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Military / National Security News

What's Happening in Space Policy March 27-31, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Mar-2017 (Updated: 26-Mar-2017 12:57 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 27-31, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

Before we get started on what's coming up, in case you missed it, yesterday President Trump used his Weekly Address to talk about NASA.  He signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act into law earlier in the week and the roughly 5 minute video continues the theme of expressing his admiration for NASA while sharing no information on his plans for the agency.  Apollo, Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are featured. JWST is, in fact, the only future program mentioned even though the President says "the future belongs to us."  He is speaking generically at that point, though, not about the space program specifically.  Nothing about the International Station Station even though there's footage from the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.  A space shuttle launch is shown, but nothing about SLS or any other launch vehicles.  The only science other than astrophysics that makes it into the video requires the viewer to be sufficiently in-the-know to recognize the JPL jubilation at Curiosity's successful landing on Mars.  Still, Presidents don't often talk about the space program in their Weekly Addresses or anywhere else, so it's worth a look. This was done the day after the Republican Obamacare repeal effort failed, so perhaps he was looking for some good news to convey.  He says at the end that "if Americans can achieve these things, there is no problem we cannot solve."

Onward.  This coming week is another space policy extravaganza.   Starting with national security space, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on the nomination of former Rep. Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force.  Trump announced her nomination back in January, but it has taken this long for all the paperwork to get to the committee. None of the service secretaries are in place right now.  The nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because they could not disentangle themselves from their business interests.  Wilson's hearing is Thursday morning.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, a HASC subcommittee will hold a joint hearing with a House Homeland Security subcommittee on "Threats to Space Assets and Implications for Homeland Security," certainly an interesting topic.  Witnesses are the former commandant of the Coast Guard (Adm. Thad Allen), the former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Joseph Nimmich), and the former commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command (Gen. William Shelton).  That's on Wednesday afternoon.  Allen is on the GPS Advisory Board, so that surely will be one of the topics.  GPS -- where would we all be without it?

On the civil space side, this is Space Science Week at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  All five of the standing committees that deal with space meet individually and jointly Tuesday-Thursday and there is a public lecture on Wednesday evening.   At the public lecture, JPL's Kevin Hand will talk about the Search for Life in Oceans Beyond Earth.  The lecture and the other Space Science Week events will take place at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue (not at the Keck Center on 5th Street).

Space law is on the docket this week, too. The Legal Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space begins its annual two-week meeting in Vienna, Austria.  The first day features a space law symposium sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL).  Closer to home, Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is holding an afternoon symposium on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.   Henry Hetrzfeld (GWU), Steve Mirmina (NASA), Pamela Meredith (American Univ.), Ray Bender (independent arbitrator and mediator), Courtney Bailey (NASA) and Pete Hays (DOD PDSA staff) are the speakers.  SAIS doesn't often weigh in on space law or space policy issues.  Space law does seem to be in vogue these days, spurred by the anniversary and the innovative ideas commercial companies are espousing for space exploration and utilization and associated legal issues.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets, more briefly than usual, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.  Two of its committees meet earlier in the week, including Human Exploration and Operations (HEO).  NAC advises the NASA Administrator and a new Administrator has not yet been nominated.  Robert Lightfoot is Acting Administrator.  Gen. Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.) is the new Chair of NAC, succeeding Ken Bowersox, who served as Acting Chair after Steve Squyres stepped down last April.  Bowersox remains on NAC and resumes his position as chair of the HEO committee.  Lyles was an ex officio member of NAC for many years because he chaired the National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB).  He completed his two terms as ASEB chair last year and now will continue advising NASA in this new capacity.  Public sessions of the NAC meetings are useful for catching up on NASA programs and the issues NASA managers are facing.  Anyone can listen in by telecon and watch via WebEx.  

We'll stop there because this is getting so long, but there are MANY other really interesting meetings on tap this week.

All the 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.  In particular we are awaiting word on when the OA-7 cargo mission to the International Space Station will launch.  The launch, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, has been delayed three times due to technical problems with one thing or another.  When a new launch date is announced, we'll post it.

