Military / National Security News
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 23-28, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
President Trump and his daughter Ivanka will make a 20-minute phone call to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow (Monday) morning at 10:00 am ET. It will be broadcast on a number of NASA media assets including NASA TV, Facebook, Ustream and YouTube. The Trumps are phoning Whitson to congratulate her on breaking the record for U.S. cumulative time in space -- 534 days (currently held by Jeff Williams). Whitson is in command of the ISS right now. This is her third trip to the ISS. She was the first woman to command ISS during her second visit in 2008 and now is the first woman to command it twice. She also has set a record for the most spacewalks by a woman (8 so far). Her duration record is for CUMULATIVE time in space, acquired over three spaceflights. Scott Kelly holds the U.S. record for CONTINUOUS time in space on a single mission (340 days).
We have no advance knowledge of what the conversation will be about, but might he provide a hint on his plans for human spaceflight? His proposed FY2018 budget for NASA's human spaceflight program is status quo. NASA Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen said last week that the agency is expecting flat budgets, not even adjusted for inflation, for the next 5 years, so it seems unlikely that the President has any big changes in mind for the government-funded program. Since the Trump Administration supports public private partnerships for space activities, might an announcement of a COTS-like "commercial station" program be in the works to kickstart a new low Earth orbit (LEO) space station to succeed ISS? NASA has made clear the U.S. government will not be building another LEO space station and is looking to the commercial sector to build LEO facilities for which NASA could be one, but only one, user. Separately, Allen also said that NASA's study of whether to put a crew on the first SLS/Orion mission is completed and the agency is awaiting a "go forward" plan. Maybe he'll say something about that. Or perhaps it will just be a friendly phone call.
Apart from that, it's Groundhog Day in Washington. Once again Congress must pass an appropriations bill by Friday or the government will shut down. (Which is to say that agencies that get their money from the discretionary part of the budget -- DOD, NASA, NOAA etc. -- will shut down unless they are exempt for reasons of public safety or meet other criteria). The 114th Congress bumped FY2017 funding decisions over into the 115th Congress with a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on Friday, April 28. Under the CR, agencies are funded at their prior year (FY2016) levels. FY2017 is more than half over already, but something needs to be done about the remaining 5 months (through September 30).
When President Obama was in office, it was ultra conservative Republicans that threatened (and in one case succeeded) in shutting down the government. With Republicans now in control of the House, Senate and White House, it is largely Democrats who are making the threats. Among their issues is that Republicans want to significantly increase defense spending at the expense of non-defense programs. As an example, Trump submitted a supplemental request for FY2017 last month that would add $30 billion for defense plus another $3 billion to build the border wall with Mexico, all to be partially offset by $18 billion in cuts to non-defense programs (including $50 million from NASA's space science program and $90 million from NOAA's satellite programs). Many Democrats and some Republicans also object to the funding for the border wall. Before the two-week recess that is just ending there were indications that congressional Republicans were agreeing not to fight the border wall battle now so they can finish the FY2017 appropriations process, but the Trump White House reportedly is pushing hard for its inclusion.
It's high stakes politics once again with an uncertain outcome. Rumors are that they might pass another short term (one week) CR to provide more time to reach agreement. It is usually true that such decisions are made only when there is an ominous deadline looming, so it's not clear why adding another week would make much of a difference.
Bear in mind that this is all about FY2017, the current fiscal year. They haven't begun work on funding for FY2018, which starts on October 1. Trump sent a "budget blueprint" or "skinny budget" outlining the contours of his FY2018 spending plan last month. That's the request that indicates a status quo budget for NASA ($19.100 billion in FY2018 compared to $19.285 billion for FY2016), with some cuts to Earth science and the elimination of NASA's Office of Education among the more contentious issues. Some of NOAA's satellite programs are in for cuts, but the blueprint doesn't specify where. The detailed FY2018 budget request is expected to be sent to Congress on May 15.
Also on Capitol Hill this week, the Senate Commerce Committee's space subcommittee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will each hold hearings on Wednesday at exactly the same time (10:00 am ET). The Senate hearing is on the regulatory environment for commercial space and features the leaders of four prominent commercial space companies (Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Made in Space). The House hearing is on advances in the search for life with representatives from NASA (Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the Science Mission Directorate), the SETI Institute (Seth Shostak) and academia (Adam Burgasser from UC San Diego and James Kasting from Pennsylvania State University).
