Military / National Security News
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today approved the nominations of Anthony Foxx to be Secretary of Transportation and Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce.
The votes were unanimous. Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) said both were "excellent nominees" with "strong bipartisan support" and urged his colleagues to quickly schedule a floor vote to confirm them.
Both departments play important roles in space policy. The Department of Transportation is home to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). AST facilitates and regulates the commercial space launch business.
The Department of Commerce is the parent of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates the nation's weather satellites and licenses commercial remote sensing satellites, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees federal government use of spectrum. It also is in charge of exports of dual use items and is working with the State Department in the effort to transition commercial satellites from the State Department's Munitions List and its International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to the Commerce Department's less strict Commerce Control List. The Secretary of Commerce position has been vacant for a year. Deputy Secretary Rebecca Blank was serving as acting Secretary, but she recently left the Administration to become Chancellor of the Unviersity of Wisconsin-Madison.
Peter Marquez, well known and highly regarded in Washington space policy circles, is joining asteroid mining company Planetary Resources, Inc.
Marquez was a national security space policy analyst in the Department of Defense when, in 2007, he moved to President George W. Bush's National Security Council (NSC) as Director of Space Policy. He remained at the NSC when Barack Obama became President and spearheaded the efffort to produce a new National Space Policy just 17 months after Obama took office - lightning fast in Washington terms. He left the Obama White House in November 2010 and joined Orbital Sciences Corp. as Vice President of Strategy and Planning. He also is a Fellow of the George C. Marshall Institute. He is a frequent participant in panel discussions around town on a wide range of space policy issues.
Planetary Resources is an entrepreneurial company that wants to mine asteroids and recently started a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $1 million to help launch a very small space telescope. The company said Marquez will "engage with key U.S. government entities on matters of strategic domestic and global interest" to help the company achieve its goals.
The following space policy events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
Monday, June 10
Tuesday, June 11
Tuesday-Friday, June 11-14
Wednesday, June 12
Wednesday-Friday, June 12-14
Thursday, June 13
Friday, June 14
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday demanding information on a Chinese rocket launch last month that some press reports alleged was a test of an antisatellite (ASAT) system.
Forbes chairs the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. In the June 3 letter, Forbes says that the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed the May 13, 2013 launch of a Chinese missile "nearly to geosynchronous orbit" and quotes Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as characterizing it as the world's highest suborbital launch since 1976 and the highest altitude reached by a Chinese suborbital rocket.
McDowell is author of the highly respected Jonathan's Space Report (JSR). His May 21, 2013 JSR quotes a Department of Defense (DOD) source as using the "nearly to geosynchronous orbit" phrase and does not present his own estimate of the rocket's highest point (apogee). In fact, he cautions that if DOD "only tracked it early in flight with resulting large apogee uncertainties, they may be prone to getting the answer they expected." He does note that it would be the highest suborbital launch since Gravity Probe A in 1976 and possibly since Blue Scout Jr O-2 in 1961, but does not compare it to other Chinese suborbital launches. He concludes that "It is indeed possible that this launch was to qualify a new launch vehicle variant intended to carry a high altitude ASAT payload -- but there's no evidence that such a payload was carried on this particular flight." Absent more information from DOD or China "It is hard to draw firm conclusions," he says.
Getting more information is exactly what Forbes wants to do. His letter asks Hagel to brief him with the answers to six questions:
The letter did not set a deadline for the requested briefing.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article cited McDowell as saying that if the Chinese rocket "did reach that altitude, it would be the highest suborbital launch since Gravity Probe A in 1976." McDowell's exact words in his May 21 JSR are: "This is the highest altitude suborbital flight since Gravity Probe A in 1976, and possibly since Blue Scout Jr O-2 in 1961." We have modifed the text in this article accordingly because, in a June 5 email to this editor, McDowell clarifies that if the rocket reached 10,000 kilometers, the highest altitude mentioned by the Chinese (where they said they conducted a barium release for scientific purposes), it might be the highest since Gravity Probe A in 1976. However, if it reached "nearly to geosynchronous Earth orbit" as DOD claims, it might be the highest since 1961 although the phrase "nearly GEO" is difficult to interpret. Geosynchronous orbit itself is at 35,780 kilometers, but "nearly" is a subjective term.
