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Military / National Security News

Senate Schism on Russian Rocket Engines Continues - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-May-2016 (Updated: 26-May-2016 01:58 PM)

The Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee approved its version of the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today.  Few details have been released, but in at least one area -- Russian RD-180 rocket engines -- the schism between Senate appropriators and authorizers seems destined to continue.  The full appropriations committee will mark up the bill on Thursday. [UPDATE:  The committee approved the bill on May 26.]

Senate appropriators and authorizers clashed last year over the number of Russian RD-180 rocket engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) may obtain for its Atlas V rockets for launching national security satellites.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), limited the number to an additional nine.  The Senate Appropriations Committee essentially lifted that limit in the FY2016 appropriations act at the urging of two of its most senior members -- Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).  ULA builds its rockets in Alabama.  It is a 50-50 joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  Boeing is headquartered in Chicago, IL.

McCain vehemently opposes the appropriations action and SASC's FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- which is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor this week -- would repeal that section of the law.  (McCain and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, introduced stand-alone bills in January to repeal that provision, but there has been no action on them.)

The ongoing argument over the number of engines has overshadowed related issues.  One is highlighted in the Senate Appropriations Committee's brief summary of the bill approved at subcommittee level today.

"Space Launch/RD-180 Engines – The Committee recommendation includes a general provision, as requested by the Administration, which requires all competitive launch procurements to be available to all certified launch providers regardless of the country of origin of the launch vehicle rocket engine."

That appears to push back on language in McCain's NDAA that prohibits the Secretary of Defense from certifying any entity to bid for the award or renewal of a contract for space launch services if that entity would use a rocket engine designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation.  If enacted, that would preclude ULA from bidding for national security launches using the Atlas V since its engines are built in Russia.  ULA operates two launch vehicles -- the Atlas V and Delta IV.  SpaceX is the only other certified provider for national security launches and ULA argues that its Delta IV is not cost competitive with SpaceX, so Atlas V is its only option in such competitions.  SASC's NDAA addresses that issue by allowing half of the money allocated for developing a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 to be used to offset increased launch costs (presumably for using the pricey Delta IV).

The appropriations subcommittee also approved $396.6 million, $100 million above the request, to develop a U.S. alternative to the RD-180.  The markup was short and sweet. It lasted only about 30 minutes and the topic of rocket engines did not arise.  Full committee markup on Thursday begins at 10:30 am ET. [UPDATE:  The committee approved the bill on May 26.]

(Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation?  See SpacePolicyOnline.com's "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)

What's Happening in Space Policy May 23-27, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2016 (Updated: 22-May-2016 01:27 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 23-27, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

YES!  It is, indeed, another busy week.  Not to worry -- Memorial Day is coming up next week and Congress, at least, will take a breather.  Wanting to get as much done as possible in this first half of the year (before the elections overwhelm everything else), the House and Senate have another full plate.

On the floor, the Senate will debate its version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the House will take up the FY2017 Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA).  The IAA is on Tuesday's suspension calendar, indicating that it is expected to pass with minimal debate.  The unclassified bill and report require three space-related briefings or reports (on JICSPoC, on actions taken in response to the December 2015 National Research Council report on space defense and protection, and improving U.S.-Japan space cooperation) all of which also are required by the House version of the NDAA.

In committee, the full House Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2017 Commerce-Justice-Science bill (NASA and NOAA) and the Transportation-HUD bill (FAA space office) on Tuesday morning.  At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will be marking up the FY2017 defense bill, with full committee markup on Thursday.

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Geophysical Union are holding a lunchtime briefing in one of the Senate meeting rooms (385 Russell) on Wednesday about a really important, but not widely known, issue that could affect utilization of NOAA's new GOES-R weather satellites.  The first in the GOES-R series will be launched this fall. The space-to-ground frequency band for GOES-R is being threatened In the ever growing battle between space- and terrestrial-based services over spectrum allocations. The demand for spectrum to satisfy our insatiable desire for mobile broadband services is coming up against our need for critical weather forecasts. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to make the 1675-1680 MHz band available for sale.  That band is used for transmitting data from the GOES satellites and for other earth science purposes.  AMS has a fact sheet explaining the issue and three experts at the Wednesday briefing (including Scott Pace from GWU's Space Policy Institute) will go into it in more detail.  Note than an RSVP is required (lunch will be served).