The House hearing takes place as the astrobiology community gathers in Mesa, AZ all week for the 2017 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon). Some sessions and two public lectures (Tuesday and Thursday nights) will be webcast. A "town hall" meeting today (Sunday) will discuss the results of the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander. The Trump Administration's FY2018 budget blueprint specifically does not include funding for a Europa lander (only for the Jupiter orbiter/Europa flyby "Europa Clipper" mission), but discussions about a lander are continuing since it has strong support by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA. It is Congress, not the President, that decides how government money is spent. Culberson is convinced life (microbial, not intelligent) exists in Europa's subsurface ocean and is adamant that a NASA probe find it in the next decade. Today's town hall meeting will be available by WebEx/telecon. Remember that although Arizona is in the Mountain Time zone, it does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so the offset from your time zone is like Pacific Daylight Time (e.g., add three hours, not two, to get Eastern Daylight Time).
The first meeting of the newly chartered NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee is Monday and Tuesday. NASA has restructured its advisory apparatus that is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). This group used to be a subcommittee of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), so any findings or recommendations had to go from the subcommittee up to the full committee up to NAC up to the NASA Administrator and then down to the Associate Administrator for Science and then, at last, down to the Astrophysics Division Director. A long route where advice could be changed or eliminated. Now the group -- and others that also used to be subcommittees -- can report directly to division directors. Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz will brief the committee tomorrow morning (9:45-11:45 am ET) and later in the meeting program officials will provide updates on the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), among other topics. The meeting is at NASA HQ in Washington, DC and is available remotely via WebEx and telecon.
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.
Sunday, April 23
Monday, April 24
Monday-Tuesday, April 24-25
Monday-Friday, April 24-28
Tuesday, April 25
Tuesday-Thursday, April 25-27
Wednesday, April 26
Thursday, April 27
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 17-22, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess this week.
During the Week
Topic A this week is the International Space Station (ISS) and not just logistics, but the microgravity science research being conducted there.
Logistically, the next cargo launch is on Tuesday -- Orbital ATK's OA-7 mission -- and two new crew members will launch and dock on Thursday on Soyuz MS-04. Pre-launch briefings are scheduled for tomorrow (Monday). The OA-7 launch is on Tuesday at 11:11 am ET from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The launch has a 30 minute window and the weather is 90 percent favorable as of today.
This will be the first-ever launch to be broadcast with a 360-degree view according to NASA. Coverage on NASA's regular TV outlets begins at 10:00 am ET. The 360-degree view begins on NASA's YouTube channel 10 minutes before launch. NASA, Orbital ATK and ULA are all working together on the 360-degree view, so the two companies' websites may also carry it. A post-launch press conference is scheduled for 2:00 pm ET. Two days later, Soyuz MS-04 will take NASA's Jack Fischer and Roscosmos's Fyodor Yurchikhin to ISS. As we explained last week, Russia is reducing its ISS crew complement from three to two, so there's an empty seat on this launch, which will be filled by Peggy Whitson on the return.
A key point of having ISS in the first place is to perform scientific research in microgravity. In Washington, DC, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will hold a day-long public symposium on Wednesday where scientists will discuss that research. The next day (Thursday), a panel discussion will take place on Capitol Hill to highlight some of it.
The Academies symposium is in conjunction with a meeting of a committee that is performing a mid-term review of the 2011 Decadal Survey on life and physical sciences research in space to evaluate how NASA is implementing those recommendations. Decadal Surveys cover 10 years (a decade, hence "decadal"). Congress requires NASA to contract with the Academies for Decadal Surveys in each of the science disciplines as well as for mid-term reviews of each study half way though the relevant decade. The mid-term review committee cannot change the priorities in the original report, but assesses how things are going. The mid-term review committee is meeting Tuesday-Thursday, but most of Tuesday and all of Thursday are in closed session. Wednesday's public colloquium will be webcast. The Academies requests that everyone pre-register whether planning to attend in person or watch the webcast.
On Thursday morning, the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Rep. Brian Babin (chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee) will hold a panel discussion on Capitol Hill with four scientists who will discuss their own ISS research on water engineering, the movement of fluids, tissue healing, and plant research. The event is free, but pre-registration is required.
On another topic, Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day and "March for Science" rallies will take place around the globe. One will be on the National Mall in Washington, DC (near the Washington Monument). Organizers are requesting that people who plan to attend let them know through the RSVP link on their website, where you can also find the locations of other rallies that might be closer to you if you can't get to DC.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Monday, April 17
Tuesday, April 18
Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20
Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21
Wednesday, April 19
Thursday, April 20
Thursday-Friday, April 20-21
Friday, April 21
Saturday, April 22
The foreign ministers of the G-7 countries issued a joint communique yesterday in which they recognized the importance of space activities and called for a safe, secure, sustainable and stable space environment, increased transparency, and strengthened norms of responsible behavior. At the same time, the G-7 Nonproliferation Directors Group issued a statement on non-proliferation and disarmament that includes four paragraphs about space that goes further, urging, for example, that countries refrain from destruction of space objects -- intentionally or unintentionally.
