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Military / National Security News

What's Happening in Space Policy September 26-30, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2016 (Updated: 26-Sep-2016 09:33 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 26-30, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's quite a week coming up!  

For the country: the first of the three presidential debates is tomorrow (Monday) and Congress hopefully will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating after Friday when fiscal year 2016 ends. The House and Senate are still working on the details of their separate versions of the CR, but they have five days left. Typically they leave appropriations deals to the last minute with the expectation that a hard deadline makes people more willing to compromise.  The alternative is a government shutdown, which is not an appealing prospect in an election year.  Word is the CR will keep the government open through December 9, by which time Congress must pass either another CR or, better yet, the actual FY2017 appropriations measures.  Typically Congress combines all 12 regular appropriations bills into a single "omnibus" measure, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly would prefer several smaller "minibuses" dealing with two or three of them at a time.  The exception may be the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, which the House wants to include in the CR this week.  We'll see if the Senate is willing to go along with that. 

For the space policy community: the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.  IAC is the BIG international conference that combines annual meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL).   IAC will webcast all the plenary sessions.  The one that has generated the most buzz is on Tuesday when Elon Musk will lay out his plans for making humanity a multiplanet species.  It's at 1:30 pm local time in Guadalajara, which is on Central Daylight Time.  So that's 2:30 pm Eastern.

Two congressional hearings of note are also scheduled for this week, both on Tuesday (most congressional hearings are webcast on the respective committee's website).  In the morning, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee asks "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" and four witnesses will give their answers:  Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Mark Stokes from the Project 2049 Institute; Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation; and Jim Lewis from CSIS.  

That afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hear from three eminent experts on the topic of "National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization."  The witnesses are John Hamre, former Deputy Secretary of Defense; Adm. James Ellis, Jr. (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Marty Faga, former Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and former President and CEO of the MITRE Corporation.  The great advantage of being "former," of course, is that one can speak freely.  Should be especially interesting.  

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

Monday, September 26

Monday-Friday, September 26-30

Tuesday, September 27

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 27-28

Wednesday-Friday, September 28-30

Thursday, September 29

Thursday-Friday, September 29-30


Correction:  An earlier edition of this article listed the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA as the location of the National Academies Workshop Planning Committee meeting on September 27-28.  It will be held in Washington, DC, not at Beckman.  The workshop itself, scheduled for December 5-6, will be held at Beckman.

SpaceX Knows What Happened on September 1, But Not Why

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Sep-2016 (Updated: 24-Sep-2016 10:04 PM)

SpaceX is still studying 3,000 channels of engineering data to determine the root cause of the September 1 on-pad fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 communications satellite.  A preliminary review has determined it was a breach of a second stage helium system, but why it happened still is unknown.  The company nevertheless said it anticipates returning to flight as early as November.

The "anomaly" took place during a routine pre-launch test two days prior to when the launch was scheduled. 

In a statement on its website, the company says a "large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated."  

The only Falcon 9 launch failure to date, on June 28, 2015, was also caused by a problem in the second stage.  In that case, SpaceX was launching its seventh Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, CRS-7, for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its Dragon spacecraft.   Dragon and the cargo were destroyed.

Although that failure and the September 1 anomaly involved the second stage, SpaceX says that "we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

The Amos-6 satellite that was lost is a commercial satellite owned by Israel's Spacecom, so this was a commercial launch for a commercial customer.  The FAA regulates commercial space launches like this one and under its rules the launch service provider, not the government, is in charge of the investigation.  However, the launch service provider, SpaceX in this case, may invite whoever it wants to participate in the investigation.

SpaceX said the Accident Investigation Team includes SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts.  NASA and the Air Force are SpaceX customers, and Space X leases launch pads from both agencies.

This anomaly took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's (CCAFS) Launch Complex 40 (LC-40).  SpaceX says that "substantial areas of the pad systems were affected," but others were not, including the Falcon Support Building and a new liquid oxygen tank farm.

CCAFS is adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and SpaceX also leases NASA/KSC's Launch Complex-39A for launches of both Falcon 9 and the larger Falcon Heavy.  SpaceX had planned the first test flight of Falcon Heavy from LC-39A this year.   The statement did not indicate whether plans to resume flights in November assumed use of LC-40 or LC-39A.

