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Military / National Security News

No Good News for FAA Space Office in FY2018 Request

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-May-2017 (Updated: 25-May-2017 02:41 AM)

After successfully fighting to get a budget boost in FY2017, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is back to the drawing board in the Trump Administration's FY2018 request.  The office won a $2 million increase to $19.8 million in FY2017, but the FY2018 request is back down to $17.9 billion. The FAA's budget request also includes funding for a space traffic management pilot project.

Advocates for AST have insisted for years that more resources -- money and people -- are needed for the office to keep pace with the growth in the commercial space launch sector.  AST regulates, facilitates and promotes that industry.

Mike Gold chairs AST's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), whose members are representatives of commercial space companies.  Gold told SpacePolicyOnline.com in an interview today that one issue on which all of COMSTAC's members agree is that AST needs more funding.  He noted that it is rare when companies actually ask that more money be allocated to their government regulators, but inadequate resources could "lead to needless delays, create regulatory bottlenecks and stifle innovation."


Mike Gold, Chairman, COMSTAC. Photo credit:  FAA website.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is another strong supporter of AST, which is part of the Department of Transportation and funded in the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) appropriations bill.  He testified before the T-HUD subcommittee on March 9 advocating for a $23 million budget for AST in FY2018.  His argument is that space transportation is part of the nation's infrastructure, launching satellites like GPS that are essential to everyday life, and AST needs adequate resources to execute its duties.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), an industry group of more than 70 companies and organizations, also is urging Congress to fund the office at $23 million. In a March 29, 2017 letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate T-HUD appropriations subcommittee, the CSF especially cited the need for AST to update outdated regulations.  "It is essential that AST not simply apply additional funds to existing licensing approaches, but in fact actually reengineer those approaches to reduce unnecessary burdens to AST as well as industry."  The funding increase should be used "to fix AST's obsolete regulations, and not simply grow its status quo workforce, nor pursue newer missions with a lower priority than the core licensing function."

The letter and Bridenstine's testimony were prepared before the Trump Administration's budget request for AST was publicly known.  The $23 million would be a $3.2 million increase from the FY2017 level, substantial in and of itself.  Now that the request is only for $17.9 million, winning congressional support to raise it to $23 million will be no mean feat.  Getting it back to its FY2017 level of $19.8 million might be more achievable.  Bridenstine and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) led the fight last year to get the $19.8 million. Kilmer is a member of the House Appropriations Committee; his Seattle-area district is home to companies like Blue Origin and Planetary Resources.  One factor is whether Bridenstine will remain a member of the House and in a position to fight for AST.  He is a candidate to become NASA Administrator.

AST also receives a small amount of money from the Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) portion of the FAA budget for commercial space transportation safety.  The FY2018 request is $1.796 million, a slight reduction from FY2017.  That money funds its Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and other R&D activities related to the safe and efficient integration of commercial space transportation into the National Airspace System (NAS).

Integrating commercial space transportation into the NAS is also funded in another part of the FAA's budget -- Facilities & Equipment (F&E) for the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), a different part of the FAA responsible for air traffic control. 

The FAA must clear the airspace around space launches and reentries and is requesting an increase in the F&E FY2018 budget from $2 million to $4.5 million to acquire a Space Data Integrator (SDI) tool that will enable the FAA to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.

According to the FAA's budget documentation, some of that money also will be used to initiate a pilot program "related to Space Traffic Management" (STM) that will enable FAA to "move toward the goal of monitoring space traffic and reducing the risk of space traffic incidents" and "enable the FAA to monitor space traffic services and their impact to aviation, consistent with the FAA's public safety mission."  The budget document describes the pilot program as funding acquisition of a high performance computing system composed of commercial and governmentally-developed analytical software.  "An initial space situational awareness system comprised of 4 analytical stations with the capability to store and utilize a dynamic orbital object database of roughly 500,000 individual objects will be developed."