Monday, March 27

Monday, March 27 - Friday, April 7

Tuesday, March 28

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 28-29

Tuesday-Thursday, March 28-30

Wednesday, March 29

Wednesday-Friday, March 29-31

Thursday, March 30

Thursday-Friday, March 30-31

What's Happening in Space Policy March 19-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Mar-2017 (Updated: 19-Mar-2017 03:41 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 19-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's another one of those super-busy weeks, especially Wednesday.  Lots of action is in store inside Washington, outside Washington, and in Earth orbit.

Two are happening today (Sunday).  First is a Town Hall meeting at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LSPC) near Houston that is discussing the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander, a topic expected to be of congressional interest during debate on the FY2018 budget request. President Trump's budget blueprint specifically says it does NOT fund the lander, only the orbiter/flyby Europa Clipper. Second is the return to Earth of SpaceX's CRS-10 Dragon spacecraft.  It took about 5,500 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) last month and is returning 5,400 pounds of results from scientific experiments and other items needed back on Earth.  Dragon is the only one of the four cargo spacecraft that service ISS that was designed to survive reentry (since SpaceX designed it from the beginning to support crews).

Dragon's return is just one part of a busy time on the ISS.  Another cargo mission, Orbital ATK's OA-7, is scheduled for launch on either Thursday or Friday (the exact date is TBD depending on availability of the Eastern Test Range from which the launch will take place aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V).  At the same time, astronauts on the U.S. segment of the ISS are gearing up for a series of three spacewalks.  The first is on Friday.  NASA will hold a news conference on Wednesday at Johnson Space Center to explain what they will be doing.  NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will all take part in the spacewalks.  The other two are on April 2 and April 7.

The Europa lander Town Hall mentioned above is just the start of the week-long LPSC conference at The Woodlands, just outside Houston.  LPSC is the premier conference where planetary scientists gather to present the results of their research and talk about upcoming missions.  Unfortunately, it looks like there are no webcasts, so one must be there in person to hear about all the new findings and discoveries.  [There is a notice on the conference's website warning that no live streaming of presentations is permitted.]  NASA headquarters representatives will hold their own Town Hall meeting on Monday and NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group's (VEXAG's) Town Hall is on Thursday.

Back in Washington, brevity requires picking just two events to highlight, both among those taking place on Wednesday.  First, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) will hold a day-long symposium on "Space Security:  Issues for the New Administration."  It has a terrific lineup of speakers from CSIS, PSSI, the U.S. military, Congress, academia (U.S. and Japan), the Japanese and French governments, the European Space Agency, industry, non-profits and FFRDCs. The four main topics are space crisis dynamics, cooperation in space and missile defense, future of space launch, and space situational awareness and space traffic management.   Luckily, this event WILL be livestreamed so people everywhere can benefit. 

Second, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis gets his first chance in his new position to publicly brief the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on the state of U.S. military readiness and DOD's budget requirements.   Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC) will also testify.  Not sure how much, if any, of the discussion will be about space activities, but it's a great way to get the lay of the land from their perspectives. The committee typically webcasts its hearings on its website.

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

Sunday, March 19

Monday, March 20

Monday-Friday, March 20-24

Tuesday, March 21

Wednesday, March 22

Thursday, March 23

  • VEXAG Town Hall meeting at LPSC, The Woodlands, TX, "lunchtime"
  • Two OA-7 Pre-Launch Briefings, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 1:00 pm ET (What's on Board) and 4:00 pm ET (Mission Status), broadcast on NASA TV (could take place a day earlier if the launch date moves up a day)
  • [The OA-7 launch could take place today, but is currently scheduled for tomorrow]

Friday, March 24

  • ISS Spacewalk (1st of 3, Kimbrough and Pesquet), Earth orbit, 7:00 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET)
  • Launch of Orbital ATK OA-7 Cargo Mission to ISS, Cape Canaveral, FL, 9:00 pm ET (launch could move forward one day to March 23)  NASA TV launch coverage begins 8:00 pm ET, post-launch coverage begins at 10:30 pm ET

What's Happening in Space Policy March 13-17, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Mar-2017 (Updated: 12-Mar-2017 12:29 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 13-17, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session (the Senate for only the first half of the week).