Of the many other events coming up, one may especially pique the interest of folks who will be in D.C. on Tuesday.  New America, which describes itself as "a nonprofit civic enterprise: an intellectual venture capital fund, think tank, technology laboratory, public forum, and media platform," is having an event "over drinks" from 5:30-7:00 pm ET, on "What Can D.C. Learn from Sci-Fi?"  Science fiction author Charles Stross will be interviewed by two "tech policy experts (and science fiction fans)" from New America and the American Civil Liberties Union.  One topic is "why the idea of space colonization is unrealistic."  New voices in the world of space policy are always welcome, so this should be enlivening.

NASA will expand the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) that is attached to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday morning.  NASA TV coverage begins at 5:30 am ET and there will be a media teleconference at 10:00 am ET with NASA's Jason Crusan and Bigelow Aerospace President Robert Bigelow.  BEAM was delivered to ISS on the SpaceX-8 cargo mission and transferred to a docking port on the Tranquillity module last month.

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

Monday, May 23

  • NASA and National Security (AFA Mitchell Institute) featuring NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Capitol Hill Club, 300 First St., SE, Washington, DC, 7:00-9:00 am ET

Tuesday, May 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 24-25

Tuesday-Thursday, May 24-26

Wednesday, May 25

Thursday, May 26

House Passes FY2017 NDAA - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-May-2016 (Updated: 19-May-2016 08:57 AM)

The House passed the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) a few hours ago.  The bill, H.R. 4909, authorizes and recommends funding levels for national security space programs.  The bill increases from nine to 18 the number of Russian RD-180 rocket engines the United Launch Alliance (ULA) can obtain for its Atlas V rockets, recommends funding for developing a U.S. alternative to the RD-180, and allows some of that money to spent on portions of a new launch system other than the engine.

On the RD-180 issue, the House bill is at odds with the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which insists that ULA should be allowed to obtain only nine more, so that debate is certain to continue.

The House adopted an amendment offered by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mike Rogers (R-AL) that responded to objections raised by the White House in its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP).  Smith is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).  Rogers is the chairman of its Strategic Forces Subcommittee that oversees most national security space programs.

In prior NDAAs, HASC had insisted that money allocated for building a U.S. alternative to Russia's RD-180 be spent only on an engine, not on other parts of a new launch system. During committee markup in April, a Smith amendment was adopted that allowed up to 25 percent of the funds to be spent on a new launch vehicle, upper stage, strap-on motor, or related infrastructure.  The White House SAP complained about the restriction, however, arguing that the committee was too focused on just one part of the launch system.

The Smith/Rogers amendment increases that percentage to 31 percent.  

The SAP also disagreed with language in the bill that would have required the government to obtain intellectual property rights for any new rocket propulsion system developed with government funds.   

The Smith/Rogers amendment replaces that language with a requirement that the Secretary of Defense develop a plan to protect the government's investment and assured access to space, including acquiring rights, as appropriate, for the purpose of developing alternative sources of supply and manufacture in case they are needed if, for example, the company goes out of business.

The amendment was grouped together with a number of others during floor debate into "En Bloc 8" and passed by voice vote.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 277-147, with most Democrats voting against it (142 against, 40 in favor).  If the President were to veto the bill, there would be enough votes to sustain it.  A two-thirds vote of both chambers is required to overturn a veto.  When the House has its full complement of 435 members, that means 290 votes are needed to overturn, 13 more than voted in favor of the bill.   The bill has a long way to go, however.  In addition to the RD-180 issue, there are many differences with the SASC version, which is expected to be debated by the Senate next week.

Note: this story was updated with additional detail on the House vote and the Senate schedule for considering its version of the NDAA.