STM is an extension of space situational awareness (SSA) -- knowing where space objects are and where they are going in order to avoid collisions.  The Air Force's Joint Space Operations Center (JSPoC) is currently responsible for SSA and computing "conjunction analyses" to warn of potential collisions.  It notifies not only U.S. military users, but commercial and foreign entities (CFEs) as well. 

The Air Force wants the FAA to take over SSA responsibilities for CFEs so JSPoC can focus on military requirements.  Bridenstine and AST Associate Administrator George Nield have been advocating for AST to take on the non-military SSA role for more than a year.  STM implies that an agency has the authority to require a satellite owner to take action to avoid a collision instead of only advising the owner that a collision is possible.  No agency has that authority today, but they view AST as moving into that role over time. 

The pilot program appears to be part of ATO's budget request, however, not AST's.  ATO seems interested in getting involved.  An ATO representative gave a presentation to a Space Traffic Management conference in November 2016 explaining its Commercial Space Integration Team (CSIT) and laying out an "ATO Commercial Space Roadmap."  The budget request does not clarify the respective roles of AST and ATO in this regard.

Thompson New Head of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-May-2017 (Updated: 22-May-2017 08:10 PM)

Lt. Gen. John Thompson took over as head of Air Force Space Command's (AFSC's) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) today, succeeding Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves.   Greaves is assuming command of the Missile Defense Agency.

Thompson was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate on September 15, 2016.  His previous post was commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, CA, SMC reports to Air Force Space Command and develops, acquires, fields and sustains military space systems. It employs about 6,300 military and civilian personnel and contractors.


Lt. Gen. John Thompson.  Photo Credit:  U.S. Air Force

A change of command ceremony was held today where the flag was officially passed from Lt. Gen. Greaves to Lt. Gen. Thompson.

Thompson has a bachelor of science degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a master of science in industrial engineering from St. Mary's University in San Antonio.  Among his most recent posts, he served as Air Force Program Executive Officer for Strategic Systems at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico; Tanker Program Executive Officer and KC-46 Program Director, Tanker Directorate, AFLCMC; Air Force Program Executive Officer for Tankers, Tanker Directorate, AFLCMC; and commander of AFLCMC. 

What's Happening in Space Policy May 22-27, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-May-2017 (Updated: 22-May-2017 06:34 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 22-27, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week. [Updated with more information about Tuesday's contingency ISS spacewalk].

During the Week

The BIG EVENT this week is release of President Trump's complete FY2018 budget request, which will formally kick off debate thereon more than three months late.  Presidents are supposed to submit their annual budget requests to Congress by the first Monday in February, though the first year of a new President's term is almost always an exception.  Trump sent a "budget blueprint" or "skinny budget" with the broad outlines of his proposal in March. (NASA and NOAA fared pretty well all things considered and defense spending overall would get a big boost.)  Without the details, though, the appropriations committees couldn't get started on hearings and deliberations.  

That will change on Tuesday when the complete budget is expected to be submitted.  Remember -- only Congress has the power of the purse. The President PROPOSES a budget, but only Congress decides how much money will be spent and on what. They are supposed to conclude their budget work by September 30 so the new budget is in place by the beginning of the next fiscal year on October 1, but that rarely happens.  For this year (FY2017), they finally got the budget done on May 5, seven months late.  Considering that this budget request isn't even being submitted until May 23, the chances of bills passing by September 30 are virtually non-existent.  Not to mention that quite a few Republicans and Democrats said the Trump budget was "dead on arrival" because of its substantial cuts to agencies like the State Department, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  It'll be another long budget debate complete with shutdown threats -- which already have been issued not only by Democrats, but the President himself who tweeted on May 2 that the country needs a "good 'shutdown' in September."  Hang onto your hats.