The G-7 is an informal group of industrialized countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- that meets annually Their foreign ministers met April 10-11 in Lucca, Italy in preparation for the upcoming heads-of-government summit next month. Their 30-page joint communique following the meeting includes one paragraph about space:
Outer space activities have immense potential. We recognize the rapid development of the modern space environment and the importance of outer space activities both in the day to day lives of our citizens and for the social, economic, scientific and technological development of all states. We are committed to enhancing the long-term safety, security, sustainability, and stability of the space environment, to increasing transparency in space activities, and to strengthening norms of responsible behaviour for all outer space activities.
The G-7 Nonproliferation Directors Group went further. Their 13-page statement similarly reiterates a commitment to a safe, secure and sustainable space environment, but also calls on countries to "refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests, and from any other action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects." They also "strongly encourage" countries to "cooperate in good faith to avoid harmful interference with outer space activities, in a manner consistent with international law" and to prevent the creation and diffusion of space debris. The full text of the space section is as follows:
60. Outer space activities play a significant and increasing role in the social, economic, scientific and technological development of States, as well as in maintaining international peace and security. In this context, we reiterate our commitment to preserve a safe, secure, and sustainable outer space environment and the need to evolve and implement principles of responsible behavior for all outer space activities in a prompt and pragmatic manner, ensuring the peaceful exploration and use of outer space on the basis of equality and in accordance with international law.
61. We call on all States to refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests, and from any other action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects. We strongly encourage all States to take appropriate measures to cooperate in good faith to avoid harmful interference with outer space activities, in a manner consistent with international law, as well as to cooperate to prevent the creation and diffusion of long-lived orbital debris.
62. We reaffirm our commitment, and call on all States, to review and implement, to the extent practicable, the proposed transparency and confidence-building measures contained in the recommendations of the UN Group of Governmental Experts Report (A/68/189, 29 July 2013) such as information exchange on space policies and strategies, information exchange and notifications related to outer space activities in a timely manner and an effective consultation mechanism.
63. We strongly support efforts to rapidly complete clear, practicable and proven Guidelines for Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) by 2018. We encourage all Member States of the Committee to play a constructive role to this end, building on the significant results recently achieved, both during the 59th session of the UN-COPUOS and the 54th session of the Committee’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittees.
These communiques will feed into the 43rd G-7 summit to be held May 26-27 in Taormina, Italy (on the island of Sicily). Italy is currently president of the G-7. Russia became a member of the group in 1998 and it was then known as the G-8. Russia was suspended in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea, however, so it is now once again the G-7.
Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, April 10-22, 2017, and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks.
During the Weeks
At last! We're getting a bit of a break. With Congress in recess until April 24 and most of the big U.S. space conferences over for the first half of the year, the list of events is shorter than it's been recently. We've decided to combine the next two weeks, taking us through April 22 -- Earth Day and the March for Science.
During this period, three crew members will return from the International Space Station (ISS) and two -- yes, just two -- will launch to the ISS. Russia is cutting back on how many of its cosmonauts are aboard ISS to reduce requirements to resupply them using Progress cargo spacecraft. It's a cost cutting move that presents opportunities for NASA astronauts. First among them is Peggy Whitson who will get to remain aboard ISS for an extra three months.
The do-si-do of ISS crews is difficult to follow sometimes, but under normal circumstances in the post-shuttle era there are six crew members aboard -- three from Russia and three from the other partners (at least one from NASA and others from ESA, JAXA, and CSA). The limit is based on how many can get off the ISS in an emergency, which is dictated by how many Soyuz spacecraft are attached since they not only routinely take people back and forth, but serve as lifeboats while there. Each Soyuz can accommodate three people, so with the usual two Soyuzes docked, six people are OK. With Russia cutting its crew from three to two, that means there's an extra Soyuz seat for an emergency or a routine return to Earth.
An American (Shane Kimbrough) and two Russians (Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko) will return on April 10 in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft, leaving
three people on board (NASA's Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy) along with their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft. On April 20,
an American (Jack Fischer) and a Russian (Fyodor Yurchikhin) will launch on Soyuz MS-04, with an empty seat. Whitson was supposed to return on
Soyuz MS-03 with Pesquet and Novitsky, but now will remain and come back with Fischer and Yurchikhin. Whitson is setting records for most cumulative
time in space for an American (on April 24 she will break Jeff Williams' 534-day record) and the most spacewalks for an American woman (8). This
morning a change of command ceremony took place as the Soyuz MS-02 crew prepares to depart. She will be the new commander. This is her
second assignment as ISS commander. She was the first woman commander of ISS on her last trip there in 2008. (This is her third long duration
ISS mission. Her first was in 2002.)