SpaceX also leases an Air Force pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA for launches to polar orbits and is building its own launch site near Brownsville, TX.


Aerojet Rocketdyne Makes Case for AR1

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2016 (Updated: 21-Sep-2016 07:43 AM)

Aerojet Rocketdyne's Jim Simpson made the case for the new AR1 rocket engine yesterday explaining that its conservative design and low cost will meet mission assurance and affordability objectives desired by potential customers,   It is on schedule to be ready for certification by 2019 at a cost of $824 million -- $536 million from the government plus $288 million from the company and its industry partners.

Simpson, Aerojet Rocketdyne's Senior Vice President for Strategy and Business Development, spoke to a media roundtable yesterday that was held in conjunction with the Air Force Association's Air, Space, Cyber Conference.  Joining him was Steve Cook, Vice President for Corporate Development at Dynetics, a partner in the AR1 program.

The impetus for developing the AR1 is eliminating U.S. dependence on Russia's RD-180 engines that power the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  Atlas V is the workhorse for launching national security satellites and is also used for NASA and commercial spacecraft.

ULA agrees on the need to replace the RD-180, although there has been a long debate in Congress over the timing for doing so.  Originally Congress mandated that a new U.S.-built engine be ready by 2019 and prohibited ULA from acquiring RD-180s for use beyond that time. Agreement was recently reached, however, allowing the company to purchase RD-180s through 2022.

Nevertheless, 2019 remains the goal for developing a new engine to allow time for it to be tested and certified as part of a launch system that would be ready by the time RD-180-powered Atlas Vs are no longer available.

ULA plans to replace the Atlas V system with an entirely new rocket, Vulcan, by then.  It announced a partnership two years ago with Blue Origin to use its BE- 4 engine, which is now in development and also intended to be ready by 2019.  BE-4 uses an innovative propellant -- liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (methane) – instead of LOX/kerosene.

Aerojet Rocketdyne came forward with the AR1 as an alternative to BE-4.  ULA currently plans to choose between BE-4 and AR1 next spring.

Simpson acknowledged that BE-4 is the baseline engine for Vulcan, but he and Cook highlighted what they see as AR1’s advantages starting with the fact that it uses traditional LOX/kerosene and staged combustion and therefore has less risk than BE-4.  They pointed to the engine’s conservative design and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s long track record in rocket engine design, development and production as offering the mission assurance vital to national security satellites in particular.  Simpson added that Atlas Vs fitted with AR1s can use existing Atlas V launch pads, reducing costs as well.

Creating a low cost engine is part of the company’s plan, with a goal of $20-25 million for a pair of AR1s.   The use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) is one route to lower cost.  A 40,000-pound-thrust 3-D printed pre-burner was tested this week, Simpson said, and other components are under consideration, though specifics were not offered.  He said the new incremental-build approach to development will further lower costs.  Each element is built and tested and the system evolves gradually, instead of the test-fail-fix approach where full scale engines are built for testing.

If ULA retires Atlas V as planned and chooses BE-4 for Vulcan, AR1 still could be used for other customers, Cook stressed.  Among them is NASA, which is currently working on the first two versions of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will be able to launch 70 metric tons (MT) and 105 MT respectively.  A 130-MT version is planned for some time in the 2020s and AR1 could be used for that configuration, replacing the solid rocket strap-ons in the current design.

Cook managed the Ares rocket program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center before joining Dynetics in 2009.  Ares was part of the Constellation program, which was cancelled the next year and subsequently replaced by SLS.

Cook explained that NASA and the Air Force each put $21 million into the development of advanced liquid boosters beginning in 2012 and although the effort – Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction (ABEDRR) -- was not directly related to AR1, it contributed to risk reduction for liquid propellant engines broadly.

Simpson said the Air Force has committed to spending $115 million for the first phase of AR1 development and a total of $536 million overall.   Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners have already committed $77 million to date with a total of $288 million assuming the project goes forward.   He added that if the funding profile changes, so could the cost and schedule.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 19-25, 2016 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Sep-2016 (Updated: 19-Sep-2016 08:26 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 19-25, 2016 (through next Sunday) and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

On Friday, Resources for the Future (RFF) will hold a memorial service for Molly Macauley at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., from 3:30-5:30 pm ET.  All of Molly's friends and colleagues are welcome to attend, but RFF would appreciate an RSVP so they know how many people to expect.   Please RSVP to   Molly, a renowned space economist and integral part of the space policy community for three decades, spent almost all of her career at RFF before her tragic death on July 8.