A Washington think tank, the Third Way, got a leaked copy of an Excel spreadsheet with the budget request numbers for budget accounts throughout the government and posted it on its website.  There's still not enough detail to know what the Administration has in mind for DOD or NOAA space activities, but the budget account breakdown for NASA is there. In the order presented in that spreadsheet (which is different from how NASA usually lists it):  

  • Space Operations - $4,740.8 million;
  • Science -  $5,711.8 million;
  • Safety, Security and Mission Services - $2,830.2 million;
  • Exploration - $3,934.1 million;
  • Aeronautics - $624 million;
  • Education - $37.3 million;
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance - $496.1 million;
  • Space Technology - $678.6 million.

That adds up to $19,052.9 million, which would round to the $19.1 billion advertised in the budget blueprint.  It's significantly lower than the $19.65 billion Congress appropriated for FY2017.  The Administration proposed eliminating NASA's Office of Education so it will be interesting to see what the $37.3 million is for. That's roughly how much money is in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) budget for its education-related activities, so perhaps it is being moved into the Education budget account instead of Science.  We should know on Tuesday.   DOD and NASA usually hold public budget briefings the day the budget is submitted, but we haven't seen any announcements of those briefings yet. We'll post any information we get.

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on the FY2018 request for the Department of Commerce on Thursday,  It will cover all of the department's activities, of which NOAA is only one part.  Might be interesting, though.

The Senate Commerce space subcommittee will hold a non-budget related hearing on Tuesday.  It will hear testimony from two panels of witnesses on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and whether it needs to be modified to reflect all that has changed in the intervening 50 years.  Witnesses include space lawyers and representatives of companies affected by the treaty's provisions.

On Thursday, the annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC) gets underway in St. Louis.   On Friday, NASA will have a briefing on what's going up to the International Space Station (ISS) on the next SpaceX cargo mission, SpX-11. The launch itself is scheduled for June 1.

One of the two mulitplexer-demultiplexer (MDM) data relay boxes on the ISS failed yesterday.  The crew is fine, but NASA wants to replace it sooner rather than later.  It announced today (Sunday) that a contingency spacewalk will take place no earlier than Tuesday.   A final decision on when and which astronauts will conduct the spacewalk is expected later today.  Peggy Whitson, currently in command of the ISS, surely will be one of the two. It would be her 10th spacewalk.  The question is whether her partner will be NASA's Jack Fischer or ESA's Thomas Pesquet.  We'll post more information when it becomes available. [UPDATE:  Whitson and Fischer will conduct the spacewalk on Tuesday, May 23, beginning about 8:00 am ET.  NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET.]

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

Tuesday, May 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 23-24

Tuesday-Thursday, May 23-25

Thursday, May 25

Thursday-Monday, May 25-29

Friday, May 26

Correction: The Space Diplomacy event on Thursday is in 2043 Rayburn, not 2062 as we originally posted.

Top Air Force Officials: Space Now is a Warfighting Domain

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-May-2017 (Updated: 18-May-2017 05:26 PM)

New Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson and three top Air Force space leaders told Congress today that space no longer is just an enabler and force enhancer for U.S. military operations, it is a warfighting domain just like air, land, and sea.

Just 24 hours after being sworn in as the 24th SecAF, Wilson testified to the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  Joining her were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Space Command commander Gen. John Raymond, and Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves.   The topic was military space organization, programs and policy and the Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) Cristina Chaplain was another witness.  She especially addressed long standing DOD and Air Force organizational challenges to effectively develop and implement space programs.


Dr. Heather Wilson during swearing-in ceremony to become 24th Secretary of the Air Force, May 16, 2017.  U.S. Air Force photo/Wayne A. Clark

A major theme was that space no longer is a "benign" environment that supports the warfighter, but a warfighting domain itself.  In their joint written testimony, the Air Force officials said:  "Clearly, freedom to operate in space is not guaranteed.  In fact, space is now a warfighting domain, similar to the more familiar air, land, and maritime domains our men and women are fighting in today."