During the Week

After last week's meeting extravaganza (stay tuned for more SpacePolicyOnline.com stories), this week is a welcome respite.  As of this morning (Sunday), at least, we are not aware of any space-related congressional hearings or major space conferences in the United States. [UPDATE: We forgot to mention that the White House is expected to release its FY2018 Budget Blueprint on Thursday.  We do not have a time or place for that, though.  We'll add it to our "Events of Interest" list when we do.]

There are two especially interesting seminars, though, both in Washington, DC.  First, a word of warning to anyone in DC or planning to come here.  Mother Nature decided to save the winter weather till now and there is a storm that could bring a significant snowfall Monday night into Tuesday.  The forecasters are hedging their bets -- this area is notoriously tough to forecast because the rain/snow line often goes right through here so it's hard to know which we'll get until the last minute -- but even a small amount of snow (or worse, ice) could snarl things.  If you plan on attending any events in DC early this week, check first to make certain they are taking place.

That said, on Tuesday, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) and the University of Arizona are holding an afternoon discussion on "Congested, Contested, and Competitive: The Future of Security and Commerce in Space."  Among the speakers are Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), DOD space policy advisor Josef Koller, FAA/AST Associate Administrator George Nield, and Lockheed Martin's Robie Samanta Roy. That's at the Army & Navy Club on 17th Street, NW (not to be confused with the Army Navy Country Club across the river in Arlington, VA where NDIA is holding a breakfast meeting featuring Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein on Thursday). 

On Wednesday, the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) is holding a lunchtime meeting on Capitol Hill (2325 Rayburn) on "Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Reform: How Changes Can Enable Growth in the U.S. Commercial Satellite Industry."  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) and Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), the chairman and top Democrat, respectively, on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, will speak along with representatives of Planet and DigitalGlobe.  Be sure to RSVP in advance (light refreshments will be served). 

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, March 13

Monday-Tuesday, March 13-14

Tuesday, March 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 14-15

Wednesday, March 15

Thursday, March 16

What's Happening in Space Policy March 6-10, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Mar-2017 (Updated: 05-Mar-2017 04:35 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 6-10, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

Hang onto your hats!  It's going to be quite a week.  From two overlapping conferences (Satellite 2017 and the AAS Goddard Memorial Symposium) in Washington to the first meeting of a new National Academies committee on planetary protection policy to scheduled House floor action on two important pieces of legislation to the annual "Space Prom" and many other events in between, we'll barely have time to catch our breaths.

Starting on Capitol Hill, the House has scheduled floor action -- again -- on the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 (S. 442).  At this point last Sunday, it was included on the House Majority Leader's list of legislation to be considered under suspension of the rules the next day.  Later, however, it was pulled from the list. There are varying viewpoints on why.  It is back on the list now for a vote on Tuesday.  We're not going to say it "will" come up for a vote, only that it is on the schedule at the moment.

The FY2017 defense appropriations bill is also on the floor schedule for debate to begin on Wednesday "subject to a rule being granted."  That one will be debated under regular order, which requires a rule delineating what amendments are in order and how much time is allocated for debate, for example.  The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday at 5:00 pm ET to write that rule.  Defense appropriations is one of the 12 regular appropriations bills Congress is supposed to pass each year.  None of the 12 cleared Congress last year.  Government agencies are operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) basically at their FY2016 levels until April 28.  Congress must pass new legislation before then to keep them operating.  The defense bill is the first one out of the gate. The House passed a different FY2017 defense appropriations bill last year.  This new one (H.R. 1301) reflects agreement with the Senate and the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which did become law.  One space program singled out in the House Appropriations Committee's summary of the bill is that it includes funding for GPS III operational control and space segments.

Also on the Hill and also on Wednesday, the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Space Subcommittee has a hearing scheduled on "Regulating Space: Innovation, Liberty, and International Obligations."   Regulatory matters may not be everyone's cup of tea, but this hearing has a REALLY interesting set of witnesses who will lend their expertise to issues that could have a profound effect on how the private sector engages in new non-traditional activities in Earth orbit and beyond.  It's at 10:00 am ET.  The committee webcasts its hearings. 