It will be a busy week before that.

The Senate plans to bring a Continuing Resolution (CR) to the floor tomorrow (Monday) for a cloture vote.  If it gets 60 votes, the Senate can proceed to debate, and, hopefully, pass it.  Word is that it will keep the government funded through December 9. The bill reportedly has controversial policy provisions ("poison pills") that could delay its approval, but rumors are that once it passes, the Senate will adjourn until after the elections instead of remaining in session through the end of the month.  That would put the House in the position of either agreeing to the Senate bill or allowing the government to shut down on October 1, which would not play well in the upcoming elections.  A budget deal was crafted last fall by then-House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Obama that set the spending limit for FY2017.  The draft CR reportedly sticks to that agreement, but very conservative House Republicans disapproved of the deal and are not happy at the prospect of passing a CR that adheres to it (because it spends too much on non-defense programs), so there is indeed a chance that a government shutdown could occur. We think it is only a very small chance in an election year, but as we've said many times, trying to predict what Congress will do is risky.

The Air Force Association is holding its Air, Space, Cyber conference at National Harbor, MD (outside Washington, DC) Monday-Wednesday. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James kicks it off tomorrow morning. There is no indication on the conference's website as to which sessions might be livestreamed, but James tweeted an invitation yesterday for everyone to listen to her talk, so presumably hers will be, at least.  Hopefully AFA will make iivestreaming information available soon. [UPDATE: the link to watch James, from 10:20-11:15 am ET, is  Two other sessions Monday afternoon also will be livestreamed as noted at that site.  The list of livestreamed sessions for the rest of the conference are not posted yet.]

While that's underway, on Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Gen. John Hyten to become Commander of U.S. Strategic Command.  He currently is Commander of Air Force Space Command.  He seems to be well liked and respected on the Hill, so apart from the usual Senate challenges on getting any nomination approved (usually for reasons completely unrelated to the nominee), it should go smoothly.

On the civil space side, it's Mars, Mars, Mars this week.  Explore Mars holds a seminar on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning on "Humans to Mars: Why, How, and When."  On Wednesday afternoon, Lou Friedman, former executive director of the Planetary Society, will discuss his new book "Human Spaceflight From Mars to the Stars" at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. From Thursday-Sunday, the Mars Society holds its annual conference at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. 

The Senate Commerce Committee will markup its "NASA Transition Authorization Act" on Wednesday that, among other things, seeks to protect NASA's human spaceflight program -- which is aimed at sending humans to Mars in the 2030s -- from any major changes as the result of the upcoming presidential transition. Congress directed NASA to build a new, big rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and a crew spacecraft to go with it (Orion) in the last NASA authorization act that became law (in 2010).  It has diligently ensured that the Obama Administration (through NASA) implements those programs, often providing more funding than the President requested.  They want to make sure a new President doesn't disrupt that effort the way President Obama did when he came into office and cancelled President Bush's Constellation program. The NASA authorization bill is one of several bills the committee will markup that day, including the STEM education-related INSPIRE Women bill that the House passed earlier this year.

SLS is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and its Director, Todd May, will address the Space Transportation Association on Capitol Hill on Thursday.  Also speaking to STA on Thursday is the President of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Naoki Okumura.

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

Monday-Wednesday, September 19-21

Tuesday, September 20

Tuesday-Friday, September 20-23

Wednesday, September 21

Wednesday-Thursday, September 21-22

  • Dent:Space, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA

Wednesday-Friday, September 21-23

Thursday, September 22

Thursday-Saturday, September 22-24

Thursday-Sunday, September 22-25

Friday, September 23

  • RFF Memorial Service for Molly Macauley, Metropolitan Club, Washington, DC, 3:30-5:30 pm ET (please RSVP to RFF at

Navy Resumes Teaching Celestial Navigation Just in Case GPS Is Neutralized - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Sep-2016 (Updated: 19-Sep-2016 04:17 PM)

With growing concern about the vulnerability of U.S. national security space systems, resiliency is the watchword and the military services are looking for alternatives in case space systems are unavailable.  The Navy, for example, has resumed teaching celestial navigation in case the Global Positioning System (GPS) is rendered unusable. 