Asked whether he thought it was time to create a Space Corps analogous to the Marine Corps to better focus attention and resources on what is needed for space, Goldfein said no -- the timing is not right precisely because of this transition in thinking about space from a benign environment to a warfighting domain.  "Anything that leads to separating space instead of integrating it" into the overall military framework would "slow us down," though it might be considered in the future.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) asked whether the United States should engage in an "international conversation about an international code of conduct."  Wilson replied that is a policy issue that reaches beyond the Air Force.  From her perspective, the Air Force's role is to be sure the United States can prevail "irrespective of consensus on international norms because there will be players who do not abide by those norms."

The Air Force leaders stressed the need to modernize space systems to maintain space superiority -- "a core USAF mission" -- to address gaps in space capabilities, strategy and  policy.  Although progress has been made on mission assurance and resiliency, work is needed on deterrence and 21st Century requirements.  Asked what countries pose the greatest threat to U.S. space assets, Goldfein not surprisingly identified Russia and China.  The open hearing did not delve deeply into those threats because details are classified.  Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a member of the subcommittee and also chair of the Senate Commerce subcommittee that oversees NASA, said at a seminar organized by The Atlantic yesterday that the classified briefings on other countries' space weapons developments would "take your breath away." 

Wilson said the timing of the hearing was not ideal because the Trump Administration will not submit its complete FY2018 budget request until next week, so she could not talk about what it contains.  She said, however, that she expects space systems will receive a budget boost.

The organizational problems within DOD and the Air Force for space activities are well known.  Many reports have been written about them dating back at least to the 2001 Rumsfeld Commission report.  In October 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work created a new position of Principal DOD Space Adviser (PDSA) to be filled by the SecAF and reporting to the Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  SecAF Deborah Lee James was the first to fill it and there were rumors she also would be the last because it almost immediately came under criticism for being ineffective.

Wilson announced during the hearing, however, that she is the "principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense for space," so it appears SecDef James Mattis will keep the structure as it is for now. 

GAO issued a report in July 2016, prepared at congressional direction, saying that it was too early to judge the office's effectiveness.  However, it noted that there are 60 stakeholder organizations across DOD, the Executive Office of the President, the Intelligence Community, and civilian agencies involved in national security space activities, fragmenting leadership responsibilities. 

Chaplain indicated today that little has changed since that report was issued.  Among the consequences of fragmented responsibilities is ineffective program execution. For example, the satellite segment of a system may be completed well before the associated ground system, which "wastes capabilities."

Chaplin's written statement summarizes cost growth and schedule delays in a number of Air Force space programs, but the one that got the most attention at the hearing was the Operational Control Segment (OCX) for the new GPS III series of positioning, navigation and timing satellites.  OCX is nearly $2 billion over budget and 4 years late.  Asked if it was "too big to fail," Raymond and Greaves both said no, that the program was designed with milestone-driven "off ramps" in case there are further delays or the program is cancelled. 

Wilson added "we're not out of the woods" yet.

Cardin Vows to Continue Mikulski's Advocacy for NASA, NOAA

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-May-2017 (Updated: 15-May-2017 11:12 PM)

Acknowledging that he has big shoes to fill, Maryland's new senior Senator Ben Cardin  (D-MD) vowed to continue the space advocacy exhibited by his retired colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski.   She was legendary in her influential support for NASA and NOAA activities in Maryland.  With her retirement, many worry that support for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD and NOAA's headquarters and other facilities in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC may wane.  Cardin made it clear that would not be the case.

Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006 after two decades in the House.  With Mikulski's retirement, he becomes the state's senior Senator and leader of Maryland's 10-member congressional delegation.  Chris Van Hollen, also a Democrat, was elected to fill Mikulski's seat and he is now the junior Senator.  The other members (seven Democrats and one Republican) represent Maryland's eight congressional districts.


Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).  Photo credit:  Sen. Cardin's Senate website.