Fortunately the committee archives the webcasts for people who can't be in multiple places at once, which is how Wednesday is shaping up.  The Satellite 2017 conference will be in full swing (it begins Monday) at the Washington Convention Center and the American Astronautical Society's Goddard Memorial Symposium will be starting at the Greenbelt Marriott in Greenbelt, MD, just outside the Beltway. 

Your SpacePolicyOnline.com editor will be at the AAS Goddard Symposium on Wednesday moderating a panel discussion in the afternoon on "The Political Environment" with a terrific panel:  Frank Morring of Aviation Week; Chris Shank, now at DOD, but who headed the NASA transition team for the Trump Administration; Tom Hammond from the House SS&T Space Subcommittee; and Nick Cummings from the Senate Commerce Committee.   Others who will be speaking at the two-day conference include NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot, AURA President Matt Mountain, and, at various points in the program, the NASA Associate Administrators heading the three mission directorates most involved in space (Bill Gerstenmaier, Thomas Zurbuchen, and Steve Jurczyk) and Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen.  AAS hasn't posted a link for a webcast of the conference, though it has livestreamed the annual conference in the past.  If we learn of one, we'll add it to the entry on our Events of Interest calendar.

Also on Wednesday a new National Academies study committee on Planetary Protection Policy Development Processes will continue its meeting, which begins Tuesday.  Some sessions are closed, but those that are open will be available by WebEx and telecon. The committee is assessing how planetary protection policy is developed domestically and internationally and whether it is responsive to, among other things, "the exploration interests of state and non-state actors."  Non-state actors include private companies, like SpaceX with its Red Dragon plans to land spacecraft on Mars.

And still on Wednesday, a symposium on "Will Collaboration or Competition Get Humans to Mars and Beyond" with a fascinating set of speakers -- established voices and completely new ones -- hosted by a group called Future Tense, which itself is a collaboration of Slate, New America and Arizona State University.  A little later, Defense One and Next Gov will hold a "cocktails and conversation" event on "Space and Satellites in the New Administration."  Both sound really interesting.  Their websites don't indicate if they will be webcast, but, if they are, hopefully they'll be archived so those of us who don't have clones can catch up later.

There are many other events (see the list below) that we can't highlight here or this would go on and on and on.  The week at last comes to a close with the National Space Club's annual Goddard Memorial Dinner -- or the Space Prom as it is affectionately known -- as usual at the Hilton Washington. There'll be a lot to talk about.

As a heads up, though we'll need a lot of rest after a week like that, unfortunately the United States returns to Daylight Saving Time next Sunday (March 12) so we'll lose an hour of sleep.

Those and other events we know about as of this 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-Tuesday, March 6-7

Monday-Wednesday, March 6-8

Monday-Thursday, March 6-9

  • Satellite 2017, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

Tuesday, March 7

Tuesday-Thursday, March 7-9

Wednesday, March 8

Thursday, March 9

Friday, March 10

What's Happening in Space Policy February 27-March 3, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Feb-2017 (Updated: 27-Feb-2017 09:03 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 27-March 3, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The week starts off tomorrow (Monday) with two important votes, one in the House and one in the Senate.

The House will vote on the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act.  The bill, S. 442, passed the Senate on February 17.   It is being brought up on the suspension calendar, which is used for non-controversial legislation, making its passage all but assured.  It then would go the President for signature.  President Trump's position on NASA is unclear.  Perhaps this legislation will give the White House an opportunity to signal its intentions.  Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not actually appropriate any funding.  The key will be if the Trump White House agrees with the overall goals as set out in the bill.  The House meets for legislative business at 2:00 pm ET, with votes postponed until 6:00 pm ET.  [UPDATE, February 27:  The bill apparently has been pulled from consideration today.]

Also on Monday, the Senate will vote on the confirmation of Wilbur Ross to be the new Secretary of Commerce and therefore in charge of NOAA.  As part of his confirmation process, he vowed that "science should be left to the scientists" and NOAA should continue to conduct climate change research and monitoring.  His nomination has been less controversial than other Trump nominees.  The vote is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET.

Trump will have an opportunity to say something about the space program when he speaks at to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night at 9:00 pm ET.  We haven't heard any rumors that any aspect of space activities will be mentioned, but one never knows.  He did have a sentence in his inaugural address that said "We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow."  But there has been nothing else from the Trump White House itself about the space program.