A U.S. cargo mission to the ISS also is coming up during this period. Orbital ATK-7 (OA-7) is launching on United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket this time instead of Orbital ATK's Antares. The launch therefore is from Cape Canaveral and has been delayed several times in recent weeks because of one technical problem or another. It is currently scheduled for April 18, though we haven't seen a time posted by ULA or NASA yet.
Staying with the human spaceflight theme, it also is worth noting that April 12 is the 56th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit
the Earth, and the 36th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle launch. We haven't heard of any commemorative events, however,
Other events of particular note include: meetings of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (April 12-13), NOAA's Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES, April 12), and the National Academies committee performing a mid-term review of the Decadal Survey of physical and biological sciences in space (April 18-20); a European Conference on Space Debris (April 18-21); and a WSBR panel discussion on defense space priorities for the Trump Administration (April 20).
And on Saturday, April 22, a March for Science rally will take place. Actually, there several hundred taking place around the world according to the Earth
Day Network website, which says it is the lead organizer. Washington, D.C. will be the site of a "rally and teach-in" on the National Mall (north
side of the Washington Monument, South of Constitution Ave NW, between 15th and 17th Street, NW) beginning at 9:00 am ET. No tickets are needed,
but organizers hope people will register to attend any of the rallies. Earth
Day itself has been held every year since 1970 to focus attention on the fragility of Earth's environment. (The iconic Earthrise photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew -- the first crew to orbit the Moon - in 1968 is often cited as a catalyst for the environmental
movement and Earth Day. The Blue Marble photograph taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972 has been widely adopted as an emblem for Earth Day.)
Those and other activities 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, April 10
Wednesday, April 12
Wednesday-Thursday, April 12-13
Friday, April 14
Tuesday, April 18
Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20
Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21
Thursday, April 20
Thursday-Friday, April 20-21
Friday, April 21
Saturday, April 22
General John Hyten (USAF), Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), said today that "our job is to make sure war does not extend into space" if possible. At the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, he repeatedly invoked the Command's motto "Peace is Our Profession," but added there is an implied "dot dot dot" at the end of that phrase for those who want "to go in another direction."
Hyten assumed his current post after serving as Commander of Air Force Space Command so is completely versed in national security space matters. He testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Tuesday, the same day that Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow and Air Force Chief of David David Goldfein announced organizational changes to "reflect the reality that space is a joint warfighting domain" as Disbrow phrased it.
At USSTRATCOM, Hyten is responsible for all U.S. strategic forces, including nuclear command and control. At the hearing and today, Hyten stressed that his first priority is strategic deterrence, but that a 21st Century approach to deterrence is needed that moves beyond the focus on nuclear weapons to incorporate space and cyberspace. "If deterrence fails," however, "we will be prepared to deliver a decisive response."
For that, space systems are essential -- from early warning to communications to weapons delivery. Thus it is critical to know what is going on in space -- space situational awareness (SSA) -- which requires an integrated approach encompassing allies and the commercial sector.
The Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) at Vandenberg Air Force Base includes personnel from all the U.S. military services plus Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Canada, Hyten explained, adding that a new Multinational Space Collaboration (MSC) program is underway to bring in other close allies, starting with Germany. Another U.S. organization was created to merge the military JSpOC with the intelligence community. Originally called the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC), Hyten announced at the hearing and today that it was just renamed the National Space Defense Center to better convey its purpose -- to facilitate decision making "if we ever see a threat scenario" in space.
The commercial space sector also must be involved in SSA, he continued. Companies working with JSpOC today, however, "come on their own dime" and because there is no contractual relationship, it is difficult to share information. "I asked the Senate for help" with that, Hyten said, but did not provide details on what remedy he requested. It was not discussed during the open hearing on Tuesday, but he also met with SASC during a closed session on Wednesday.
"There is no such thing as war in space. There is just war," Hyten stressed. The goal is to prevent conflict from moving into space, but if it does, the United States and its allies need to deal with it.
Hyten's speech today was livestreamed on USSTRATCOM's Facebook page.
Acting Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Lisa Disbrow announced a number of changes to the Air Force "space enterprise" today, starting with creation of a new position of deputy chief of staff for space. Also today, U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Commander Gen. John Hyten told a Senate committee about a name change for the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) and discussed the need for a 21st Century deterrence strategy that includes space.
In a statement, Disbrow said the Air Force changes "reflect the reality that space is a joint warfighting domain." Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein added that the new deputy chief of staff position will be a three-star (Lieutenant General) position and known as "A-11." That person will serve as the space advocate within Air Force Headquarters and be "instrumental in fostering ... the cultural change and capabilities evolution required to operate in an increasingly contested space domain."
