Military / National Security News
The following space policy events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
Among the highlights of the coming week are congressional hearings on NASA and NOAA and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee markups of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
A House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on Next Steps in Human Exploration of Space that seems focused on the new asteroid retrieval mission proposed in NASA's FY2014 budget request.
Another House SS&T subcommittee will hold a hearing on Thursday on how to restore U.S. leadership in weather forecasting, a NOAA responsibility, though it is hard to tell how much of that will focus on weather satellites rather than computer models. Later that morning the Senate Commerce committee will hold its nomination hearing for Penny Pritzker to be the new Secretary of Commerce. The Department of Commerce is NOAA's parent agency and it also is one of the two cabinet level departments responsible for export controls (State Department is the other), so is a critical participant in implementing the export control reforms required under last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Rumors were rampant that the draft regulations for reforming satellite export controls would be published in the Federal Register last week, but that did not happen; perhaps they will be issued this week. That is just one step in the lengthy regulatory process that many hope will result in commercial satellites no longer being subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) under the State Department's Munitions List.
All of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittees will markup their respective portions of the FY2014 NDAA this week. The Strategic Forces subcommittee, which is responsible for most military space programs, will hold its markup on Wednesday. Full committee markup is scheduled for June 5. (The Senate Armed Services Committee markups are scheduled for June 11-12.)
Monday, May 20
Monday-Wednesday, May 20-22
Monday-Friday, May 20-24
Tuesday, May 21
Wednesday, May 22
Thursday, May 23
Thursday-Monday, May 23-27
If you believe China's account, it launched a geophysical sounding rocket yesterday. If you believe Bill Gertz, it was an antisatellite (ASAT) test.
China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported that it launched a sounding rocket at 9:00 pm (Beijing Time) Monday with a scientific payload to study energetic particles and magnetic fields. The launch was from the Xichang space launch site near Chengdu.
Bill Gertz, senior editor at the Washington Free Beacon and a columnist for the Washington Times, however, reports that it was an ASAT test disguised as a space exploration rocket. He describes it as "the first test of a new ground-launched anti-satellite missile" whose existence, he says, was first reported by the Free Beacon in October.
Some U.S. experts on China's space program expected an ASAT test in January that did not materialize. Greg Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists argued that the United States should try to convince China not to conduct the test. China's successful 2007 ASAT test against one of its own weather satellites created over 3,000 pieces of space debris that earned it international condemnation. That launch also was from Xichang, but used a different rocket.
Gertz quoted a Pentagon spokesperson as saying only that they do not comment on intelligence matters. Reporters did not ask questions about it at the daily State Department briefings yesterday or today.
The Pentagon released its most recent congressionally-required annual assessment of military and security developments involving China last week -- often called the "China military power" report. The topic of ASATs was not raised during a press conference with David Helvey, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia, and the report itself says little new about China's space or counter-space activities.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
Perhaps the most intriguing event this week is Thursday's House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee's Oversight Subcommittee hearing on "Espionage Threats at Federal Laboratories: Balancing Scientific Cooperation While Protecting Critical Information." No NASA witnesses are on the list, but it would be surprising if the agency is not a subject of discussion.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) made headlines earlier this year with allegations that a Chinese national, Bo Jiang, was stealing secrets from NASA's Langely Research Center. Jiang was arrested, but later exonerated of a felony charge of lying to federal investigators. Wolf has raised concerns for some time about alleged improprieties regarding ITAR-controlled information at NASA's Ames Research Center. Wolf chairs the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and works closely with House SS&T Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) on this issue. They jointly sent a letter to the FBI and to the Department of Justice Inspector General about their concerns about NASA-Ames this spring (links to the letters are on Rep. Wolf's website). Witnesses on Thursday are Chuck Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering (and President Emeritus of MIT); Larry Wortzel, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (and former Asian Studies Center director at the Heritage Foundation); Michelle Van Cleave, Senior Research Fellow at George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute (she was the National Counterintelligence Executive in the George W. Bush Administration and once was a staffer on the House SS&T Committee); and David Major of the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (a retired FBI agent, his company trains people in counterintelligence and related topics). Should be interesting!
Monday, May 13
Tuesday, May 14
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 14-15
Thursday, May 16
UPDATE: Adds another hearing on the FY2014 Air Force budget request; this one by Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
Sending people to Mars is one theme of the upcoming week. A three-day "summit" sponsored by ExploreMars and George Washington University's (GWU) Space Policy Institute will be held at GWU's Lisner Auditorum on Monday-Wednesday. This is also the week that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin releases his new book, Mission to Mars, written with veteran space journalist Leonard David. There are events throughout the week related to release of the book. In Washington, there are events on Wednesday and Thursday nights at the National Geographic, and on Friday at the National Press Club.