In his debut at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) today, Cardin sounded themes that would have been familiar to Mikulski.  He highlighted the number of jobs in Maryland due to space activities, saying that "if you're a Senator from Maryland, you better pay attention to space.  I get it."  He listed his priorities for NASA, all of which have a home at GSFC:  Landsat 9; the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) earth science program; the Hubble, James Webb, and WFIRST space telescopes; the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) for planetary defense; and the RESTORE-L satellite servicing technology development program. He also expressed support for NOAA's weather and space weather satellite programs and NASA's heliophysics research satellite Solar Probe Plus. 

Cardin does not serve on any of the Senate committees that deal with space activities, but he is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and noted several times the importance of many of these programs to national security.

It was evident that he is still getting up to speed on space issues, but he became more impassioned as his remarks turned to related topics - climate change science, privatization, and restoring "regular order" to Congress to enable passage of timely, bipartisan government funding bills. 

He is concerned about cuts proposed by the Trump Administration to basic science across the government, not only to programs at NASA like PACE, but also to the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.  He said he was at the March for Science in April and stressed the need for Congress to get input from scientists to make good science policy.  His voice rising, he excoriated the politicization of climate change science asking why is it controversial when it is so important not only for the environment, not only for public health, but for national security and jobs.  "For some reason this has become a wedge political issue in American politics. ... Why would we want to deny you [scientists] the tools you need?"

Public private partnerships (PPPs) were another topic on which he has strong feelings.  He supports PPPs, but worries they lack public accountability.   "We need to have public private partnerships, but ...  I want to make sure we have governmental oversight and accountability. When you privatize you lose that. ... Government needs to maintain its role. We're going to fight to do that."

As for the budget, Cardin noted that Congress was able to work together on a bipartisan basis to finalize the FY2017 funding bill and argued that should be the model for future budget bills -- except they should be done on time. Congress needs to return to "regular order" where bills go through the traditional process of hearings and markups and members "work together and not allow any extreme group in the Congress to control what happens."  

"The worst results for the space program in Maryland" and for the nation overall would be if no budget passed and a government shutdown ensued, or a sequester went into effect, or there was a default on the debt, or the government had to operate on Continuing Resolutions.  A coordinated strategy is needed, he said, and he vowed to lead the Maryland congressional delegation to get a budget passed and advance the space program.  Although he does not serve on the committees that oversee NASA or NOAA, Van Hollen is a member of the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds both those agencies and Reps. Andy Harris and Dutch Ruppersberger are on the House Appropriations Committee (though not on its CJS subcommittee).

Cardin pointed out the considerable differences between what is in the FY2017 budget and what the Trump Administration proposed for FY2018 in its budget blueprint or "skinny budget" in March.  With or without a coordinated strategy, therefore, it seems quite unlikely that Congress will be able to complete work on the FY2018 budget before October 1 when the fiscal year begins.  The Trump Administration has not even submitted the detailed budget yet.  The latest rumor is that will happen on May 23.

What's Happening in Space Policy May 15-19, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-May-2017 (Updated: 15-May-2017 10:36 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 15-19, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The D.C. space community looked forward every year to Sen. Barbara Mikulski's (D-MD) annual speech to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) to get her take on the congressional landscape for civil space.   She retired at the end of last year, making Sen. Ben Cardin the senior Senator from Maryland and he will take her spot this year.  His talk is tomorrow (Monday) at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, MD.  [Curiously, the MSBR website today does not show this event, but it seems to have reverted to a 2015 schedule instead of 2017.  MSBR assures us the luncheon is on.]

Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006 after two decades in the House, but left space program issues to Mikulski so probably is not well known to readers of this website.  He does not serve on any of the Senate committees responsible for NASA or NOAA, so this will be the first opportunity for many to hear his views.  Mikulski's successor, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, won assignment to the Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee on which Mikulski served for so many years (sometimes as chair), but as a freshman will not have as much power as she did.  Cardin has 10 years of seniority in the Senate overall, so could be more influential even though he does not sit on the space committees. 


Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).  Photo Credit:  Senator Cardin's Senate website.

On Tuesday, a seminar entitled "On the Launchpad: Return to Deep Space" will be held at the Newseum in Washington, DC from 1:00-5:00 pm ET and will be webcast.  For those planning to watch the webcast, note that the session itself is only from 1:30-4:00 pm ET. The rest of the time is for registration at the beginning and a reception afterwards.  It has an interesting lineup of speakers.  Among them are NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot; Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), chair of the Senate Commerce space subcommittee; former NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan; Bob Zubrin of the Mars Society; Chris Carberry of Explore Mars; Mary Lynne Dittmar of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria.

Heather Wilson was confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force last week and this week she gets her first turn at the witness table in that position.  On Wednesday, she will testify along with the top Air Force space leadership (Gen. David Goldfein, Gen. John Raymond, and Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves)  and Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office.  The hearing, "Military Space Organization, Policy and Programs," is before the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  SASC usually webcasts its hearings on its website.   

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hasn't posted its hearing schedule yet, but the National Journal's Daybook reports that HASC will have a national security space hearing itself on Friday.  The witness list isn't available yet, but the title is "FY2018 Priorities and Posture of the National Security Space Enterprise."  We'll add more information to our calendar entry when it is available.

Meanwhile, everyone is waiting for President Trump to submit his full FY2018 budget request to Congress.  He sent up a budget blueprint or "skinny budget" in March, but the details were missing (this is common in a new President's first year).  There were rumors a couple of weeks ago that it would be submitted on May 15, but more recent rumors are that it will be May 22.  FY2018 begins on October 1, so everyone needs to get rolling on that.  If you thought reaching agreement on FY2017 was tough, that was child's play compared to FY2018 when, by law, the budget caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act are back in force.  Some congressional Republicans and Democrats declared the March budget request dead on arrival due to its huge cuts to agencies like the State Department, National Institutes of Health, and Environmental Protection Agency, all while sharply increasing military spending.  All things considered, NASA did pretty well in the budget blueprint.  NOAA's two main weather satellite programs (JPSS and GOES-R) also are OK, but cuts apparently are in store for NOAA's other satellite activities.

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

Monday, May 15

Monday-Tuesday, May 15-16

Monday-Friday, May 15-19

Tuesday, May 16

Wednesday, May 17

Friday, May 19

 

Note:  This article was updated to reflect the confirmation from MSBR that the Cardin luncheon is, indeed, on for tomorrow, and to add the IAA Planetary Defense conference in Tokyo.

Heather Wilson Confirmed as Secretary of the Air Force

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-May-2017 (Updated: 09-May-2017 12:55 AM)

Former Congresswoman Heather Wilson has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the next Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF).  The vote was 76-22.

Wilson was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month, but an unnamed Senator reportedly put a hold on her confirmation vote pending answers about a military installation in his or her state.  Apparently the answers were received and the vote was scheduled for today (May 8).

Wilson graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1982 with a bachelor of science degree.  She then earned masters and doctorate degrees in international relations as a Rhodes Scholar at England's Oxford University.  She served as a Captain in Europe and then joined the White House National Security Council staff under President George H.W. Bush.  A decade later, in 1998, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico's 1st district and served there until 2009.  In 2008, she had decided to run for the Senate, but lost in the primary.  She ran again for the Senate in 2012, but lost in the general election.  She has been President of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, SD since 2013, the first female President of the University.


Heather WIlson.  Photo credit: South Dakota School of Mines & Technology website.

Wilson will succeed Deborah Lee James as SecAF, who left at the end of the Obama Administration.   Lisa Disbrow, a retired Air Force Reserve Colonel with 30 years of national security experience including serving as a senior systems engineer at the National Reconnaissance Office, has been Acting SecAF since James's departure.