Four other changes are in the works. The Air Force is reforming its space acquisition program approval process and will consider alternative acquisition approaches. That includes expansion of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) organization "to rapidly field systems, as well as procure existing commercial capabilities." Air Force Space Command has developed a Space Warfighting Construct (SWC) to "evolve the space architecture to be more flexible, survivable and resilient." Lastly, the Air Force, in conjunction with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the other services, will "embed space professionals at every stage of decision making."
Disbrow stressed that the Air Force "seeks to deter conflict in space, but should deterrence fail, we will counter any attempt to deny freedom of action in this vital warfighting domain." She has been serving as acting SecAF since January 20 when the Trump Administration began. Former Rep. Heather Wilson has been nominated to serve as the new SecAf. Her confirmation hearing was held last week, but she has not been confirmed yet.
The Air Force is responsible for many national security space programs and the SecAf was named as the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA) in the Obama Administration. Still, finding an effective organizational model to develop strategy for and execute space activities in the national security sector -- DOD and the Intelligence Community (IC) -- apparently remains elusive.
The Disbrow announcement came hours after Hyten testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in open session. The hearing was quite broad and space activities were not a major focus. Hyten and several Senators referred to a classified hearing scheduled for tomorrow where they will be discussed in more detail.
Hyten announced yet another change. The Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC) is being renamed the National Space Defense Center to better convey its purpose. Established in September 2015, JICSpOC is intended to facilitate information sharing across the national security space enterprise including the military and the IC.
Hyten is a former commander of Air Force Space Command, but in his current role as head of USSTRATCOM has much broader responsibilities encompassing all U.S. strategic forces including nuclear command and control, space operations, global strike, global missile defense, and global command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR). At the hearing, Hyten expressed frustration on a number of issues across the command, especially acquisition and the need for a 21st Century deterrence strategy.
"Deterrence is going to be expensive, but war will always be more expensive," he argued. Current U.S. deterrence strategy is stuck in the past when the focus was nuclear weapons. It needs to evolve to include space and cyber threats as well. "The context has to be the fact that we're actually not deterring cyber, we're not deterring space, we're deterring an adversary who wants to operate and do damage in those domains. That's what we have to deter."
When asked by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) about recent Russian efforts to develop antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, Hyten responded that while Russia may be developing such capabilities, the nearer-term threat is from China. In response, the United States must "have the ability to defend" against those threats and "build an offensive capability to challenge" theirs. Hyten told Cruz they could discuss it more in the classified hearing on Wednesday.
Cruz specifically asked about the vulnerability of GPS positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellites. Hyten listed the large number of military systems that have become dependent on GPS, from aircraft to artillery. Six years ago, he said, the Air Force did a "day without space" exercise and took away GPS and communications satellite (SATCOM) capabilities from aviators. "And it was not good." Since then, training has changed to teach how to operate in an GPS- and SATCOM-denied environment. "Maybe we were spoiled" because space was once considered a safe environment, but "we can't assume that any more." The military needs to look at precision navigation and timing "as a mission and build resilience into that architecture as well as defending GPS on orbit."
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 3-7, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week (then will be in recess for the subsequent two weeks).
During the Week
THE BIG SPACE EVENT this week is, of course, the Space Foundation's annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Between all the conference sessions and side events, the entire breadth of space activities -- domestic and international -- is covered. There is far too much going on to summarize in this brief article, and the majority of activities require people to be on site, but one event that has been announced by the United Launch Alliance will be webcast and might pique some interest. On Tuesday at 10:30 am Mountain Time (12:30 pm Eastern), ULA will have a panel discussion on its "vision of a self-sustained space economy within the confines of CisLunar space." ULA CEO Tory Bruno will be there along with representatives of AIAA, Made in Space, Offworld, and the Air Force Academy. Other companies are likely to make big announcements at the Space Symposium, too, so stay tuned throughout the week!
Also in the western part of the United States and also on Tuesday, NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) will hold a press conference on the beginning of the end for the much-loved Cassini spacecraft that has been studying Saturn, its rings and its moons since 2004. Cassini is running out of fuel and to ensure that it does not crash into and contaminate any of those moons -- especially Titan or Enceladus where some scientists believe the conditions for life exist -- JPL is commanding Cassini to "crash" into Saturn itself instead. Saturn is a gaseous planet so "crash" isn't the right word, but atmospheric forces should destroy it. To get as much science as possible, Cassini will make 20 deep dives into the Saturnian atmosphere over the next several months collecting data on the unexplored gap between the planet and its rings. The first is scheduled for April 26; the last on September 15. The press conference will be webcast.