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) at a hearing on Thursday that celestial navigation is "back in the curriculum at the Naval Academy and other places" in order to minimize the Navy's vulnerability to electronic systems like GPS: "We gotta stay in the channel, ma'am."  He added that the Navy also is working with its industrial partners on "other ways to get precision navigation and timing into our systems" that are "independent of GPS and potentially more precise" not only for navigation, but weapons systems performance.

(Richardson did not elaborate on the extent of the training, however.  Alan Littlell wrote in Ocean Navigator on December 31, 2015 that the course for third-year students at the Naval Academy is only a three-hour segment of a broader course on advanced navigation and does not teach the "core workload of celestial navigators: sextant sight reductions on sun, moon, stars and planets."  Indeed, the Naval Academy's course descriptions for all its navigation classes do not mention celestial navigation.) 

Richardson and the other three military chiefs testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) about long-term military budget challenges.  Joining him were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller.

Goldfein noted in his opening statement that to maintain its technological edge, the Air Force is "laser focused" on five areas, one of which is "preparing for a war that could extend into space." The others are "fighter, tanker, and bomber recapitalization, nuclear modernization .... increasing our capability and capacity in the cyber domain, and leveraging and improving multi-domain and coalition friendly command and control..."

Apart from that, little of the hearing touched on the needs of national security space specifically.   

Senators Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), the top Democrat on the committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), both mentioned threats to space systems among their concerns in their opening statements, but the bulk of the hearing was on the impact on the military if sequestration returns.  Under the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, if Congress appropriates more money than allowed by budget caps set in that law, across-the-board cuts are implemented to bring the funding in line with the caps. 

That happened once, in FY2013, and the results were so draconian for defense and non-defense agencies that Congress and the White House have relaxed the caps each year since.  However, the law remains in place and the budget caps, and sequestration, are back in play for FY2018 and beyond.  The purpose of the hearing was to illuminate the damage that would be done to the military if funding is held to those caps.

Few expect that to happen, though, and when asked if they are preparing budget requests that are in line with the BCA limits, each of the military chiefs explicitly or implicitly said no.

Note: This article was updated with the quotes from Ocean Navigator and information about the course listings at the Naval Academy.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 12-16, 2016 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Sep-2016 (Updated: 12-Sep-2016 08:11 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 12-16, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

From Long Beach, California to Vienna, Austria, it's a busy week in space policy.

Starting in Long Beach, AIAA holds its Space 2016 conference Tuesday-Thursday.  Many sessions will be livestreamed and others will be posted later. The agenda on the livestream site tells you which is which. Note that all the times are Pacific Daylight Time, so add three for Eastern Daylight Time.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, DOD's Winston Beauchamp, and DFJ's Steve Jurvetson formally kick things off on Tuesday at 8:00 am PDT/11:00 am EDT.  There are many very interesting plenary and "Forum 360" presentations throughout the conference, as well as the Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship on Thursday evening (6:30-7:30 pm PT/9:30-10:30 pm ET). The Brill Lectureship is awarded every two years by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering.  This year's honoree is Wanda Austin, President and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation, who will speak on Engineering Leadership.  It will be livestreamed.

Just south of Long Beach, in Irvine, the National Academies Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences (CAPS) is meeting on Wednesday-Thursday.  It will be available by WebEx and telecon.  Among the topics are updates on robotic Mars exploration, the Europa mission, efforts to ensure a reliable supply of plutonium-238 (needed to power spacecraft that travel too far from the Sun or will land somewhere that make solar power infeasible), and NASA's astrobiology program.

Jumping 3,000 miles to the East, astrobiology will also be a topic in Washington, DC at the Library of Congress's Kluge Center on Thursday.  The day-long symposium will discuss "The Emergence of Life:  On the Earth, in the Lab, and Elsewhere."   It will be filmed and the video posted later on the Kluge Center's website and YouTube.

Many other events are on tap in the Washington area.  We'll highlight just two here.  First. the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) will meet via telecon to discuss draft legislation proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) to allow the FAA to perform an enhanced version of its current payload review process to authorize companies to conduct certain operations in Earth orbit, on the Moon and elsewhere in compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.  The FAA did that for Moon Express recently, but it was an ad hoc process.  The legislation apparently would codify that or a similar arrangement.  Anyone may listen in on the telecon.  