House Appropriators Approve FY2017 Defense Bill

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-May-2016 (Updated: 17-May-2016 11:51 PM)

The House Appropriations Committee approved the FY2017 defense appropriations bill today.  It generally steers clear of the RD-180 controversy that is so prevalent in the other defense committees, approving the $296.6 million requested for building an alternative U.S. engine, offering no comment on how many RD-180s should be procured while that new engine is developed.  However, it does dip into the topic of awarding launches on a competitive basis and reduces from five to three the number of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) that may be procured in FY2017.  The committee expresses concern about planning for future satellite systems, including weather satellites, and provides funding for a commercial weather pilot project.

Strictly speaking, appropriations committees provide funding while authorizing committees set policy and recommend funding levels.  The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) is the defense authorization committee in the House.  Its bill, the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act, is currently being debated on the House floor.  (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation?  See SpacePolicyOnline.com's  "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)

The House Appropriations Committee's views on national security space issues include the following:

  • Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS).  The committee is concerned that new payload technology is being developed without an approved future systems architecture. It also worries that the SBIRS analysis of alternatives for a future system lacks clearly defined roles and responsibilities to determine requirements. It directs the Secretary of the Air Force to brief congressional defense and intelligence committees and reduces funding for "Evolved SBIRS" by $20 million (from a total SBIRS RDT&E request of $162 million) as an "unjustified request."
  • Satellite Communications and AEHF.  The committee is concerned that DOD does not have a unified satellite communications architecture, including the purchase of commercial services, and that the Services and elements of the Office of the Secretary of Defense appear to be at odds over planning for future space, ground and user equipment systems.  It encourages the Secretary of Defense to consolidate SATCOM planning and budget authority into one entity and reduces funding for Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) MILSATCOM by $30 million (from the RDT&E request of $229 million) as an "unjustified request."
  • Weather Satellite Follow-on and Commercial Weather Pilot Project.  The committee is concerned that DOD lacks sufficient focus and planning capability to efficiently and affordably meet weather data collection requirements.  Five near-term data gaps exist. The Air Force has no approved plan for remediating two of them and remediating the other three involves building and launching a technology demonstration satellite which, if successful, would lead to an interim free-flying satellite until a long term plan is devised.  No formal effort is underway to design a baseline system.  Therefore, the request of $119 million is cut by $30 million.  The committee also adds $5 million for a commercial weather satellite pilot project similar to the one created by Congress for NOAA last year (HASC recommends creation of the pilot program, funded at $3 million in FY2017).  It also cuts $5 million from an NRO weather study. (The HASC bill proposes transferring the weather satellite program to NRO from the Air Force until the system is operational.)
  • Launch Vehicle Procurement. The committee cuts the request for procuring Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).  It approves $1.028 billion for three EELVs. The request was $1.501 billion for five EELVs.  The committee explains its action only by saying that the request is "early to need."  The bill also provides (Sec. 8047) that competitively procured launch services must be open for award to all certified providers of EELV-class systems and the award shall be made to the provider that offers the best value (not necessarily the best price) to the government.
  • Alternative Rocket Engine.  The committee provides $296.6 million for the development of an alternative rocket engine for space launch, the same as the request.

Obama Administration Threatens to Veto House NDAA - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-May-2016 (Updated: 17-May-2016 08:40 AM)

The Obama Administration issued its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) on the House version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today.  The bill, H.R. 4909, is before the House Rules Committee at the moment and, subject to a rule being granted, will reach the House floor for debate this week.  The SAP states that the President's advisers will recommend that he veto the bill if changes are not made.  Such threats have become common and last year the President followed through, although a compromise was ultimately reached.

The main obstacle to last year's NDAA was funding.  The President vetoed the first FY2016 NDAA that cleared Congress, but after a top-level budget agreement was reached in October, a revised version was passed and it received the President's signature,

Funding is also one of the major issues this time, although the 17-page SAP has a very long list of complaints.  The funding issue this year is because the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) decided to redirect $18 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account -- which pays for operations in Afghanistan, for example -- into activities that are supposed to be part of DOD's base budget, not the special OCO funds that do not count against the budget caps.  That way HASC can spend more money for defense without exceeding the caps, but it means that the OCO account has only enough money to pay for American troops fighting overseas until April 2017, not through the end of FY2017.  Whoever becomes President in January will have to immediately request a supplemental appropriations bill to keep the troops funded.  "By gambling with warfighting funds, the bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens out enemies," the SAP asserts.

