Military / National Security News
Here is our list of space policy-related events in the coming week, October 20-24, 2014, and any insights we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has scheduled a second hearing on Sierra Nevada Corporation's (SNC's) lawsuit against the government vis a vis the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts for Tuesday at 2:30 pm ET (it's not listed on our calendar because we don't list court dates for lawsuits since they are rarely open to the public). The first hearing was on Friday, where the court allowed SpaceX and Boeing to intervene in the case. The court is also considering SNC's request to keep most of the filings under seal because some of the material may be proprietary and some is protected under SNC's protest to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). SNC is protesting NASA's award of the CCtCAP contracts to Boeing and SpaceX. Ordinarily, under the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), work would stop under those contracts until GAO rules on SNC's protest (it has until January 5, 2015). NASA did issue a stop-work order, but later rescinded it based on its statutory authority to avoid significant adverse consequences. SNC is challenging the legality of that rescission. Check back with SpacePolicyOnline.com to learn about what happens on Tuesday.
There are many other interesting events on tap during the week as well. On Monday, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (which administers the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space), the Mexican Space Agency and another Mexican organization, CICESE, will hold a symposium on Making Space Technology Accessible and Affordable. The opening ceremony and a press conference -- including the head of the Mexican Space Agency, Javier Mendieta -- will be webcast.
The third of three International Space Station (ISS) spacewalks in as many weeks is scheduled for Wednesday. This time it is two Russians, Max Suraev and Alexander Samokutyaev, who will step outside. NASA TV will cover it beginning at 9:00 am ET.
Two very interesting luncheons are being held in the Washington, DC area on Thursday, unfortunately at exactly the same time. The Washington Space Business Roundtable is hosting a panel of experts on the future of satellite communications in support of DOD at the University Club is downtown DC, while the National Capital Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics is hearing from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Chris Scolese across the river in Arlington, VA. Not to mention that there's an all-day symposium in DC that day on space and satellite regulatory issues. Busy day!
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, October 20
Wednesday, October 22
Wednesday-Sunday, October 22-26
Thursday, October 23
The Air Force's X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) landed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA today (October 17) at 9:24 am PDT (12:24 pm EDT). This is the third and longest flight to date.
The X-37B looks like a very small space shuttle. There are at least two of them, OTV-1 and OTV-2. Both are reusable and this is the second flight of OTV-1. It spent 224 days in orbit in 2010. OTV-2 was in space for 469 days from March 2011-June 2012. What the OTVs do during those lengthy missions is completely classified, leading to much conjecture, but no hard facts in the public domain.
The Air Force announced a week ago today that the landing would take place soon. Initially, it appeared as though Tuesday would be the landing date, but for reasons that have not been announced, it took place today instead.
The Air Force 30th Space Wing issued the following press statement, which includes the news that the next X-37B flight will launch in 2015:
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - The X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle mission
"The 30th Space Wing and our mission partners, Air Force Rapid Capabilities
"I'm extremely proud of our team for coming together to execute this third
"The landing of OTV-3 marks a hallmark event for the program" said the
"The mission is our longest to date and we're pleased with the incremental
The Air Force is preparing to launch the fourth X-37B mission from Cape
Later in the day, the Air Force 30th Space Wing posted photos of the landing on its Facebook page, including this one:
X-37 Orbital Test Mission 3 (OTV-3) lands at Vandenberg AFB, CA, Oct. 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Boeing
Although the Air Force said it was a 674-day mission, Jonathan McDowell, author of Jonathan's Space Report, tweeted (@planet4589) that the mission duration was 674.9 days based on his calculations. SpacePolicyOnline.com has asked the Air Force for clarification.
Note: This article was updated with the Air Force press statement and later with the landing photo..
NOTE: As of 5:00 pm EDT October 15, the Air Force has not made any announcement that the X-37B landed. The original announcement that it was returning to Earth said the exact landing date and time were dependent on technical and weather considerations. Unofficial observers monitoring FAA's NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and using amateur observations of its orbit can offer possible landing times, but they are subject to uncertainty. Reuters reporter Irene Klotz (@Free_Space) tweeted today that the landing "now looks like no earlier than Thursday, FAA pilot advisory indicates." Bob Christy at zarya.info calculates there is a landing opportunity that day (tomorrow) about 16:25 GMT (12:25 EDT). This article has been updated to reflect the delay from the anticipated landing date of October 14.