Wilson is the first service secretary to be confirmed in the Trump Administration.  The original nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because of financial entanglements.  President Trump then nominated Mark Green to be Secretary of the Army, but he withdrew last week because of criticism over comments he is said to have made that were offensive to the LGBT community and Muslims.  He denies the remarks, but said his nomination had become a distraction.

The Air Force is the major military service that builds and operates satellites and acquires launches for them.  It has been DOD's "executive agent" for space for many years, but an attempt was made during the Obama Administration to better coordinate space activities throughout DOD by creating the position of Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA).  As SecAF, James was named to that position in October 2015 in addition to her other duties.   It is difficult to assess the office's effectiveness in such a short period of time, but DOD continues to be criticized for not being organized effectively to deal with space matters.  It is not clear if the PDSA position will survive or if it will be abolished in the Trump Administration.

During her March 30 confirmation hearing before SASC, she said she was looking forward to serving in that position, however.  "One of the things I'm most looking forward to about this job is being the, potentially, the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense with respect to space and chairing the Defense Space Council.  There is no question that space will be a contested domain in any future conflict."   She added that she was a member of the House Intelligence Committee when China launched its anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007 "and I don't expect that things have slowed down since then."

 

What's Happening in Space Policy May 8-12, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-May-2017 (Updated: 08-May-2017 08:28 AM)

Here's our list of space policy events for the week of May 8-12, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is in session this week; the House is in recess.

During the Week

Although the House is taking a week off from Washington duties to check in with constituents back home, the Senate is in session.  Tomorrow (Monday) it is scheduled to vote on the nomination of former Congresswoman Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force. Her nomination was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) last month.  If approved, the Republican who represented the 1st district of New Mexico from 1998-2009 will succeed Deborah Lee James in that role.  Lisa Disbrow has been serving as Acting SecAF since James left on January 20 when the Obama Administration ended.  Wilson would become the first service secretary confirmed in the Trump Administration.  Trump's original nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because of financial entanglements.  Trump then nominated Mark Green to be Secretary of the Army, but he withdrew last week because of opposition that developed in reaction to views he is said to have expressed that were offensive to the LGBT community and to Muslims.  Green denied them, but said his nomination had become a "distraction" and therefore withdrew.

Tuesday-Thursday is the 4th Humans To Mars (H2M) Summit, organized by Explore Mars and once again held at George Washington University in Washington, DC.  The event will be webcast.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will speak at 9:00 am ET on Tuesday, followed by a panel of NASA's Associate Administrators (AAs) for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier), Science (Thomas Zurbuchen), and Space Technology (Steve Jurczyk).  Gerstenmaier's deputy for policy and plans Greg Williams then will lay out NASA's current planning for a Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport.   And that's all in just the first two hours!  It's a jam packed agenda.  For those who will be there in person, Leonard David will have a book signing event on Tuesday at lunchtime for his National Geographic book "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet."   David will also be on a panel discussion at a pre-event on Monday evening (separate registration required) with Pascal Lee (Mars Institute), Penny Boston (NASA Astrobiology Institute), and Keith Cowing (NASAWatch).  On Wednesday morning, Jeff Foust (Space News), Frank Morring (Aviation Week) and your faithful SpacePolicyOnline.com editor will be on a panel moderated by former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan.  On Thursday morning, there's a panel on "Is the Moon a Good Step on the Way to Mars" with Scott Pace (GWU Space Policy Institute and former NASA AA for program analysis and evaluation); Doug Cooke (former NASA AA for Exploration Systems), Tony Antonelli (Lockheed Martin, former astronaut), and Peter McGrath (Boeing), moderated by Kathy Laurini (NASA Senior Advisor for Exploration and Space Operations).  Lots more than can be previewed here.  Check out the agenda.