From a space policy standpoint, the SAP also criticizes HASC's actions regarding the Russian RD-180 rocket engine issue. HASC adopted the position held by the Administration and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) that 18 more RD-180s are needed to keep ULA's Atlas V rockets available through the early 2020s, but retains some restrictions on how the money can be spent.  Although the language in this bill is more flexible than in the last two NDAAs, the Administration still objects.  The debate is over whether the money Congress is providing to develop a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 may be spent only on a new engine, or on other parts of a new launch system.  Previous NDAAs forbid using the money for anything other than the engine.  This bill has a modified version of that prohibition that allows up to 25 percent of the research and development funds to be spent on a new launch vehicle, upper stage, strap-on motor and related infrastructure.  The amendment containing that language was offered by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrat on HASC, and adopted by voice vote at the very end of the 16-hour markup on April 27-28.

The SAP has this to say about it:

Rocket Propulsion System Development Program: The Administration appreciates the amended language to section 1608 of the FY 2015 NDAA to authorize up to 18 RD-180 engines, ensuring a necessary and cost-effective bridge to American-made launch services. However, the Administration strongly objects to section 1601, which would place restrictions on the funds to eliminate the Nation's use of these engines for national security space launches. The Committee's approach overemphasizes one component of a launch vehicle and, in doing so, risks the successful and timely fielding of new domestic launch systems. The Administration is committed to developing new American-made propulsion systems as part of these new launch vehicles, but this should be done in accordance with well-accepted systems engineering principles and not arbitrary funding allocations.

The SAP also rejects a provision that requires the Government to obtain rights and technical data about any new rocket propulsion system.

The Administration also strongly objects to the direction in section 1601 requiring the acquisition of Government purpose rights and technical data for any new rocket propulsion system. Complying with this direction is not feasible as it would likely require re-negotiation of the current development contracts, thereby delaying the delivery of the new domestic capabilities beyond 2019. Pursuing such robust data rights would also undermine the very nature of the public-private partnerships, require significantly more Government funding, and risk further industry investment and participation. The Administration's public-private partnerships are successfully leveraging willing private investment to develop commercially viable launch vehicles, and this has already saved taxpayers nearly $200 million, while maintaining access to the data that the Government needs. These partnerships could save taxpayers more than $500 million through 2019 and deliver valuable capabilities for the Nation and benefits to our economy faster than the Committee's approach. 

The House Rules Committee met this evening to begin discussion about the rule that will govern floor debate on the bill.  The meeting continues tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon where the committee will decide which of the 372 amendments that have been submitted will be allowed on the floor for debate.  The rule dictates how much time each side (pro and con) will have to debate the bill in its entirety and each of the permitted amendments and sets other conditions, such as waiving points of order.

The expectation is that the committee will approve a rule tomorrow and floor debate will begin on Wednesday.  [UPDATE; Word as of this morning (Tuesday) is that debate will begin later today.] Several of the submitted amendments deal with the RD-180/U.S. replacement issues.

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has approved its version of the bill and took a very different approach to RD-180s, so the debate is certain to continue no matter what happens in this bill.

The SAP also raises objections to two other space-related provisions in the bill.

As currently written, the bill requires DOD to initiate concept definition, design, research, development and engineering evaluation and testing for a space-based intercept and defeat missile defense layer and space test bed.  The SAP says the Administration appreciates congressional support for its missile defense program, but there is "no requirement for a space-based intercept and there are concerns about the technical feasibility and long-term affordability of interceptors in space."

The bill would also transfer from the Air Force to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) responsibility for some space-based environmental monitoring missions.  The committee states in its report on the bill that it is concerned about the Air Force's lack of planning, coordination, and execution of activities to meet space-based environmental monitoring requirements.  It notes that the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) originated in NRO and was later transferred to the Air Force and wants the same arrangement now "in which the NRO develops the program and then transfers it back to the Air Force after it is in operation."  The SAP states that the entire DOD weather enterprise should be managed "as an integrated mission" and not split up.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 16-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-May-2016 (Updated: 16-May-2016 07:31 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 16-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them (yes, the 22nd, not the 20th, since ISDC 2016 runs through next Sunday).  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's another one of those busy, busy, weeks for space policy aficionados not just in Washington, DC, but in many other places around the world.