UPDATED, October 15, 2014: The Air Force announced on Friday (October 10) that its secretive X-37B spaceplane, in orbit for almost two years, will soon return to Earth and land at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. At the recent International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) in Toronto, Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation encouraged the U.S. government to be more open about what the X-37 is doing as part of the Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) the United States is advocating to help ensure space sustainability.
Officially called the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), the vehicle resembles a very small space shuttle. The Air Force launches the robotic spacecraft for lengthy on-orbit classified missions. This flight is the longest to date. Launched on December 11, 2012, its mission duration will be more than 667 days. There are at least two OTVs. The first, OTV-1, made a 224 day flight in 2010. The second, OTV-2, made a 469 day flight from March 2011 to June 2012. The OTVs are reusable and this is the second flight for OTV-1.
Photo of X-37B OTV-1. Photo credit: Boeing (via Spaceflightnow.com)
The Air Force statement said the exact time of the landing "will depend on technical and weather considerations." Initial indications were that landing was targeted for October 14, but that day passed with no announcement from the Air Force. Unofficial observers are estimating potential landing times based on the FAA's NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) and amateur observations of the X-37's orbit, but they are subject to uncertainty. Check back here for updated information when it is available.
The classified nature of the missions prompts much speculation about what they are doing. In an era when the United States and other countries are advocating for establishing TCBMs to help ensure space sustainability, some question why the missions are kept secret. In an October 1 session at IAC2014 on "Assuring a Safe, Secure and Sustainable Space Environment for Space Activities," the Secure World Foundation's (SWF's) Samson cited the X-37B's secrecy as at odds with TCBMs. TCBMs are norms of behavior that "nations that mean no harm" should follow, she said, including a willingness to share information about technical capabilities in order to avoid misperceptions. She remarked that the U.S. "refusal to explain what the X-37B is [doing] has led a lot of people to assume the worst, and probably wrongfully so."
A 2010 SWF analysis concluded it "has near zero feasibility as an orbital weapons system for attacking targets on the ground" and has "limited capability for orbital inspection, repair and retrieval," although speculation often centers on exactly such missions. SWF concluded its most likely purpose is "flight testing new reusable space launch vehicle (SLV) technologies ... and on-orbit testing of new sensor technologies and satellite hardware primarily for space-based remote sensing."
The OTVs are launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC). NASA and the Air Force announced last week that the Air Force will use two of KSC's Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) to process the X-37B in the future. To date the OTVs have landed across the country at Vandenberg, but the NASA-Air Force announcement also said that tests were conducted to demonstrate the X-37B could land at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility. The landing facility and the OPFs are left over from NASA's space shuttle program, which was terminated in 2011.
The X-37, built by Boeing, initially was a NASA test vehicle designed to lead to an Orbital Space Plane that could serve as a Crew Return Vehicle to bring International Space Station astronauts back to Earth in an emergency and, eventually, as a taxi to take them to the ISS as well. NASA terminated that program in 2004 after President George W. Bush reoriented the human spaceflight program toward returning astronauts to the Moon instead of ISS utilization. The X-37 program then was transferred to the Department of Defense.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of October 13-17, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
The event likely to attract the most attention this week is the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). The speaker line-up is an intriguing array of "traditional space" and "new space" luminaries, although the description of Bill Gerstenmaier's talk may say it best: "Never before have the titles of 'old space' and 'new space' been as trivial as they are today."
Just to illustrate the breadth of speakers (sorry we can't list everyone -- the program is here), in addition to Gerstenmaier (NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations), speakers include Clay Mowry (Arianespace), George Sowers (United Launch Alliance), George Whitesides (Virgin Galactic), Stuart Will (Mojave Air and Space Port), Barry Matsumori (SpaceX), Brett Alexander (Blue Origin), Doug Loverro (DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space Policy), John Shannon (Boeing), Mark Sirangelo (Sierra Nevada Space Systems), Doug Young (Northrop Grumman) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
Most unfortunately, if you can't be there in person, you're out of luck. The conference's media contact says none of the sessions will be webcast live, though "a few of the keynotes" may be posted online in a month or two.