Meanwhile, back here in Washington, the House is scheduled to take up the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 353) again, this time to approve amendments added by the Senate before it passed that chamber last week. The bill was largely written in the 114th Congress and the House made quick work of reintroducing it in the 115th Congress and passing it on January 9. This latest iteration omits a controversial watershed study that held up passage last year and makes a few changes to the House-passed version. The provisions regarding NOAA's weather satellite programs remain the same. The bill currently is on the House suspension calendar for Tuesday. Bills on that calendar are expected to pass easily.
Behind the scenes, work will continue to determine the path forward for FY2017 appropriations. The Continuing Resolution (CR) keeping the government open at the moment expires on April 28. Since the House and Senate will be on spring break for the middle two weeks of the month, they have this week and the last week in April to decide what they're going to do. Although there is a Republican president in the White House now instead of a Democrat, budget politics have not changed very much -- it's just that now it is some Democrats threatening a shutdown instead of Republicans. The arguments are the same -- Republicans want to increase defense spending. Period. Democrats insist that if defense will get more, then non-defense also should get more and definitely should not be cut the way the Trump Administration has proposed for FY2018.
The battle right now, however, is over the rest of FY2017, which began on October 1, 2016 so is half over already. The appropriations committees had pretty much decided what to do with FY2017, but President Trump has submitted a FY2017 supplemental request for an additional $30 billion in defense spending and $3 billion for Homeland Security that would be partially offset by $18 billion in cuts to non-defense programs. Since only 5 months will remain in FY2017 at the end of April, those cuts would have a dramatic impact since they would have to be absorbed in such a short period of time. Bottom line? It's a familiar quandary. Will they pass another CR through the end of the year or an omnibus bill that combines 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills? (One, and only one, FY2017 appropriations bill passed already -- Military Construction/Veterans Administration. It was incorporated into the first CR passed last fall.) Or will they pass nothing and much of the government will come to a halt? With the level of discord within the Republican Party not to mention between Republicans and Democrats, we're not making any prognostications.
Funding the government through CRs is harshly criticized by everyone, which may come as a surprise considering how often it is done (because they can't reach agreement on anything else). The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) wants to emphasize just how bad another CR would be for DOD and is holding a hearing specifically on that topic Wednesday morning: "Damage to the Military from a Continuing Resolution." Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miley, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson are the witnesses. A high-powered panel to be sure.
The House passed a revised FY2017 defense appropriations bill in March, actually, and it is conceivable that bill alone could pass with the other 10 wrapped into an omnibus or extended by a CR. Congress has a number of options to work with, the key is getting sufficient votes to pass one of them. At the moment, the Senate still needs 60 votes to pass an appropriations bill (meaning at least 8 Democrat/Independent aye votes). In the House, the Freedom Caucus objects to the total level of government spending, so the House Republican leadership may well need Democratic votes to get anything passed. Which has been true for some time. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for any we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list. [For those of you wondering what's happening with the postponed OA-7 launch we mentioned last week, a NASA official said at a NASA Advisory Council meeting that it will not launch before mid-April. A specific launch date and associated dates for pre-launch briefings have not been announced.]
Monday-Thursday, April 3-6
Monday-Friday, April 3-7
Tuesday, April 4
Wednesday, April 5
Thursday, April 6
President Trump's release of his FY2018 budget blueprint may be the budget topic of the day, but it is important to remember that FY2017 funding is not yet settled. NASA, NOAA, DOD and other federal agencies are funded under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on April 28. Before then, Congress must pass new appropriations to keep the government operating. Along with proposing his FY2018 budget, Trump requested $33 billion in FY2017 supplemental funding for DOD and the Department of Homeland Security that assumes $18 billion in cuts for non-defense programs, including at NASA and NOAA.
FY2017 is almost half over. It began on October 1, 2016. Only one of the 12 regular FY2017 appropriations measures has cleared Congress (Military Construction-VA, which is contained within the first CR that Congress passed in September 2016), but the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have pretty much completed work on the others and a revised FY2017 defense appropriations bill passed the House on March 8. Trying to make changes at this late date will be quite a challenge. Politico quoted senior appropriators as calling the FY2017 cuts unlikely.
Nonetheless, the proposal is now before Congress. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) submitted a list of where the White House wants to make the reductions. The American Institute of Physics reports that $3 billion would come from research and development accounts.
Among the proposed cuts are $50 million from NASA's science program and $90 million from NOAA's weather satellite programs.
For NASA, the OMB proposal says the reductions would be distributed across the science program, "including cuts to unused reserves and missions that are cancelled in the 2018 budget, It is possible missions would be delayed and/or grants reduced." The President's FY2018 NASA budget request proposes terminating four NASA earth science programs: PACE, CLARREO Pathfinder, Earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR, and OCO-3.