UPDATE: June 6, 2013, 8:40 am ET: HAC-D made quick work of its markup on June 5, approving the draft by unanimous consent in about an hour. Full committee markup has not yet been scheduled. HASC took much longer, beginning its markup at 10:00 am on June 5 and finishing at 2:14 am June 6.
ORIGINAL STORY: June 4, 2013: Yesterday the House committee that authorizes defense programs and recommends funding levels released its draft bill for FY2014. Today it's the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee's (HAC-D's) turn. Both will markup their bills tomorrow, June 5.
Appropriators are the ones who actually decide on how much money federal government departments and agencies get to spend. Authorizers set policy and recommend funding levels, but appropriators are not bound to follow those funding recommendations.
Yesterday, the authorizing House Armed Services Committee (HASC) recommended $526.6 billion for DOD's base budget plus $85.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO, e.g. the war in the Afghanistan). The President's request is $526.6 billion for the base budget and $79.4 billion for OCO.
HAC-D would provide the same amount of funding for OCO as HASC ($85.8 billion) plus $512.5 billion for "non-war" spending, a term that apparently refers to a different subset of DOD funding than the base budget because HAC-D says that is $3.4 billion less than the President's request. The committee's press release goes on to say the non-war spending level is $5.1 billion less than the FY2013 enacted level or $28.1 billion more than the enacted level after it is adjusted for sequestration.
The FY2014 President's request, HASC and HAC-D funding levels all ignore sequestration even though no progress has been made to reverse it. Sequestration, which requires significant cuts to federal spending through FY2021, is part of the 2011 Budget Control Act and therefore is the law of the land.
The HAC-D markup tomorrow begins at 11:00 am ET, but is closed to the public. The HASC markup is open and will be webcast on the committee's website beginning at 10:00 am ET.
House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) has released the text of the draft FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) his committee will markup on Wednesday. Among the provisions in the 426-page bill, H.R.1960, is one that requires the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to answer questions about why DOD leases communications satellite services from certain countries subject to U.S. sanctions.
At a hearing before HASC's Strategic Forces subcommittee in April, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy Doug Loverro revealed that DOD is leasing services on a Chinese-owned communications satellite. The revelation came as a surprise considering that many House Republicans are opposed to civilian space cooperation with China and the law prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any money in connection with China unless certain conditions are met. No similar restrictions have been placed on DOD, however. At least not yet.
Noting that 40 percent of DOD's satellite communications are provided through commercial satellites, the draft bill requires the SecDef to explain why DOD uses satellite services from "certain foreign providers." The bill identifies those as countries subject to sanctions and laws such as section 1261(c)(2) of the FY2013 NDAA and the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA). "While the committee has received some information from the Department ... the responses to straight-forward questions have changed over time. The committee is disappointed by the Department's lack of clarity ... and ... concerned that the Department has not established effective management controls over commercial satellite leases, and in particular, ones regarding certain foreign providers."
Among the topics the SecDef is required to address is why "other commercial or U.S. Government providers, including the Operationally Responsive Space office, were not available or tasked to fill the requirement." The fate of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office itself was not addressed in either the draft bill or a summary of its main provisions released by HASC today. Congress rejected DOD's proposal to terminate ORS last year, but the Air Force has again proposed terminating it this year. In the material released today, it does not appear that HASC is changing any of the funding requests for DOD space activities.