On Capitol Hill, House floor debate on the defense authorization bill begins mid-week. The FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R. 4909, was approved by the House Armed Services Committee on April 28.  One of the big space-related items was, of course, the RD-180 issue.  HASC went along with the Air Force/United Launch Alliance (ULA) position that ULA needs 18 additional RD-180s to ensure Atlas V rockets are available through the early 2020s, instead of 9 engines to keep it available through 2019 as preferred by its Senate counterpart, SASC.  (SASC marked up its version of the NDAA last week and stuck to its guns about only 9 more.)  Another part of the debate is whether the money Congress is providing for developing a U.S. alternative to the RD-180 may be spent only on the engine or on other elements of an entirely new space launch system.  HASC had insisted in previous NDAAs that it be spent only on the engine, but, this year, an amendment was adopted at committee level allowing the funds to be spent on a launch vehicle, upper stage, strap-on motor or related infrastructure.  HASC's action on the NDAA is just one step in the defense authorization process.  Next, the House Rules Committee will meet Monday and Tuesday to craft the rule that will govern the floor debate.  It will decide, for example, which of the 372 submitted amendments may be offered on the floor.   Several concern the RD-180/U.S. replacement issues.  All of the submitted amendments are posted on the Rules Committee's website.

DOD appropriations also will be tackled this week. The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2017 defense bill on Tuesday morning (subcommittee markup was completed on May 11).  Two other FY2017 appropriations measures also will be considered this week, but at subcommittee level.  On Wednesday, the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will mark up the CJS bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, at 10:00 am ET and the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee will mark up the T-HUD bill, which includes FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, at 11:30 am ET.

The Humans to Mars (H2M) 2016 summit, sponsored by Explore Mars, will take place at George Washington University Tuesday-Thursday and will be webcast.  Among the speakers is Andy Weir, author of The Martian.  Not only will he speak there on Wednesday morning, but that afternoon he is scheduled to testify to the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee at a hearing on Deep Space Habitats.  NASA no doubt wishes it had the habitats of Weir's fictional characters, both on the surface of Mars and the nifty Earth-Mars transit vehicle, complete with centrifuge.  Perhaps he will set an aspirational mood for the subcommittee members and the other witnesses, who hail from NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Orbital ATK.  The hearing also will be webcast.

Many interesting conferences (in addition to H2M) will take place this week around the globe:  GEOINT 2016 in Orlando, FL;  ISDC 2016 in San Juan, Puerto Rico; the European Lunar Symposium in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Astro2016 in Ottawa, Canada; and SpaceOps 2016 in Daejeon, Korea.

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

Sunday-Wednesday, May 15-18

  • GEOINT 2016, Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center, Orlando, FL

Monday-Tuesday, May 16-17

Monday-Friday, May 16-20

Tuesday, May 17

Tuesday-Thursday, May 17-19

Wednesday, May 18

Wednesday-Thursday, May 18-19

Wednesday-Sunday, May 18-22

SASC Sticks to Its Guns on RD-180 Rocket Engines

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-May-2016 (Updated: 12-May-2016 11:45 PM)

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its version of the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today.  Continuing a two-year dispute over how many Russian RD-180 rockets engines may be obtained for United Launch Alliance (ULA) Altas V rockets, the committee insisted on keeping the number at nine instead of raising it to 18 as recommended by its House counterpart.  The SASC bill would also repeal language in the FY2016 appropriations bill that lifted the limit set in last year's NDAA.

The fundamental issue is how quickly a U.S. alternative to the Russian engine can be developed and tested sufficiently to assure that U.S. national security satellites can be launched as needed -- called assured access to space. The RD-180 engine was chosen for the Atlas V rocket in the 1990s when U.S.-Russian relationships were good.  Since Russia's annexation of Crimea two years ago and its subsequent actions in Ukraine, broad agreement has arisen among Congress, the White House and the Air Force that the United States should not be reliant on Russian rocket engines to place critical national security satellites into orbit.  SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) is a leading voice on this issue and often asserts that U.S. dollars should not go to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his "cronies."