NASA is holding the "Planetary Science Vision 2050" Workshop Monday-Wednesday at NASA Headquarters. The purpose is to look at a longer term future than what is considered by the 10-year Decadal Surveys produced by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  The workshop will identify science goals and enabling technologies that can be implemented by the end of the 2040s to support the next phase of solar system exploration.  So many people responded that NASA is limiting in-person participation to invited panelists and oral/poster presenters.  Everyone else can participate virtually.

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, February 27

Monday-Wednesday, February 27-March 1

Tuesday, February 28

 

What's Happening in Space Policy February 20-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Feb-2017 (Updated: 22-Feb-2017 02:01 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 20-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

The week begins with a Federal holiday on Monday, Presidents' Day -- combining recognition of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22).   The House and Senate are taking the entire week off from their Washington duties and will work in their States and districts instead.  Just before it left, the Senate passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017.  The House could take it up anytime once it returns.

While things will be relatively quiet in Washington, there's a lot happening in Earth orbit.

SpaceX launched its 10th operational cargo mission (SpaceX CRS-10 or SpX-10) to the International Space Station (ISS) today on the second try (the first attempt was scrubbed on Saturday for technical reasons).  The Dragon spacecraft, full of 5,489 pounds of supplies and equipment, will arrive at the ISS on Wednesday morning about 6:00 am ET.  NASA TV will cover the arrival as astronauts use the robotic Canadarm2 to reach out and grab it so it can be attached (berthed) to a docking port.  NASA TV coverage begins at 4:30 am ET.

Russia is also launching a cargo ship to ISS this week.  The launch of Progress MS-05 is very early Wednesday morning Eastern Standard Time (12:58 am), with docking on Friday (NASA TV will cover both).  This is the first Progress launch since a December 1, 2016 launch failure.  A lot is riding on it, and not just the cargo.  Russia uses the same type of rocket to send crews to ISS so this launch needs to demonstrate that the problems have been fixed so crew launches can resume.

Meanwhile, NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) will meet at Kennedy Space Center in public session on Thursday.   The agenda includes updates on NASA's development of Exploration Systems (SLS, Orion and associated ground systems), commercial crew, and the iSS.  One can listen to the meeting via telecon (no WebEx though).  ASAP's most recent annual report expressed both praise and concern about safety at NASA.  NASA's announcement last week that it is assessing whether to put a crew on the first flight of the Space Launch System might provoke discussion, too.

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, February 20

  • Federal holiday (Presidents' Day)

Wednesday, February 22

Wednesday-Thursday, February 22-23

Thursday, February 23

Friday, February 24

 

 

SpaceX Scrubs CRS-10 Launch 13 Seconds Before Liftoff

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Feb-2017 (Updated: 18-Feb-2017 01:57 PM)

SpaceX scrubbed the launch of its 10th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) today just 13 seconds before liftoff.  Two technical problems cropped up with the Falcon 9 rocket during the final phases of the countdown.  One was resolved, but the other -- involving a steering mechanism on the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage -- worried flight controllers who decided to wait until the problem was better understood.  Another launch opportunity exists tomorrow (Sunday) morning, but the company and NASA have not yet announced if they will try to launch at that time.

The Dragon spacecraft on this SpaceX CRS-10 or SpX-10 mission is carrying approximately 5,500 pounds of supplies and experiments to the ISS crew.  Among the cargo are 40 mice (jokingly called mousetronauts) that are part of a bone healing experiment conducted by the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health called Rodent Research IV.   They were loaded into Dragon yesterday as part of the "late load" cargo.   If the launch does not take place tomorrow, they and other late load items will have to be removed and replaced, so the launch could not occur again until Tuesday at the earliest.  However, Russia is launching its own cargo spacecraft, Progress MS-05, early Wednesday morning Eastern Standard Time, so NASA will have to determine how to interweave the schedules.