At NOAA, the $90 million in cuts "reflects the planned ramp down of JPSS and GOES weather satellites, and the ramp-up of the PFO program. This level also delays the EON contingency mission which is not funded in the Congressional marks. This estimate also includes NOAA"s Office of Satellite and Produce Operations." The budgets for JPSS and GOES do, in fact, begin ramping down in FY2017 so the fact that they continue to be funded at their FY2016 levels in the CR means there is excess money in those accounts.
PFO is the Polar Follow On program -- the third and fourth JPSS polar orbiting weather satellites. The Trump FY2018 budget request already plans to reduce PFO funding. It says annual savings will be achieved "by better reflecting the actual risk of a gap in polar satellite coverage." The amount is not specified. For FY2017, the PFO request was $383 million, or $393 million if the EON-MW nanosatellite is included. (Sometimes NOAA lists EON-MW separately and sometimes as part of the PFO budget). EON-MW is the Earth Observing Nanosatellite-Microwave. As its name implies, it is a tiny satellite that would carry a microwave sounder to ensure that data is available if difficulties arise with the JPSS satellites. Congress denied the $10 million requested for EON-MW in FY2016. The same amount was requested for FY2017. In action so far, the Senate Appropriations Committee denied it while the House Appropriations Committee approved $370 million for PFO and said it included money for EON-MW, but not how much.
The CR expires in four weeks, but the path forward remains murky. Many appropriators reportedly are hoping to combine the remaining 11 regular appropriations bills into an omnibus bill that would provide "full year" appropriations to each department and agency. It may be, however, that the CR will simply be extended through the rest of FY2017, keeping agencies at their FY2016 spending levels unless exceptions are made. Congress has much less control over funding for specific government programs and projects in a CR, but sometimes a CR is the only way to reach agreement.
As has become typical, there also is talk about a government shutdown, although this time it is the Democrats threatening such action instead of the Republicans. Many Democrats oppose the increases in defense spending in the FY2017 supplemental and FY2018 budget requests while domestic programs would suffer significant cuts. Meanwhile, some conservative Republicans object to the overall level of spending for FY2017, which exceeds budget caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. They may oppose the FY2017 bills for that reason. The failure of the House Republican leadership last week to win over the majority of the conservative Freedom Caucus members for a vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) could foreshadow troubled times ahead on other issues, including appropriations.
Note: This article was corrected to indicate that the FY2017 MilCon/VA appropriations bill cleared Congress as part of the first FY2017 CR passed in September.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 27-31, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate will be in session.
During the Week
Before we get started on what's coming up, in case you missed it, yesterday President Trump used his Weekly Address to talk about NASA. He signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act into law earlier in the week and the roughly 5 minute video continues the theme of expressing his admiration for NASA while sharing no information on his plans for the agency. Apollo, Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are featured. JWST is, in fact, the only future program mentioned even though the President says "the future belongs to us." He is speaking generically at that point, though, not about the space program specifically. Nothing about the International Station Station even though there's footage from the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. A space shuttle launch is shown, but nothing about SLS or any other launch vehicles. The only science other than astrophysics that makes it into the video requires the viewer to be sufficiently in-the-know to recognize the JPL jubilation at Curiosity's successful landing on Mars. Still, Presidents don't often talk about the space program in their Weekly Addresses or anywhere else, so it's worth a look. This was done the day after the Republican Obamacare repeal effort failed, so perhaps he was looking for some good news to convey. He says at the end that "if Americans can achieve these things, there is no problem we cannot solve."
Onward. This coming week is another space policy extravaganza. Starting with national security space, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on the nomination of former Rep. Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force. Trump announced her nomination back in January, but it has taken this long for all the paperwork to get to the committee. None of the service secretaries are in place right now. The nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because they could not disentangle themselves from their business interests. Wilson's hearing is Thursday morning.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, a HASC subcommittee will hold a joint hearing with a House Homeland Security subcommittee on "Threats to Space Assets and Implications for Homeland Security," certainly an interesting topic. Witnesses are the former commandant of the Coast Guard (Adm. Thad Allen), the former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Joseph Nimmich), and the former commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command (Gen. William Shelton). That's on Wednesday afternoon. Allen is on the GPS Advisory Board, so that surely will be one of the topics. GPS -- where would we all be without it?
On the civil space side, this is Space Science Week at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. All five of the standing committees that deal with space meet individually and jointly Tuesday-Thursday and there is a public lecture on Wednesday evening. At the public lecture, JPL's Kevin Hand will talk about the Search for Life in Oceans Beyond Earth. The lecture and the other Space Science Week events will take place at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue (not at the Keck Center on 5th Street).