SASC and other congressional committees disagree, however, on the timing for the transition from RD-180-powered Atlas V rockets to a new rocket with U.S.-built engines.  At the moment, the argument is over whether ULA should be allowed to obtain nine more, or 18 more, than the number already under contract.   Currently the Air Force states that it needs 18 more to ensure the Atlas V is available until the early 2020s when a new launch system -- an engine plus the rest of the launch vehicle -- has been tested and certified.  McCain and his supporters argue it can be done by 2019 and only nine more engines are needed.  (Last year, the Air Force and ULA said 14 were needed, but now it is 18.)

Another element of the debate is a drive to encourage competition in the national security space launch market.  ULA has been virtually a monopoly provider of national security launch services since it was created as a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture in 2006.  Last year, SpaceX was certified by the Air Force to compete with ULA. Generally, ULA supporters want to obtain enough RD-180s to keep ULA's Atlas V available for as long as possible to compete with SpaceX's Falcon rockets, while SpaceX supporters want to end the use of Atlas V and its Russian engines quickly with the expectation that SpaceX Falcon rockets coupled with ULA's larger Delta IV launch vehicles can satisfy national security space launch requirements.

U.S. national space transportation policy requires that at least two independent launch systems be available for national security launches.  If one suffers a failure, access to space is assured by the other.  For more than a decade, those two have been Atlas V and Delta IV, both ULA rockets.  SpaceX argues that now the two can be its Falcon plus ULA's Delta IV.  ULA and its supporters insist, however, that the Delta IV is prohibitively expensive compared to Atlas V and the best choice for the taxpayers is to keep Atlas V available until the early 2020s when ULA's new Vulcan rocket -- with a U.S. engine -- will be able to compete with SpaceX on price.

SASC insists that a new U.S. engine can be ready by 2019 and only nine more RD-180s are needed until that time. That is the number set by the FY2015 and FY2016 NDAAs.  However, the Senate Appropriations Committee undermined that authorization language in the FY2016 appropriations bill, essentially removing all limits.  (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation?  See our "What's a Markup?" fact sheet.)

Today, SASC insisted on nine engines only and called for repeal of the appropriations language.  A committee summary of its action allocates three paragraphs to the issue:

"Providing Assured Access to Space and Ending Reliance on Russia

"Despite the efforts of the committee, United States assured access to space continues to rely on Russian rocket engines, the purchase of which provide financial benefit to aides and advisors to Vladimir Putin – including individuals sanctioned by the United States – and subsidizes the Russian military-industrial base. This is unacceptable at a time when Russia continues to occupy Crimea, destabilize Ukraine, menace our NATO allies, send weapons to Iran, violate the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and bomb U.S.-backed forces in Syria fighting the Assad regime.

"That is why the NDAA repeals a provision from last year’s omnibus appropriations bill that furthered dependence on Russia and requires that assured access to space be achieved without the use of rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation. In testimony before the committee, the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of the Air Force each confirmed to the committee that the United States can meet its assured access to space requirements without the use of Russian rocket engines. Once the nine Russian rocket engines allowed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 are expended, the Defense Department would be authorized to utilize only those launch vehicles that do not require rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation.

"According to the Department of Defense Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) and a study commissioned by the Air Force, the continued use of Russian rocket engines will not provide the cost competitive launch environment the Air Force was hoping would materialize. Given the urgency of eliminating reliance on Russian engines, the NDAA would allow for up to half of the funds made available for the development of a replacement launch vehicle or launch propulsion system to be made available for offsetting any potential increase in launch costs as a result of prohibitions on Russian rocket engines. With $1.2 billion budgeted from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2021 for the launch replacement effort and $453 million already appropriated in fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2016, there is more than sufficient funding available and budgeted for a replacement propulsion system or launch vehicle and to offset any additional costs required in meeting our assured access to space requirements without the use of Russian rocket engines."

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up its version of the FY2017 NDAA in April and agreed to the ULA/Air Force position of 18 more.  The House is expected to take up the bill next week.