Second, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on Thursday morning on long term military budget challenges. It's a broad topic and the witnesses are the service chiefs so it is difficult to anticipate the extent to which national security space issues will arise, but it would not be surprising.  Most SASC hearings are webcast.

The House and Senate are in session this week and still discussing what to do about the FY2017 budget. They need to pass something by September 30 (probably a Continuing Resolution that lasts until mid-December, but we know the peril of trying to guess what Congress will do) and what to do about the rest of the fiscal year.  Typically they end up passing one huge "omnibus" appropriations bill incorporating all 12 regular appropriations bills, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly prefers several smaller "minibus" bills combining two or three at a time.  As a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, he is well versed in budget matters, but there are critical top-level issues to resolve starting with the total amount of money that Congress should approve.  The House and Senate reached agreement last fall on the total for FY2017, but very conservative Republicans did not vote in favor of it and want to more tightly constrain the amount for non-defense activities.

Moving even further East, the European Space Agency is sponsoring a "Space for Inspiration" conference at the London Science Museum on Wednesday-Thursday.  It will be webcast on ESA's website.  ESA Director General Jan Woerner heads an impressive set of government, industry, academic and non-profit speakers from Europe, Japan, and the United States, including several current and former astronauts.

A bit further East, Euroconsult will hold its annual World Satellite Business Week in Paris Monday-Friday.  The website does not indicate if any of the sessions will be webcast.   The "week" includes the 20th Summit for Satellite Financing, the 13th Symposium on Satcom Market Forecasts, the 8th Summit on Earth Observation Business, and SMARTPlane 2016.

Vienna, Austria is the last stop on this week's space policy journey.  The European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) will hold a two-day (Thursday-Friday) symposium on Space for Sustainable Development.

Meanwhile, we'll be keeping an ear out for any news on SpaceX's investigation of the on-pad explosion on September 1.   Elon Musk tweeted on Friday that it is the "most difficult and complex failure" the company has encountered.

Also, Chinese media report that the launch date for China's second space station, Tiangong-2 is in the September 15-20 time period.  It will launch on a Long March 2F from Jiuquan.  The first launch of China's new heavy lift Long March 5 from the new Wenchang launch site on Hainan Island is also coming up soon.

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-Wednesday, September 12-14

Monday-Friday, September 12-16

  • Euroconsult's World Satellite Business Week
    • 20th Summit for Satellite Financing (Sept. 12-15)
    • 13th Symposium on SATCOM Market Forecasts (Sept. 15)
    • 8th Summit on Earth Observation Business (Sept. 15-16)
    • SMARTPlane 2016 (Sept. 14)

Tuesday, September 13

Tuesday-Thursday, September 13-15

Wednesday, September 14

Wednesday-Thursday, September 14-15

Thursday, September 15

Friday, September 16

Saturday, September 17


Note:  this article was updated on September 12.

DOT Tells Congress It Can Handle Releasing SSA Data to CFEs if Authorized and Funded

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Sep-2016 (Updated: 08-Sep-2016 06:31 PM)

A new report to Congress from the Department of Transportation (DOT) concludes that it is feasible for a civil agency like DOT to take over responsibility from DOD for providing space situational awareness (SSA) data to commercial and foreign entities (CFEs).  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has been advocating for such a change to enable DOD to focus its SSA efforts on meeting military requirements while someone else, like DOT, handles non-military users.

Bridenstine was the chief House sponsor of the 2015 Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA).  Sec. 110 of that Act required DOT to study the feasibility of  processing and releasing safety-related SSA data and information "to any entity consistent with national security interests and public safety obligations of the United States."   Today's report satisfies that statutory obligation.

The report, written by DOT with concurrence from the Department of Defense (DOD) and in consultation with NASA, the Departments of Commerce and State, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Director of National Intelligence, summarizes past and present SSA arrangements, including the current "SSA Sharing Strategy."   That strategy, adopted in 2014, established three categories of SSA information users:  the public, SSA Sharing Agreement Holders (commercial, government, and intergovernmental satellite owners and operators that have signed a formal sharing agreement with U.S. Strategic Command), and U.S. national security partners.

Today, DOD's Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC, part of U.S. Strategic Command) continuously collects data about the location of the18,000 objects in Earth orbit.  The report says that only 7 percent of those objects are operational satellites.  The rest are debris -- everything from intact, but non-functional, satellites to expended rocket stages to paint chips to remnants of damaged or destroyed spacecraft.