For anyone who can tear themselves away from H2M on Tuesday, the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) is hosting a luncheon with a very interesting group of speakers on "Defense Space Priorities in the New Administration."  It's at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, VA (not to be confused with the Army & Navy Club on 17th St. in D.C.).  Moderated by Todd Harrison from CSIS, the speakers include: John Hill, Acting DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy; David Hardy, Associate Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space; Col. Sidney Conner, USAF, Deputy Director Space Programs Assistant Secretary (Acquisition); Chirag Parikh, Deputy Director, Counterproliferation, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; and Lindsay Millard, Program Manager, Tactical Technology Office, DARPA.  Hope you've got your tickets already.  Pre-registration ended May 5.

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

Monday, May 8

Tuesday, May 9

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 9-10

Tuesday-Thursday, May 9-11

  • Humans to Mars (H2M) Summit, George Washington University, Washington, DC, webcast  (pre-event activities on Monday, May 8, require separate registration)

Wednesday, May 10

Thursday, May 11

Friday, May 12

What's Happening in Space Policy May 1-6, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Apr-2017 (Updated: 30-Apr-2017 02:15 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of May 1-6, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

SpaceX scrubbed its launch of a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite (NROL-76) at the last minute this morning.  They will try again tomorrow (Monday) morning at 7:00 am ET at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A.  Today's problem was a "sensor issue" apparently in the first stage.  This is SpaceX's first launch for NRO.  The nature of the satellite is classified, of course.  SpaceX provided a webcast today, so probably will tomorrow as well.

In Washington, it is STILL Groundhog Day.  Congress did not complete action on FY2017 appropriations last week.  Instead, it passed another extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that has been funding the government since October 1.  This is just a one-week extension, to this Friday, May 5.  They appeared to be fairly close to agreement at the end of last week after the White House backed away from its insistence that funding be included in the FY2017 bill for the border wall with Mexico, but Democrats continue to worry about "poison pill" provisions the Republicans may be planning.  No bill has been introduced yet, so the actual text is not available for perusal.  The House plans to be in recess on Friday (and all of the following week), so they have four days to work everything out -- or pass another extension.  The President plans to send his complete FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 15 (he sent over a "blueprint" in March, but with few details), so it would be nice if they could finish FY2017 before then.

We still don't know very much about what the President's plans are for space.  In the meantime, the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are holding a symposium on Tuesday to offer their views.  In 2009, ASEB and SSB published the report America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs to provide advice to that new President, Barack Obama.  The study committee that wrote the report was chaired by Gen. Lester Lyles (Ret.) who went on to become chair of ASEB and now chairs the NASA Advisory Council.   He will recap the key points of his 2009 study as a lead in to Tuesday's discussion on "America's Future in Civil Space."   Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, other NASA officials, and distinguished members of the space science, engineering and policy communities will be there.  Registration for in-person attendance has closed because all the seats are taken, but the event will be webcast. 

ASEB itself is meeting tomorrow (Monday) and, among other things, will celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Happy Birthday, ASEB!  SSB will meet Wednesday and Thursday.  SSB's committee performing the mid-term review of the planetary science Decadal Survey is meeting Thursday and Friday.   Some sessions of all of those meetings are closed, but many are open.

An interesting symposium will be held in one of the Senate meeting rooms tomorrow (Monday) morning on Ultra Low Cost Access to Space (ULCATS), a topic on which Air University recently published a report.   It features an impressive list of speakers, including Newt Gingrich and Bob Walker, representatives from Blue Origin, SpaceX, Stratolaunch, and United Launch Alliance, plus high ranking defense department officials and some of the authors of the report.  We've inquired as to whether there will be a livestream or archived audio- or video-cast and will add that information to our calendar item once we get an answer.

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

Monday, May 1

Tuesday, May 2

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 2-3

Wednesday, May 3

Wednesday-Thursday, May 3-4

Thursday-Friday, May 4-5

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6

What's Happening in Space Policy April 23-28, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Apr-2017 (Updated: 23-Apr-2017 12:17 PM)

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

  • Space 2.0, Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley, Milpitas, CA
  • AIAA Defense Forum (SECRET/US ONLY), JHU Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD

Wednesday, April 26

Thursday, April 27