The search for other Earths -- exoplanets -- will be the topic of a hearing by two subcommittees of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Thursday. On a more prosaic level, two hearings on the Air Force's FY2014 budget request will be held on Tuesday and Thursday.
Monday-Wednesday, May 6-8
Tuesday, May 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, May 7-8
Wednesday, May 8
Wednesday and Thursday, May 8 and May 9
Thursday, May 9
Friday, May 10
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in recess this week.
During the Week
After an intense two weeks, the upcoming week will be much more relaxed as members of the House and Senate work in their State and district offices instead of Washington. So we will have a chance to catch our breaths. There are a few events of interest, though.
Monday-Tuesday, April 29-30
Wednesday, May 1
Thursday, May 2
Christina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked for GAO's assessment of disaggregation at a Senate hearing last week. GAO has several studies underway, she replied, and it appears the concept has merit in theory, but there are reasons to be cautious, too.
Chaplain is director, acquisition and sourcing management at GAO, and leads the group that conducts most of GAO's studies about military space issues. She testifies to the Senate Armed Services Committee's (SASC's) Subcommittee on Strategic Forces annually providing a synopsis of GAO's recent assessments of how the Department of Defense (DOD) is managing its space programs. Last year and this year GAO gave DOD high marks for improving its management and acquisition of space systems overall while highlighting remaining areas of concern. Like last year, Chaplain stressed the need for DOD to ensure that the ground segments for its satellite systems are ready by the time the satellites are launched, for example.
One topic that was discussed at length at Wednesday's (April 24) hearing on military space programs was DOD's efforts to field more resilient space-based capabilities and the role that disaggregation might play. Disaggregation is a concept where instead of relying on a few, large satellites, military space needs might better be met by a system of many smaller satellites, including hosted payloads on commercial satellites, which could reduce vulnerability and lower costs.
In one sense, the idea of disaggregation builds on DOD's Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) effort that focused on building small satellites that could be launched relatively quickly to meet requirements of operational commanders. The ORS-1 satellite is widely considered a success, but DOD proposed terminating the ORS program office last year. Instead, it said it would integrate ORS lessons learned into the broader Air Force satellite acquisition process. Congress emphatically said no, but DOD is proposing to abolish the ORS program office again this year even while it is touting the potential benefits of disaggregation. DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy Doug Loverro assured SASC that the department got the message, but choices must be made about where to cut the budget and that is why the proposal is being made again.
Disaggregation and resiliency were major topics at the SASC hearing as well as at a companion hearing before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) the next day. Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. William Shelton told SASC that no decision has been made about whether to adopt the disaggregation approach yet, but he will know more this summer. He added that from what he has seen so far, "there is no reason not to be confident " of its value.
Chaplain was asked by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NB) for GAO's views on disaggregation. She replied that GAO has studies underway about it that will be completed later this year, but that theoretically it has value. However, there are a number of challenges that DOD will have to bear in mind, including the following:
Other witnesses at the SASC hearing were Navy Deputy Assistant Secretary John Zangardi and Army Space and Missile Defense Commander Lt. Gen. Richard Formica. A broad range of military space issues were discussed including the impacts of sequestration, the ongoing debate about acquisition of space launch services (EELVs and new entrants), counter-space capabilities, the status of discussions about an international code of conduct for space activities, and the Navy's MUOS communications satellite program.
The HASC hearing the next day covered several of the same topics and also revealed that DOD is leasing communications capacity on a Chinese satellite, which was a bit of a surprise considering the opposition to U.S.-China space cooperation in the civil space realm.
At two congressional hearings last week, Air Force Space Command (AFSC) Commander Gen. William Shelton warned about the "chaos" created in his command because of sequestration, saying its effects "cannot be overstated."
Shelton testified to the Strategic Forces subcommittees of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Wednesday (April 24) and Thursday (April 25) respectively.
Among the many topics discussed at the two hearings, Shelton stressed the impacts of sequestration saying that he had to find $508 million in reductions for the rest of this fiscal year (FY2013) within the AFSC budget. "The chaos created by operations and maintenance account reductions this large in this short time period cannot be overstated" he said to both subcommittees.