Global concerns about the debris created by in-space events were sparked by the 2009 accidental collision of an active U.S. Iridium communications satellite with a defunct Russian communications satellite and China's 2007 intentional destruction of one of its own satellites as an antisatellite test.  Both created a lot of debris and with more and more satellites being launched, especially hundreds of tiny "cubesats," SSA is increasingly vital to a growing number of users of the space environment. JSPoC calculates "conjunction analyses" to warn satellite owners/operators if objects pose a collision risk and issues alerts.

A civil agency like DOT, through the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), could assume responsibility for releasing safety-related SSA data on tracked space objects to non-military users under certain conditions, today's report concludes.  The conditions include:

  • interagency collaboration, especially a strong DOT-DOD relationship;
  • passage of legislation specifically authorizing DOT to take on this role and providing the same immunity from lawsuits as in 10 U.S.C. Section 2274 for DOD's SSA activities; and
  • providing additional resources for FAA/AST (a rough estimate of $20 million is provided in the report as an initial investment, with additional recurring costs for more personnel).

Bridenstine welcomed the report in a statement provided to

"This report shows that this Administration, including the Department of Defense, agrees with what I have been advocating for a long time: that FAA/AST is an appropriate agency to maintain space situational awareness and provide information and services to civil, commercial, and foreign actors. This will empower STRATCOM and JFCC Space to focus on fighting and winning wars, while a civil agency does routine conjunction analysis and reporting. I look forward to working with the DOD, FAA, and Congressional stakeholders to begin implementing such a framework.”

Bridenstine is also the primary sponsor of pending legislation, the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA), which would go even further and take the first steps towards designating a civilian agency, like FAA, to be responsible for Space Traffic Management (STM) under which a satellite owner/operator could be compelled to take action to avoid a collision.   Currently, JSPoC issues conjunction analyses, but it is up to the satellite operator to decide what to do, if indeed the satellite is capable of moving.  ASRA is very broad and Bridenstine makes clear he does not expect it to pass in its entirety.  Instead, it is a repository of provisions that could be incorporated into other legislation over time.

NASA-Goddard's Hartman, Gilbert Among 2016 WIA Award Winners

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Sep-2016 (Updated: 04-Sep-2016 10:22 PM)

Women in Aerospace (WIA) has announced the winners of its 2016 awards.  Among the six women being honored are Colleen Hartman and Holly Gilbert from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.  WIA will present all of its awards on October 13, 2016 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, VA.

Hartman currently is Director of Goddard's Sciences & Exploration Directorate and has worked at Goddard and NASA headquarters since 1994.  She is receiving the 2016 WIA Leadership Award for "30 years of exemplary leadership at the highest levels of government and for inspiring the next tier of scientists, engineers and managers."

Gilbert is Deputy Director of the Heliophysics Science Division within Goddard's Sciences & Exploration directorate.  She is being recognized with the 2016 Aerospace Awareness Award for "outstanding leadership in bringing heliophysics science to the public."   NASA's heliophysics discipline incorporates the study of the Sun and solar-terrestrial interactions (the field is sometimes referred to as solar and space physics).

WIA is also honoring four other women, one of them posthumously.

WIA's 2016 Achievement Award will be presented to Celia Blum of Lockheed Martin for "leading the team that reduced the mass of the Orion Crew Module pressure vessel and delivered it to Kennedy Space Center for Exploration Mission 1 integration."   Orion is part of NASA's new human space transportation system intended to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo lunar missions.  Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1) will be the first flight of Orion aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), a large rocket NASA is building for that purpose.  The EM-1 mission will not carry a crew.  It is a test launch scheduled for 2018.

Mary Bowden of the University of Maryland, College Park, is receiving the 2016 Aerospace Educator Award for "motivating interest in space systems, being an inspiring role model and promoting the success of students at all levels."

Lt. Amanda Lippert, Naval Air Systems Command, is the winner of the 2016 Initiative, Inspiration, Impact Award for "her multiple achievements and contributions to the field of aerospace science and industry within the past twenty-four months."

The 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented posthumously to Molly Macauley, who was murdered in July.  Macauley was one of the few economists who specialized in the economic aspects of the space program.