On other commercial space matters, the summary of main provisions says that the bill requires DOD to "develop a strategy to lower the cost, through multi-year procurement, of commercial satellite services." Separately it "reforms DoD's business process with commercial satellite companies ensuring that strategic competitors do not gain inadvertent access to vital systems or information." Details on what the committee has in mind on those two fronts hopefully will be in the report to accompany the bill, which was not released today.
Overall, the bill would provide $552.1 billion for national defense (of which $526.6 billion is for the core DOD budget) plus $85.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. the war in Afghanistan). The $85.8 billion is $5.1 billion more than the President's request. McKeon said the funding figures are consistent with the House-passed budget resolution, but Jeremy Herb, writing for the The Hill newspaper, reports that the $526.6 billion for the core DOD budget is $52 billion above the spending cap in the 2011 Budget Control Act that created sequestration. "If the budget stays over the caps and sequester is not reversed, the Pentagon would face another across-the-board cut," Herb says.
Full committee markup begins at 10:00 am ET on Wednesday and will be webcast on the committee's website.
The Air Force wants input from industry about its ongoing National Security Space Launch Assessment. But hurry! Comments are due in three weeks.
Specifically, the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space is seeking "views and perspectives to inform an ongoing strategic National Security Space Launch Assessment" by getting answers to four questions:
The announcement was published in today's Federal Register. Any member of the public may comment and information is for U.S. Government use only and will not be shared with external parties.
Responses, preferably in electronic form, are due by June 21, 2013 to:
Lt, Col. Robert Long
UPDATE, May 27: Planetary Resources announced a second event on Wednesday, and NASA will hold a media telecon on Thursday on Curiosity's radiation findings.
The following events may be of interest in the next two weeks. Congress is in recess for the Memorial Day holiday this coming week (May 27-31), but will be back in action the week of June 3.
Tuesday, May 28
Wednesday, May 29
Wednesday-Friday, May 29-31
Thursday, May 30
Monday-Wednesday, June 3-5
Tuesday, June 4
Wednesday, June 5
Iran's FARS news agency is reporting that the country is getting ready to launch a satellite, Sharif Sat, the first of six planned for launch this year.
Bob Christy of Zarya.info tweeted (@Zarya_info) that the launch could come as soon as June 2 or June 3.
FARS said the satellite was built by Sharif University engineers and experts and will take "high-resolution RGB digital pictures" from a 250 kilometer orbit.
The other Iranian satellites scheduled for launch this year are Fajr, Tolou, Zafar, A-Test, and Mesbah, FARS reported. The Iranian year began on March 21.
The following space policy events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
Among the highlights of the coming week are congressional hearings on NASA and NOAA and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee markups of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
A House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on Next Steps in Human Exploration of Space that seems focused on the new asteroid retrieval mission proposed in NASA's FY2014 budget request.
Another House SS&T subcommittee will hold a hearing on Thursday on how to restore U.S. leadership in weather forecasting, a NOAA responsibility, though it is hard to tell how much of that will focus on weather satellites rather than computer models. Later that morning the Senate Commerce committee will hold its nomination hearing for Penny Pritzker to be the new Secretary of Commerce. The Department of Commerce is NOAA's parent agency and it also is one of the two cabinet level departments responsible for export controls (State Department is the other), so is a critical participant in implementing the export control reforms required under last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Rumors were rampant that the draft regulations for reforming satellite export controls would be published in the Federal Register last week, but that did not happen; perhaps they will be issued this week. That is just one step in the lengthy regulatory process that many hope will result in commercial satellites no longer being subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) under the State Department's Munitions List.
All of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittees will markup their respective portions of the FY2014 NDAA this week. The Strategic Forces subcommittee, which is responsible for most military space programs, will hold its markup on Wednesday. Full committee markup is scheduled for June 5. (The Senate Armed Services Committee markups are scheduled for June 11-12.)
Monday, May 20
Monday-Wednesday, May 20-22
Monday-Friday, May 20-24
Tuesday, May 21
Wednesday, May 22
Thursday, May 23
Thursday-Monday, May 23-27