Furloughs for his civilian staff were at the top of his list of specific impacts, which also included operational changes for radars for missile defense and the "space fence" that tracks objects in orbit. "In one case we are operating at a lower power" and in the other "we are operating for a reduced number of hours per day," he testified. The radar that is needed for missile defense continues to operate at full power because of the threat from North Korea, he continued, but if he has to sustain that for the rest of the fiscal year "that's another $5 million I need to find in my budgets somewhere." He added that he has taken down "one third of the space fence receiver sites," reduced the level of sustainment funds for the Defense Satellite Communication System (DSCS) of communications satellites, and "hosts of other things."
In an exchange with Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the top Democrat on the HASC subcommittee, Shelton agreed that while no one likes the amount of the budget cuts, the real problem is the "rigidity in the law that requires every line item to be cut so it gives you no flexiblity to make smart trades." Cooper and subcommittee chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) agreed to see if Congress could do anything in the short term to improve the situation rather than waiting for passage of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which will take many months.
A House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee asked a Defense of Department (DOD) official on Thursday if he knew of DOD leasing any commercial satellite services from companies with significant ownership by the People's Republic of China. The somewhat surprising answer was "yes."
The question came as part of a hearing by the HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee on the FY2014 budget request for national security space activities. Witnesses were DOD's new Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy, Doug Loverro; DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary, Space and Intelligence Office, Gil Klinger; Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. William Shelton; and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Betty Sapp.
Most of the hearing discussed familiar issues such as DOD's launch services procurement strategy and the role of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs) -- Delta IV and Atlas V, offered by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) -- versus "new entrants" like SpaceX. Shelton reiterated what he has said in other venues that DOD is procuring 50 new core launch vehicles, 36 of which will be assigned to ULA while the other 14 are open for competition to certified providers including ULA. New entrants like SpaceX are still working on becoming certified under DOD's criteria.
The launch vehicle debate has been ongoing for several years. What was new at Thursday's hearing was the revelation that DOD is leasing commercial satellite communications services from a company partially owned by China. Many House Republicans are opposed to civilian space cooperation with China and the law prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from spending any money in connection with China unless certain conditions are met. No similar restrictions have been placed on DOD, however.
Loverro told the subcommittee that he became aware of the leases when he assumed his new job about a month ago. He did not specify what satellite it is, but explained that an operational commander needed services in a particular area of operations and that was the only satellite with the necessary bandwidth. All the correct procedures were followed, including a security review, in putting the lease together, he insisted. The operational commander understood the situation and the encryption that would be required, but the bottom line is that warfighters need support and "sometimes we must go to ... the only place we can get it from." The Defense Information Services Agency (DISA), which is responsible for procuring communications services for DOD, went out to its suppliers and "only one provider had the bandwidth" to meet the need and it was "on a Chinese satellite," Loverro explained.
The larger issue, he said, is that there is no clear DOD policy on how to make such decisions. He is working with DISA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff now to develop a process, but could not provide details because "we just decided to do this literally a week-and-a-half ago."
The following events may of be interest in the week ahead, starting today with the rescheduled launch of Antares hopefully around 5:00 pm ET. The House and Senate both are in session this week.
During the Week
Orbital Sciences Corp. will try again today (Sunday) to launch its new Antares rocket for the first time. Two previous attempts were scrubbed, the first because of a technical glitch and yesterday because of weather. The launch window again opens at 5:00 pm ET. Follow @OrbitalSciences and @NASA_Wallops on Twitter to keep up to date.
That's just the start of a very busy week, with many congressional hearings on NASA, NOAA, FAA and DOD space activities (see our separate list of just those hearings, though one more has arisen since -- the House Appropriations hearing on the FAA budget request on Wednesday, which includes the Office of Commercial Space Transportation). Among the other highlights are a meeting of the National Research Council's Committee on Human Spaceflight tomorrow and Tuesday and a meeting of the full NASA Advisory Council (NAC) on Wednesday and Thursday (many of the NAC committees met last week and one more will meet on Monday).
CORRECTION: The SASC hearing on military space programs and DOD use of the spectrum is on April 24, not April 23 as originally shown in this list. Our apologies for the error. It is corrected in the revised list below.
Sunday, April 21
Monday, April 22
Monday-Tuesday, April 22-23
Monday-Thursday, April 22-25
Tuesday, April 23
Wednesday, April 24
Wednesday-Thursday, April 24-25
Thursday, April 25
NASA, NOAA and national security space programs will be in the spotlight on Capitol Hill next week.
Here is a list of the hearings we know about as of this morning. All times are Eastern. More details -- including location and witnesses (where announced) -- are available by clicking on the links. Remember that times, dates and witnesses for congressional hearings are subject to change; check the relevant committee's website for the most up to date information. Most committees webcast their hearings.
National Security Space