The WIA Awards Dinner is October 13, 2016 at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City in Arlington, VA.   WIA will also honor the late Patti Grace Smith, who died of cancer earlier this year.  She will be recognized for "her tremendous impact not only for women in the aerospace community, but for her influence on the aerospace industry as a whole."

What's Happening in Space Policy September 5-9, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Sep-2016 (Updated: 04-Sep-2016 02:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 5-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate return to work on Tuesday.

During the Week

Monday is a U.S. Federal holiday, Labor Day.  Congress returns to work on Tuesday.  As we reported last week, its essential task is to pass appropriations legislation to keep the government operating past September 30 when FY2016 ends. They have a lot of work to do in the next four weeks.  None of the 12 regular appropriations bills has passed yet (see our table of where the 12 appropriations bills stand at this point). 

The House plans to go into recess again on October 1 and the Senate will follow suit before October 10 (the exact date is TBD).  They won't return until after the November 8 elections.   Whether they return at all in 2016 for a "lame duck" session or wait until the new 115th Congress begins in January 2017 is being debated.  This is a standard debate in election years.  Some argue that those who lost their elections should not continue to legislate and any issue not resolved before the pre-election recess should wait until the new Congress is in place.   Others insist that the nation's work must be done and that time is needed to pass critical legislation.  Congress is virtually certain to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the first part of FY2017, so whether or not there will be a lame duck session makes a big difference in how long the CR lasts.  Many in Congress want a short term CR that carries the government through to mid-December, meaning that Congress must still be meeting at that time to pass either another CR or, hopefully, final FY2017 appropriations. The most conservative House Republicans, however, reportedly want to push final FY2017 funding decisions into next year.  We'll see what happens, but if what's past is prologue, there will indeed be a lame duck session.

Labor Day marks the end of "summer" and signals a resumption of the usually busy schedule of space policy events in Washington, far too many to highlight here (see full list below).   One of special interest is Wednesday's hearing before the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on "Commercial Remote Sensing; Facilitating Innovation and Leadership." Witnesses include the former chair of NOAA's Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES), Kevin O'Connell; the Executive Director of the Center for Spatial and Law Policy, Kevin Pomfrel; the President of Sunesis Nexis, LLC, Michele Weslander; University of North Dakota Assistant Professor of Space Studies Michael Dodge; and University of Mississippi School of Law Professor Emerita Joanne Gabrynowicz.  The committee is dissatisfied with NOAA's regulatory oversight of the industry (taking too much time to decide on company requests, for example), although there are no NOAA witnesses on the list.  NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce and the committee's Republican leaders recently wrote a letter to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker asking for a statutorily required report that is overdue by more than 3 months.  It is the fourth letter they have written to her about commercial remote sensing issues since February.

Congress's return is certainly important news, but Thursday's launch of the robotic asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx surely will take the spotlight.  NASA has scheduled pre-launch briefings over two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) and will provide live coverage of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch on Thursday evening.  The 2-hour launch window opens at 7:05 pm ET.  NASA TV coverage begins at 4:30 pm ET and a post-launch press conference will begin about 2 hours after launch.  The weather forecast as of today (Sunday) is 80 percent go.  (As we've said before, it's important not to confuse OSIRIS-REx with the Asteroid Redirect Mission, which also will return an asteroid sample to Earth, but is part of NASA's human spaceflight program, not its science program, and has very different objectives.)

Speaking of human spaceflight, three ISS crew members return to Earth on Tuesday night ET.  Jeff Williams, Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka will land in Kazakhstan at 9:14 pm ET (7:14 am Wednesday local time at the landing site).  NASA TV will provide live coverage of undocking and landing.

George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation are having a seminar on Friday on U.S.-Japan Space Cooperation featuring government, academic, and industry officials from both countries.  It is part of a series of meetings of the U.S.-Japan Space Forum that began in 2014 to address how the two countries could work together to use space for common interests.

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

Tuesday, September 6

Wednesday, September 7

Wednesday-Thursday, September 7-8

Thursday, September 8

Friday, September 9


What's Happening in Space Policy August 29-September 9, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Aug-2016 (Updated: 28-Aug-2016 04:16 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, August 29-September 9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate return for legislative business on September 6.