Mike Gold Moves from Bigelow to SSL

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-May-2016 (Updated: 09-May-2016 11:09 PM)

Mike Gold, the Washington voice of Bigelow Aerospace for more than a decade, has joined SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral) as its Vice President of Washington Operations.

Gold is well known in Washington space policy circles as chairman of the FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), dogged reformer of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), and indefatigable supporter of the Boston Red Sox.

During his time with Bigelow, the company signed an agreement with NASA to attach a test version of Bigelow's expandable habitat to the International Space Station (ISS).  The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) was delivered to ISS aboard the SpaceX CRS-8 mission last month and is currently attached to an ISS docking port.  The process of expanding it to full size is expected to begin later this month.  Bigelow and SpaceX also announced plans in 2012 to send people to Bigelow space stations in low Earth orbit (LEO) aboard SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, an effort aimed at the international market. 

The international aspect of space is one with which Gold is especially identified because of his role in ITAR reform, which came to fruition in 2014 with changes that make it easier to export communications satellites by moving them from the State Department's Munitions List to the Department of Commerce's Commerce Control List.

SSL is one of the world's major manufacturers of communications satellites.  Once owned by Loral (and before that by Ford Aerospace), it was bought by Canada's MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates (MDA) in 2012.  It also builds other types of satellites and is one of four companies selected by JPL for study contracts for the design of the robotic spacecraft for NASA's Asteroid Redirect Mission. SSL also is working with JPL on a potential Discovery mission to study the asteroid Psyche and with DARPA on on-orbit satellite assembly.

SSL is based in Palo Alto, CA.  SSL President John Celli said in a press statement that Gold "brings a wealth of experience with both civil and defense organizations and will strengthen our ability to make a contribution to government programs."

Gold has a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a bachelor's degree in political science from Brandeis University.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 9-13, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-May-2016 (Updated: 10-May-2016 06:26 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of May 9-13, 2016.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's another busy week for space policy aficionados -- especially Tuesday.  So many excellent events on top of each other, one either needs a large staff (alas, we don't) or a clone (none of those either).  Three of the events that day certainly or probably will deal with launch vehicles.  First is CSIS's event on State of Defense Acquisition where Frank Kendall may have something to say about RD-180 rocket engines and public private partnerships to build a U.S. replacement. Then Orbital ATK's Dave Thompson will speak at WSBR and questions about Antares might well arise.  At the same time, the Space Transportation Association is hosting a lunch roundtable discussion to provide an update on NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft with the NASA program managers for those programs and their associated Ground Systems Development and Operations (GSDO) program.

For those less interested in rockets, during that same time NASA will have a telecon announcing new discoveries from its exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope, and the Secure World Foundation (SWF) is holding a seminar on challenges and opportunities for new space actors.  SWF's speaker lineup includes representatives of both familiar (PlanetLabs) and less familiar (Observer Research Foundation and Astroscale) organizations.   Observer Research Foundation is a think tank in India; Astroscale is a Singapore-based startup developing satellites to remove space debris.  SWF usually records its seminars and posts the audio on its website soon thereafter.

That's just Tuesday.  Meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill, all this week the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will mark up the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  Unlike HASC (which marked up its version already), most of the SASC subcommittee markups are closed, as is full committee markup, so there will be no public information about the debates that go on to produce the final result.   Across the Hill, the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2017 DOD appropriations bill late Wednesday afternoon.  It is open. Many of the committee's markups are webcast, although there is no indication whether this one will be or not. [UPDATE: Although the committee's website does not indicate that the markup is closed, the official notice of the meeting does, so apparently it is closed after all.)

The Heritage Foundation is having what sounds like an interesting discussion on Wednesday about the national security implications of rapid access to space.  It's only for one hour, which seems a short amount time to pack in all the interesting speakers they have, including Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Eric Stallmer from the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Everett Dolman from the Air University, and Dean Cheng, Heritage's in-house expert on the Chinese space program.  It will be webcast.