This will be the first SpaceX launch from NASA's Launch Complex-39A, which was used for Apollo missions to the moon and space shuttle launches.  NASA is leasing the pad to SpaceX.  SpaceX also leases launch pads from the Air Force at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.  SpaceX's prior ISS cargo missions have launched from CCAFS Space Launch Complex-40, but it was badly damaged during a September 1, 2016 explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and its Amos-6 commercial communications satellite payload.  SpaceX already was preparing LC-39A for launches of Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy, which is in development, so was able to rather quickly move this launch to LC-39A.   Whenever this launch takes place, SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 first stage at a different CCAFS launch complex for a third time.  SpaceX routinely tries to recover its first stages so they can be reused.  Sometimes they land on autonomous drone ships at sea and sometimes on land depending on the rocket's trajectory and how much fuel remains after deploying the payload into orbit.

During the countdown this morning, one problem developed with the autonomous flight termination system (FTS) being used as the primary range safety abort system for the first time on a SpaceX launch.  Range safety is an Air Force responsibility and the Air Force is transitioning to this new type of automated system for all launches.  SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said at a press conference yesterday that they have been flying the automated system in "shadow" mode for some time and although they were directed by the Air Force to use it as the primary system for this launch "we would have done it anyway."   NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said at the same press conference that NASA is in complete agreement  with the Air Force.   He views the autonomous system as safer and more reliable than the "human-in-the-loop" system that has been used historically.   Today's problem was a software issue that produced "inconsistent data," but was readily resolved.

The other problem was with a thrust vector control (TVC) system on the rocket's second stage.  The TVC system steers the rocket.  The SpaceX team tried to resolve the issue, but decided at T-13 seconds to abort the launch.   SpaceX President Elon Musk tweeted in response to a question that he was the one who made the decision.

He explained his reasoning in other tweets

Yesterday, a different problem arose.  A small helium leak was discovered in a second stage system that, if it did not work properly, the second stage could not have been deorbited after it placed the Dragon spacecraft into orbit.   Rocket stages can pose debris hazards in space if they are not deorbited.  SpaceX decided to proceed with the countdown and perform a helium spin-up pressurization test at T-1 minute before liftoff.  Musk said today that he did not see a connection between that leak and the TVC problem, but also did not rule it out.

GAO Drops NOAA's GOES Weather Satellites from High-Risk List, but Adds DOD's

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Feb-2017 (Updated: 16-Feb-2017 10:39 PM)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its biennial assessment of high-risk government programs yesterday.  The report addresses programs in all parts of the government, including civil and national security space programs.  NOAA's weather satellites have been on the high-risk list for several years, but GAO praised NOAA's progress with its GOES series of geostationary weather satellites and concluded they no longer warrant inclusion. NOAA's polar orbiting satellites remain on the list.  GAO also added DOD's weather satellite program to the high-risk list because DOD lacks a comprehensive plan for providing required capabilities.

DOD and NOAA historically have operated separate polar-orbiting weather satellite systems to meet national security and civil requirements respectively.  In 1994, the Clinton Administration decided to merge the programs with an expectation that a more cost effective solution would result.   Instead, the combined program -- the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) -- encountered significant delays and cost overruns. The Obama Administration terminated NPOESS in 2010 and directed NOAA and DOD to resume separate programs.  No NPOESS satellites were ever launched.

Polar-orbiting satellites, as the term implies, orbit around Earth's poles and can view the entire globe.  The United States and Europe cooperate in obtaining and sharing weather satellite data.  DOD, NOAA and Europe's EUMETSAT operate separate polar-orbiting weather satellites that pass over points on Earth at different times of the day.   DOD satellites are in the early morning orbit, EUMETSAT's in the mid-morning orbit and NOAA's in the afternoon orbit.  Combining all that data results in more accurate forecasts.

DOD purchased a large number of its Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites in the 1990s, several of which remained in storage and available for launch when NPOESS was cancelled.  Thus it did not have a sense of urgency to develop a substitute program.  By contrast, NOAA did not have spare Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) and quickly proceeded with a new Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program.  The first JPSS is scheduled for launch this year.  Until it is operational, NOAA must rely on the Suomi-NPP satellite, which NASA built to demonstrate new earth observation technologies.  Launched in 2012, it was not designed as an operational satellite, but NOAA seconded it into service and it is part of the operational weather satellite constellation now.  It had only a 3-year design life, however, so GAO continues to be concerned about a potential data gap if Suomi-NPP fails before JPSS is operational.

