker John Boehner's surprise announcement on Friday that he is stepping down sharply diminished the chances of an October 1 shutdown, but may make a December shutdown instead more likely.

By a vote of 77-19, the Senate agreed to let the CR move forward.  A final vote is expected tomorrow.   It is a "clean" bill without a policy rider sought by some ultra-conservative Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood. 

Assuming the Senate approves the bill tomorrow, it will go to the House where the betting today is that it will pass.  Now that he has announced his departure on October 30,  Boehner is more free to focus on his goal of keeping the government operating rather than negotiating with the right-wing of his party that vowed not to vote for any bill that did not defund Planned Parenthood. 

Boehner and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), have been saying all year that they will not permit another government shutdown like the one in 2013.  In that case, Tea Party Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) refused to agree to a bill that did not repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  After 16 days, Boehner decided to reopen the government by going against that wing of his party and using Democratic votes to pass the bill.   It is widely expected that he will do the same when this Senate bill reaches the House tomorrow or Wednesday.  

Congress must pass an appropriations bill by midnight Wednesday, the last day of FY2015, in order for the government to open for business on Thursday, the first day of FY2016.

The bill has not passed yet, however, and it is unwise to heave a sigh of relief until it does.  Even then, it may be short-lived.   Boehner is leaving on October 30 and a new Speaker will have to deal with the same forces in the Republican party to get appropriations passed for the rest of the fiscal year.  House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) formally announced his candidacy for Speaker today and many consider him the odds-on favorite, but Tea Party challengers are expected.

Whoever wins, the issues are likely to remain the same, so this is just kicking the can down the road.  For those worried about whether the government will be open on Thursday, however, it is good news.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 28-October 2, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Sep-2015 (Updated: 26-Sep-2015 06:03 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 28-October 2, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

This is it!   The week when FY2016 begins -- ready or not.   The House and Senate have until Wednesday, September 30, at midnight to pass, and for the President to sign, a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open.   House Speaker John Boehner's surprising announcement on Friday that he will resign as Speaker and from his House seat on October 30 is widely expected to make it easier to get a CR in place.  He can worry less about placating the right wing conservatives in his party who are refusing to vote for a CR unless it defunds Planned Parenthood and use Democratic votes to get the CR through the House.   While that is good news in the short term, the CR is only expected to last through December, so the proverbial can is just being kicked down the road into the lap of whoever becomes the next Speaker.  But it's best to take one crisis at a time and perhaps the country will be able to get through this one less painfully than expected.  But it's never over till the fat lady sings.  Predicting what Congress will do is a risky undertaking, as Boehner's announcement proves.

The Senate is expected to pass a clean CR (without any policy riders like defunding Planned Parenthood) early in the week.  It is using the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Office of Inspection Accountability Act (H.R. 719) as the legislative vehicle for the CR.  A cloture motion is expected on Monday at 5:30 pm ET.  (Congress often uses an unrelated bill that is already through most of the legislative process as a vehicle for a CR or omnibus appropriations since it speeds things up.)

Amidst all the appropriations drama, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on astrobiology on Tuesday.  It originally was scheduled for June 23, but postponed when the House recessed to allow members to attend the funerals in Charleston, S.C. after the mass shooting there.

As if Washington politics isn't exciting enough, NASA apparently has something intriguing of its own to announce on Monday.  It's not saying exactly what, but at 11:30 am ET there will be a press conference where a "Mars mystery" will be solved.   Lots of speculation on Twitter and elsewhere as to what it will be, but we won't spoil the surprise.

Speaking of Mars, another BIG EVENT this week will be the theater release of The Martian on October 2.  In the unlikely event you haven't heard about the movie, based on the book by Andy Weir, it's about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars.   NASA has been going all out to advertise the film and a panel discussion at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Thursday -- So You Want to be a Martian -- includes two of the actors in the film, Mackenzie Davis and Chiwetel Ejiofor.   KSC Director Bob Cabana, who is also on the panel, clearly is hoping that Congress does, in fact, pass that CR so KSC will be open for business that day (October 1).

Those and other events we know about as of Saturday afternoon are listed below.   Check back throughout the week for updates on the calendar on the right side of our main page.

Sunday-Friday, September 27-October 2

Monday-Tuesday, September 28-29

Tuesday, September 29

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 29-30

Thursday, October 1

Friday, October 2

  • Movie "The Martian" theatrical release, check local listings

House Speaker John Boehner to Resign from Congress At End of October

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2015 (Updated: 25-Sep-2015 11:42 AM)

House Speaker John Boehner told his Republican conference this morning that he will resign his Speakership and his seat in Congress on October 30, 2015.