And just for fun, JPL's Bob Pappalardo will speak at a public lecture on the Europa mission at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) on Thursday evening.  He is the Europa mission project scientist and was deeply involved in reformulating the original proposal into the more affordable version often referred to as Europa Clipper.  The lecture is part of a series offered by NASM for ages 11 and up and will be webcast.

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

Monday-Friday, May 9-13

Tuesday, May 10

Wednesday, May 11

Thursday, May 12

 

White House Wants DOT in Charge of Commercial Space "Mission Authorization"

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-May-2016 (Updated: 02-May-2016 11:49 PM)

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is proposing to Congress that the Department of Transportation (DOT) be placed in charge of "mission authorization" for new types of private sector space activities in earth orbit and beyond.  The FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has been floated as a likely candidate for this role for quite some time. The FAA is part of DOT. 

The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) signed into law last November required OSTP to submit a report to Congress assessing current and near-term commercial activities in space.  OSTP was also directed to recommend an approach for authorizing and continually supervising those activities as required by Article VI of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.  The term "mission authorization" now is used to refer to authorizing and supervising commercial on-orbit activities such as satellite servicing (including refueling, repair, or adding end-of-life extension modules to existing spacecraft), building orbital habitats, or extracting resources from the Moon or asteroids.

OSTP submitted the report to Congress on April 4.  It includes an appendix with draft legislative language designating DOT as the federal agency to grant such authorizations, maintain a registry of those authorizations, and require holders of such authorizations to report on their activities periodically and if there is any material change to their operations.  The Secretary of Transportation is required to coordinate with the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Secretary of Commerce, the NASA Administrator, the Director of National Intelligence, and other appropriate government departments and agencies.

The report does not specify the FAA or FAA/AST, but FAA/AST is the only office within DOT that currently has responsibility for issuing space-related licenses.  It facilitates and regulates commercial space launches and reentries.  FAA/AST Associate Administrator George Nield has spoken in many venues about expanding that office's regulatory responsibilities to include on-orbit and deep space commercial activities.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is a strong advocate for that idea.

Nield and Bridenstine also have proposed that FAA/AST assume responsibility for non-military space situational awareness (SAA) duties.  DOD's Joint Space Operations Center (JPSoC) tracks objects in orbit and issues "conjunction analyses" -- warnings that a collision may occur -- to other U.S. government agencies, other governments, and commercial entities.  Bridenstine argues that JSPoC needs to focus on its military mission of "fighting and winning wars," not on warning NASA or other space operators about potential collisions.  He sees a transition where a commercial Conjunction Analysis and Warning Center, overseen by FAA/AST, would fuse unclassified DOD data with data from international partners and commercial operators.   At a meeting of the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) last week, Nield said that "senior Air Force and DOD leadership are right with us on this one," although "not everyone" in DOD shares the vision.  He suggested a quick, inexpensive pilot program to answer questions about how much it would cost and whether the data are accurate. for example.

The OSTP proposal takes a step in that direction. It would authorize the Secretary of Transportation, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, to examine planned and actual operational trajectories of space objects and advise satellite operators so as to prevent collisions.

Bridenstine introduced the American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) on April 14 (H.R. 4945) that is very broad and goes further than the OSTP proposal with regard to SSA.  In the longer term, for example, he wants FAA/AST to become a Space Traffic Management (STM) entity with authority to compel operators to move their spacecraft to avoid collisions, though that is some years off.  He has stated that he does not expect his bill to pass en toto, but instead is a repository for provisions that will be inserted into other legislation.

The OSTP proposal would not affect activities that are already regulated by the FAA (commercial launch and reentry), the Federal Communications Commission (commercial communications satellites), or NOAA (commercial remote sensing satellites). It also stresses that the intent is not to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework -- that would be premature -- but to "establish a process no more burdensome that is necessary to enable the United States Government to authorize these pioneering space activities in conformity with its treaty obligations, and to safeguard our public interests, such as national security."

Commercial space advocates argue that although the private sector does not seek government regulation, investors want regulatory certainty before they put their money on the table.  Therefore clarification is needed on how the government plans to fulfill its obligations under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty to help incentivize potential investors.  Hence the requirement that OSTP make these recommendations, which puts the ball back in Congress's court.