Because it thought it had sufficient satellites in storage to cover several years, DOD moved slowly in designing its own new system.  However, the DMSP-19 satellite failed soon after launch in 2014.  DOD's ambivalence about when or if it would launch the last of the series, DMSP-20, led Congress to demand that DOD either launch it by 2016 or dismantle it rather than continuing to pay expensive storage costs.  It was not launched.

Consequently, as GAO reported, DOD now finds itself relying primarily on DMSP-17, a satellite launched in 2006.  It has a plan for the future, the Weather Satellite Follow-on--Microwave (WSF-M), with the first operational satellite scheduled for launch in 2022.  GAO characterized the WSF-M plan as "not comprehensive," however.  GAO criticized DOD because it "did not thoroughly assess options for providing its two highest-priority capabilities, cloud descriptions and area-specific weather imagery ... due to an incorrect assumption about the capabilities that would be provided by international partners."  The WSF-M does not address those requirements, GAO said, and DOD will have to rely on DMSP-17 until 2022, posing the risk that if DMSP-17 fails before then, a data gap will occur.  Hence the decision to add this program to GAO's high-risk list.

NOAA also operates geostationary weather satellites in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite -- GOES -- series.  Geostationary satellites remain in a fixed position relative to a point on Earth and GOES is especially useful for monitoring tropical ocean regions where hurricanes form. The first of a new version of those satellites, GOES-R (now GOES-16), was launched last year.  Concerns about potential data gaps in geostationary weather satellite coverage put the GOES program on GAO's high-risk list for several years, but GAO has concluded that NOAA resolved those issues and removed GOES from the high-risk list for this year's report.

Committee Rosters for 115th Congress Fill Out - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Feb-2017 (Updated: 16-Feb-2017 06:33 AM)

Update, February 15:  At press time this morning, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's website listed Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) as the ranking member of its space subcommittee.  However, later this morning committee Democrats issued a press release with an updated list of its members showing that Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is the ranking member of that subcommittee.  Our table has been updated accordingly.  Peters remains as a member of the subcommittee.

Original Story, February 15, 2017.  House Democrats have announced their full committee and subcommittee members of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, filling out the rosters for the congressional committees that oversee the nation's space programs for the 115th Congress.   Memberships on the other space-related committees were announced earlier.

Oversight and funding of the U.S. space program involves a number of committees.  The list below is only of those with the most direct responsibilities and is not meant to be comprehensive.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have jurisdiction over all government agency operations, for example, but they rarely deal with space issues.   Similarly, the committees that oversee the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the Department of the Interior (which operates the Landsat satellites) or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Department of Commerce that assign spectrum to commercial and government users respectively do not often focus on space issues.

The following table, therefore, is limited to the authorization and appropriations committees for NASA, NOAA, DOD, the Intelligence Community (IC), and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the Department of Transportation.  It shows the top Republicans and Democrats ("ranking members") at the full committee and subcommittee level.   Complete rosters of committee and subcommittee members are on each committee's website.

 

House

Senate

Authorization

Cmte/Sbcmte

Republicans

Democrats

Cmte/Sbcmte

Republicans

Democrats

Science, Space &Technology

Commerce, Science, &Transportation

Full Committee

Lamar Smith (TX)

Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX)

Full Committee

John Thune (SD)

Bill Nelson (FL)

Space Sbcmte

(NASA, FAA/AST)

Brian Babin (TX)

Ami Bera (CA)

Space, Science & Competitiveness Sbcmte (NASA, FAA/AST)

Ted Cruz (TX)

Ed Markey (MA)

Environment Sbcmte (NOAA)

Andy Biggs (AZ)

Suzanne Bonamici (OR)

Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries & Coast Guard

Dan Sullivan (Alaska)

Cory Booker (NJ)

Armed Services

Armed Services

Full Committee

Mac Thornberry (TX)

Adam Smith (WA)

Full Committee

John McCain (AZ)

Jack Reed (RI)

Strategic Forces Sbcmte

Mike Rogers (AL)

Jim Cooper (TN)

Strategic Forces Sbcmte

Deb Fischer (Nebraska)

Joe Donnelly (IN)

Intelligence

Intelligence

Full Committee

Devin Nunes (CA)

Adam Schiff (CA)