During the Weeks

We have one last relatively light week before Congress returns on September 6.  The House and Senate leadership and congressional committees have not announced their schedules yet, but we should learn more as the week progresses,

Meanwhile, this week NASA has a press conference on Tuesday to introduce the three International Space Station (ISS) crew members who will launch in November (Whitson, Pesquet and Novitsky) and on Thursday NASA TV will provide live coverage of the second ISS spacewalk by Jeff Williams and Kate Rubins.   Two of the panels of the ongoing National Academies Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet Tuesday-Wednesday (Solid Earth, in Washington DC) and Thursday-Friday (Hydrology, in Irvine, CA).

Next week begins with a U.S. Federal holiday, Labor Day, on Monday.  On Tuesday, Congress returns to work.   As usual, it is facing the task of passing some sort of appropriations bill -- probably a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- to keep the government operating when FY2017 begins on October 1.  They have four weeks to do it and it is possible that final agreement could be reached on at least one of the 12 regular appropriations bills -- Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA).  It has already passed the House and Senate, a conference agreement was reached, and the House approved the conference report. An attempt to bring the conference report to the Senate floor. however, failed even though the bill is the legislative vehicle being used to provide funding to deal with the Zika virus.  Senate Democrats assert that it contains "poison pill" provisions Republicans know Democrats will not accept.  Even if that issue gets cleared up by the end of September, there are still the other 11 regular appropriations bills.  Here's a snapshot of where all 12 stand as of today.


Status of FY2017 Appropriations Bills as of August 28, 2016
(prepared by

FY2017 approps bill




committee approved

committee approved


committee approved

committee approved; floor debate began June 15, but suspended over gun control issues


Passed June 16

committee approved; 5 attempts to bring to floor defeated for variety of reasons


Defeated May 26 over gay rights/gender identity issues

Passed May 12

Financial Services

Passed July 7

committee approved

Homeland Security

committee approved

committee approved


Passed July 14

committee approved


committee approved

committee approved

Legislative Branch

Passed June 10

committee approved

Military Construction-Veterans Affairs

Passed May 19; conference completed; House passed conference report June 23

Passed May 19; 2 attempts to bring conference report to floor defeated for variety of reasons

State-Foreign Ops

committee approved

committee approved


committee approved

Passed May 19 (packaged w/MilCon-VA)


One issue is that the House Appropriations Committee approved more funding in its bills than allowed under the budget caps, so that will have to be fixed to avoid sequestration. The Senate bills are below the caps, though, so it can probably be resolved in conference committee(s).

There is little incentive, actually, for Congress to agree to final FY2017 appropriations before the election since who occupies the Oval Office and which part(ies) control the House and Senate will make a significant difference for the fiscal road ahead.  Similarly, there is little incentive for Republicans to allow their most conservative members to force a government shutdown, since that could undermine their goal of retaining control of the House and Senate. The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee and Senate candidate Chris Van Hollen said last week that he could not rule out a shutdown, however, because some Republicans strongly oppose the budget deal worked out among then House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Barack Obama last fall. That deal relaxed budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act and those Republicans want to stick by the original caps (even though, as noted, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding in excess even of the revised caps).  Still, convincing the electorate to let them retain control of Congress by showing they can keep the government operating probably will outweigh those complaints. Van Hollen said he hopes Congress will pass a CR that covers the time period past the election, with final resolution before the end of the calendar year.

Appropriations will be a key issue, but not the only one.  The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is in conference already and there continues to be talk of getting a new NASA authorization bill completed this year.   Plus a host of non-space related issues.  September promises to be a busy month before Congress recesses again to continue campaigning in advance of the November 8 elections.

Apart from the congressional schedule, the first week of September offers two especially interesting conferences and a very important space science launch.   The conferences are an aerospace workforce summit co-sponsored by AIAA and AIA to highlight issues for the next President, and a U.S.-Japan space cooperation seminar co-sponsored by the Mansfield Foundation and the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.  The launch is of the robotic asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-Rex, scheduled for September 8.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday, August 28, are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Tuesday, August 30

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 30-31

Thursday, September 1

Thursday-Friday, September 1-2

Tuesday, September 6

  • House and Senate Return for Legislative Business

Wednesday-Thursday, September 7-8

Thursday, September 8

Friday, September 9

  • U.S.-Japan Space Cooperation (Mansfield Foundation/Space Policy Institute), Lindner Family Commons, 1957 E Street, NW, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 1:00 pm ET