The House has been girding for battle on the FY2016 appropriations bills pitting those whose primary interest is keeping the government operating against those determined to end government funding of Planned Parenthood.   The most conservative wing of the Republican party in the House has sent strong indications that they plan to try to remove Boehner as Speaker this fall because they do not think he fights strongly enough for their causes, such as defunding Planned Parenthood. 

Boehner, a Catholic and former altar boy, was visibly moved by the visit of Pope Francis yesterday.  He and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), also a Catholic, were the ones who invited the Pope to address a joint session of Congress, the first Pope to accept such an invitation.   The Pope's visit fulfilled one of Boehner's lifelong dreams according to multiple accounts.

One of the Pope's messages to Congress was unity: "Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.  Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. .... Legislative activity is always based on the care for the people.  To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you."

The Hill newspaper quotes a Boehner aide as saying that Boehner feels his primary role in Congress is to protect the institution and "as we saw yesterday with the Holy Father, it is the one thing that unites and inspires us all."  The aide added that Boehner felt a prolonged battle over his leadership "would do irreparable damage to the institution" and he therefore will resign "for the good of the Republican conference and the institution."   The aide also said that Boehner planned to retire last year, but stayed after his second-in-command, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), lost his seat in a primary race.

Cantor was succeeded as Majority Leader by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).  Speculation as to who will replace Boehner as Speaker in these initial hours focuses on McCarthy.  He issued a statement saying "It takes profound humility to step down from a position of power, and John's depth of character is unmatched. ... Now is the time for our conference to focus on healing and unifying to face the challenges ahead and always do what is best for the American people."

From a space policy standpoint, McCarthy represents the district that includes Edwards Air Force Base and the Mojave Air & Space Port.   He has been actively involved in commercial space issues and is the lead sponsor of H.R. 2262, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, which passed the House on May 21.   It is far too early, of course, to assume that he will become Speaker or that space policy will have greater visibility in the House if he is.

Boehner's announcement may be good news for those who want to avoid a government shutdown next week because he may be more willing to pass a clean Continuing Resolution (CR) using Democratic votes to get the needed 218 votes even though many of his own members will vote against it.  He and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have vowed since the beginning of the year that they will not allow another shutdown like the one in 2013, and both have been fighting the most conservative wings of their parties that do not view a government shutdown as a negative.   McConnell is going through a process in the Senate right now that many expect will ultimately lead to the Senate passing a clean CR (without any policy riders such as defunding Planned Parenthood).

It is always risky to try and predict what Congress will do, however, as Boehner's surprise announcement this morning proves.

China Debuts Second New Small Rocket, Long March 11

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2015 (Updated: 25-Sep-2015 09:18 AM)

China debuted the Long March 11 rocket last night Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), just days after the first flight of another new rocket, Long March 6.   Long March 11 is solid-fueled, while Long March 6 is liquid.  Both are designed to launch microsatellites and the launch yesterday placed four of them in orbit, three of which will demonstrate formation flying.

China's official news agency Xinhua announced that the launch of Long March 11, or Chang Zheng-11 (CZ-11), took place from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center near Chengdu at 9:41 am today, September 25, China Standard Time (9:41 pm yesterday EDT).

Xinhua said little about the payloads other than that they were four microsatellites.   The website has an extensive description of three of them that reportedly will demonstrate formation flying to "form a 150-m long solar coronagraph to study the Sun's faint corona closer to the solar rim" than before.  Called Tianwang-1A, -1B and -1C, they were designed by a consortium of companies from China, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden.  The website reports that the fourth microsatellite is named Pujian-1, but no details of its mission were provided.

The launch comes just five days after the maiden launch of Long March 6, which Xinhua heralded as the first of a new generation of Chinese liquid-fueled rockets using environmentally-friendly propellant.  That rocket launches from a different space launch center, Taiyuan, near Bejiing. 

China also has the Kuaizhou-1 (KZ-1) rocket, with three solid-fuel stages and a liquid-fueled fourth stage (which is integrated with the satellite), designed to launch small satellites from Jiuquan.

Long March 6, Long March 11 and KZ-1 are all described as rapid-response launch vehicles for small satellites. KZ-1 was designed by the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC), while Long March 6 and Long March 11 were designed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT).   There are technical differences among the rocket types that offer advantages or disadvantages depending on the mission, but some see competition between CASIC and CALT as the primary explanation for why there are two solid-fueled rockets in the same class.   Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan's Space Report noted in a tweet that CALT has built liquid fueled rockets until now-- Long March 11 is its first solid-fueled rocket.