Full Committee

Richard Burr (NC)

Mark Warner (VA)

Appropriations

Full Committee

Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ)

Nita Lowey (NY)

Full Committee

Thad Cochran (MS)

Patrick Leahy (VT)

Commerce-Justice-Science Sbcmte

(NASA, NOAA)

John Culberson (TX)

José Serrano (NY)

Commerce-Justice-Science Sbcmte

(NASA, NOAA)

Richard Shelby (AL)

Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

Defense Subcmte

(DOD, IC)

Kay Granger (TX)

Peter Visclosky (IN)

Defense Subcmte

(DOD, IC)

Thad Cochran (MS)

Dick Durbin (IL)

Transportation-HUD Subcmte

(FAA/AST)

Mario Diaz-Balart (FL)

David Price (NC)

Transportation-HUD Subcmte

(FAA/AST)

Susan Collins (Maine)

Jack Reed (RI)

State Abbreviations:  AL (Alabama), AZ (Arizona), CA (California),  FL (Florida), IL (Illinois), IN (Indiana), MA (Massachusetts), MS (Mississippi),  NC (North Carolina), NH (New Hampshire), NJ (New Jersey),  NY (New York), OR (Oregon), RI (Rhode Island), SD (South Dakota), TN (Tennessee), TX (Texas), VA (Virginia), VT (Vermont), WA (Washington)

What's Happening in Space Policy February 13-18, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Feb-2017 (Updated: 12-Feb-2017 05:50 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 13-18, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold the year's first congressional hearing on NASA this week. Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that it was intended to provide a "panoramic" view of NASA's past, present and future to acquaint new committee members with the agency.   No current NASA employees are on the witness list, but all four worked at the agency at one time:  Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who along with Gene Cernan were the last two men on the Moon (he also was a U.S. Senator from 1977-1983); famed Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford, who currently chairs NASA's International Space Station Advisory Committee; Ellen Stofan, who just stepped down after three years as NASA's Chief Scientist; and Tom Young, whose storied career includes serving as mission director for the Viking program, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and industry executive with Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin (after Martin Marietta and Lockheed merged to form the current company).  Schmitt was the only scientist to walk on the Moon.  He is a geologist, as is Stofan.  Should be really interesting.  No shrinking violets on that panel!  That's on Thursday at 10:00 am ET.  The committee webcasts its hearings on its website and YouTube channel.

Earlier in the week. the D.C. alumni chapter of the International Space University is holding another of its "Space Cafes."  These monthly informal get togethers always feature really interesting speakers and this time is no exception -- there will be four of them, in fact, all from Europe.  Jean-Luc Bald from the European Union's Washington office; Micheline Tabache, the Washington representative of the European Space Agency (ESA); and Norbert Paluch and Juergen Drescher, the Washington reps for the French and German space agencies respectively.  Remember that the venue for the ISU-DC Space Cafes has changed to The Brixton at 901 U Street, NW.  The Space Cafes usually are on Tuesdays, but this one is Monday (tomorrow).

The date has slipped a couple of times already, but the current plan is for SpaceX to launch its first cargo mission to the ISS since the September 1, 2016 on-pad explosion on Saturday at 10:01 am ET.  This is SpaceX's 10th operational Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA -- SpaceX CRS-10 or SpX-10.   It will mark SpaceX's first launch from NASA's Launch Complex 39A, which SpaceX is leasing from NASA.   Previous SpaceX East Coast launches have been from the pad SpaceX leases from the Air Force at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  That is Launch Complex-40, which was damaged in the September 1 incident.  SpaceX plans to use LC-39A for launches of both its current Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy (FH) still in development.  The company expected that the first launch from LC-39A would be the maiden flight of the FH last November.  That didn't work out, but the launch pad was close to being ready so is available for this flight.  SpaceX is confident it has fixed the problem that caused the September 1 explosion and the Falcon 9 returned to flight status with an Iridium launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA last month.  No new date for the FH's maiden flight has been announced.

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, February 13

Tuesday, February 14

Wednesday-Friday, February 15-17

Wednesday-Saturday, February 15-18

Thursday, February 16

Thursday-Friday, February 16-17

Thursday-Saturday, February 16-18

Saturday, February 18