Space law is on the docket this week, too. The Legal Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space begins its annual two-week meeting in Vienna, Austria. The first day features a space law symposium sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL). Closer to home, Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is holding an afternoon symposium on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. Henry Hetrzfeld (GWU), Steve Mirmina (NASA), Pamela Meredith (American Univ.), Ray Bender (independent arbitrator and mediator), Courtney Bailey (NASA) and Pete Hays (DOD PDSA staff) are the speakers. SAIS doesn't often weigh in on space law or space policy issues. Space law does seem to be in vogue these days, spurred by the anniversary and the innovative ideas commercial companies are espousing for space exploration and utilization and associated legal issues.
The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets, more briefly than usual, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Two of its committees meet earlier in the week, including Human Exploration and Operations (HEO). NAC advises the NASA Administrator and a new Administrator has not yet been nominated. Robert Lightfoot is Acting Administrator. Gen. Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.) is the new Chair of NAC, succeeding Ken Bowersox, who served as Acting Chair after Steve Squyres stepped down last April. Bowersox remains on NAC and resumes his position as chair of the HEO committee. Lyles was an ex officio member of NAC for many years because he chaired the National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB). He completed his two terms as ASEB chair last year and now will continue advising NASA in this new capacity. Public sessions of the NAC meetings are useful for catching up on NASA programs and the issues NASA managers are facing. Anyone can listen in by telecon and watch via WebEx.
We'll stop there because this is getting so long, but there are MANY other really interesting meetings on tap this week.
All the events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list. In particular we are awaiting word on when the OA-7 cargo mission to the International Space Station will launch. The launch, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, has been delayed three times due to technical problems with one thing or another. When a new launch date is announced, we'll post it.
Monday, March 27
Monday, March 27 - Friday, April 7
Tuesday, March 28
Tuesday-Wednesday, March 28-29
Tuesday-Thursday, March 28-30
Wednesday, March 29
Wednesday-Friday, March 29-31
Thursday, March 30
Thursday-Friday, March 30-31
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 19-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
It's another one of those super-busy weeks, especially Wednesday. Lots of action is in store inside Washington, outside Washington, and in Earth orbit.
Two are happening today (Sunday). First is a Town Hall meeting at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LSPC) near Houston that is discussing the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander, a topic expected to be of congressional interest during debate on the FY2018 budget request. President Trump's budget blueprint specifically says it does NOT fund the lander, only the orbiter/flyby Europa Clipper. Second is the return to Earth of SpaceX's CRS-10 Dragon spacecraft. It took about 5,500 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) last month and is returning 5,400 pounds of results from scientific experiments and other items needed back on Earth. Dragon is the only one of the four cargo spacecraft that service ISS that was designed to survive reentry (since SpaceX designed it from the beginning to support crews).
Dragon's return is just one part of a busy time on the ISS. Another cargo mission, Orbital ATK's OA-7, is scheduled for launch on either Thursday or Friday (the exact date is TBD depending on availability of the Eastern Test Range from which the launch will take place aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V). At the same time, astronauts on the U.S. segment of the ISS are gearing up for a series of three spacewalks. The first is on Friday. NASA will hold a news conference on Wednesday at Johnson Space Center to explain what they will be doing. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will all take part in the spacewalks. The other two are on April 2 and April 7.
The Europa lander Town Hall mentioned above is just the start of the week-long LPSC conference at The Woodlands, just outside Houston. LPSC is the premier conference where planetary scientists gather to present the results of their research and talk about upcoming missions. Unfortunately, it looks like there are no webcasts, so one must be there in person to hear about all the new findings and discoveries. [There is a notice on the conference's website warning that no live streaming of presentations is permitted.] NASA headquarters representatives will hold their own Town Hall meeting on Monday and NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group's (VEXAG's) Town Hall is on Thursday.
Back in Washington, brevity requires picking just two events to highlight, both among those taking place on Wednesday. First, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) will hold a day-long symposium on "Space Security: Issues for the New Administration." It has a terrific lineup of speakers from CSIS, PSSI, the U.S. military, Congress, academia (U.S. and Japan), the Japanese and French governments, the European Space Agency, industry, non-profits and FFRDCs. The four main topics are space crisis dynamics, cooperation in space and missile defense, future of space launch, and space situational awareness and space traffic management. Luckily, this event WILL be livestreamed so people everywhere can benefit.
Second, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis gets his first chance in his new position to publicly brief the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on the state of U.S. military readiness and DOD's budget requirements. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC) will also testify. Not sure how much, if any, of the discussion will be about space activities, but it's a great way to get the lay of the land from their perspectives. The committee typically webcasts its hearings on its website.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.
Sunday, March 19
Monday, March 20
Monday-Friday, March 20-24
Tuesday, March 21
Wednesday, March 22
Thursday, March 23
Friday, March 24