Panel: Seamless Transition to Commercial LEO Space Station Needed

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Sep-2015 (Updated: 22-Sep-2015 09:00 PM)

A panel of experts convened by the Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the Alliance for Space Development (ASD) today made the case for accelerating the emergence of commercial space stations and other facilities in low Earth orbit (LEO) to avoid another gap in human spaceflight as International Space Station (ISS) operations wrap up in the next decade.  NASA should help by stating what its requirements will be post-ISS, thereby encouraging other potential customers to follow suit and motivating companies to build facilities to meet those needs.

Charles Miller, President of NexGen Space LLC, and Mike Gold, Director of DC Operations and Business Growth for Bigelow Aerospace, insisted NASA needs to do more to make commercial LEO activities a reality.  Miller is a former NASA senior advisor for commercial space.  Bigelow is building inflatable space modules, one of which will be attached to the ISS late this year or early next as a test.  (It is scheduled to be taken to the ISS on the next SpaceX cargo mission, SpX-8. A date for that launch has not been announced as SpaceX recovers from the failure of SpX-7 in June.)

Miller stressed that a "seamless, low-risk transition" from ISS to commercial space stations is critical, noting that current plans to operate ISS extend only to 2024, which is not that far away.  He listed four markets (not including NASA) for LEO services -- microgravity research, propellant transfer, transportation node, and on-orbit assembly.  Of those, he counted microgravity research as the most speculative.  The other three have much clearer markets, he contended:  the planned United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket with its ACES upper stage is the harbinger of a new paradigm in launch that will eventually lead to commercial propellant depots in LEO; the use of the ISS for deploying nanosatelites is a precursor of the transportation node concept; and the advantages of assembling modular geostationary (GEO) satellites in LEO and then moving them to GEO, instead of subjecting the assembled satellite to the stresses of launch, will stimulate an on-orbit assembly business.

Bigelow launched two test inflatable modules, Genesis I and Gensis II, a decade ago using converted Russian ICBMs, Gold recounted.  Next is the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that will be attached to ISS and allow astronauts to enter one of these modules for the first time.   NASA launched the first inflatable at the beginning of the Space Age -- the Echo communications relay satellite -- and continued work under the TransHab program, but ultimately abandoned the concept.  Millionaire Robert Bigelow, owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, is investing his own money ($500 million according to Gold), to turn the concept into reality, with the goal of using such modules not just in LEO, but perhaps as habitats on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

One question is what federal agency would regulate in-space activities.  Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires governments to supervise space activities by their non-government entities, but no U.S. government agency has been assigned that responsibility.  Gold called it a "regulatory gap."   Steph Earle of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) advocated for his office to be given that role.  Stressing that his office currently licenses only launch and reentry, not on-orbit activities, he said they are supportive of the concept because it is consistent with the 2010 National Space Policy.  

Miller disagreed that FAA/AST is the appropriate regulatory body, saying that transportation is part of commercial LEO activities, but much more is involved and perhaps the Department of Commerce should have a role, perhaps by expanding NOAA's regulatory responsibilities (it licenses commercial remote sensing satellites).  

FAA/AST was created in the early 1980s partially in response to the difficulties encountered by early commercial space launch companies, notably Space Services Inc. with its Conestoga rocket, because it had to get approvals from 16 different agencies to launch one rocket.  Carissa Christensen, Managing Partner of The Tauri Group, emphasized that it would not be cost-effective to go back to having multiple agencies in charge of regulating commercial space endeavors.  She further cautioned that the real barriers to successful commercialization of LEO, not to mention the Moon and Mars, are not regulatory, but economic:  "there is a thin line between pursuing a visionary dream and tilting at windmills."

Gold and Miller see NASA as holding the key.   Mr. Bigelow is putting in a "vast" amount of his own money, but NASA needs to "act like a smart customer" and "play some role as a catalyst" to get other governments and customers to sign up, Gold said.  He worries that there will be a "human platform gap" if decisions are not made soon where "the only station we will have is China's."   Miller was even more adamant: "NASA is actually hurting the industry by not being willing to state how much they're willing to buy" even though its need for LEO facilities "never goes away."  He advocated a "COTS-like partnership to stimulate" activities and markets, a reference to NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) public private partnership that led to the SpaceX and Orbital ATK commercial cargo systems that resupply the ISS.

The panel's bottom line was that there are many issues to be solved before LEO commercialization is a reality, from market demand (including NASA's) to regulatory oversight, but the most critical is to avoid a gap between the end of the ISS program and whatever commercial LEO facilities will follow.

NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier has, in fact, been raising similar concerns in testimony to Congress and elsewhere.  NASA also held a LEO commercialization workshop in December 2014, but specifics on NASA's needs have not been publicly identified.  One factor is when ISS operations will end, something that has not been determined.  The Obama Administration is committed to at least 2024, but ISS advocates anticipate it will continue at least until 2028 -- its 30th anniversary.