That and other events we know about as of this afternoon (Sunday) are listed below.
Tuesday, October 14
Wednesday, October 15
Wednesday-Thursday, October 15-16
Wednesday-Friday, October 15-17
Friday-Tuesday, October 17-21
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of October 6-10, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Week
World Space Week 2014 continues (it began on Saturday) with events worldwide commemorating the beginning of the Space Age on October 4, 1957 and the benefits derived from space over the decades. This year's theme is "Space: Guiding Your Way" and the DC chapter of the International Space University alumni association will hold a Space Café on Tuesday featuring James Miller, who works for NASA's Space Communications and Navigation program.
Two of the five standing committees of the National Research Council's (NRC's) Space Studies Board (SSB) will meet this week. The five committees align with the five Decadal Surveys the SSB produces that advise NASA and other agencies on the top space science priorities. The committees provide a forum to maintain discussion about the topics in between the once-a-decade (hence "decadal") reports. This is the first meeting of the new Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, formed after completion of the first Decadal Survey for that field of research, which was published in 2011. It is meeting at the NRC's Keck Center on 5th Street Tuesday and Wednesday, though the sessions on Wednesday are closed to the public. The SSB's Committee on Solar and Space Physics will meet Tuesday-Thursday across town at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Ave. It will have open sessions the first two days. (If you're keeping track, the Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences and the Committee on Earth Science and Applications in Space met in September; the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics meets in November.)
On Tuesday the first of two "U.S." spacewalks scheduled for October will take place from the International Space Station (ISS). They are "U.S." because they involve tasks on the U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) and the spacewalkers will be wearing U.S. spacesuits, but one of the two is Europe's Alexander Gerst (joining NASA's Reid Wiseman) so it really is a U.S./ESA spacewalk. Next week (October 15) Wiseman and NASA's Barry "Butch" Wilmore will do another spacewalk, and the week after that, on October 22, two of the Russian cosmonauts will do a spacewalk on their segment of the ISS. It's a busy time on the ISS with visiting spacecraft coming and going in addition to those spacewalks. Three new crewmembers just arrived on September 25. Two cargo spacecraft, a Russian Progress and SpaceX Dragon, already docked there will depart and be replaced by a new Progress and an Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus later this month.
Those and other events for the week of October 6-10 that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
October 6-10, Monday- Friday
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Wednesday, October 7-8
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
One of the highlights at today’s (October 1) International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) was a presentation by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Vulcan Inc., Paul Allen’s investment group that is funding the development of Stratolaunch. The two companies are discussing a potential partnership wherein Stratolaunch would be used to launch a 75 percent version of Dream Chaser into low Earth orbit (LEO).
Vulcan oversees Paul Allen’s financial interests, ranging from the Seattle Seahawks to real estate to philanthropy to Allen’s “pet thing” – space exploration, according to Chuck Beames, who briefed an IAC2014 crowd along with SNC’s Mark Sirangleo. Beames heads Vulcan Aerospace, a Vulcan division, and is Executive Director of Stratolaunch. He joined Vulcan earlier this year after serving as principal director, space and intelligence, to the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and overseeing the acquisition restructuring of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is perhaps best known in the space business as the financial backer of Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne design, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004. One of Allen’s current projects is Stratolaunch, an aircraft that would serve as a launch platform for a three-stage rocket, Thunderbolt, to send people or cargo into suborbital or orbital spaceflight. As Beames described it, Stratolaunch, with a 385 foot wingspan, can launch 13,500 pounds into low Earth orbit (LEO). The plane is expected to have its first flight in 2016 with a demonstration space launch in 2018.
A Stratolaunch-Dream Chaser system envisions using Stratolaunch to launch a 75 percent version of Dream Chaser into space with cargo or two-three crew. It could launch and return to the launch site within 24 hours in a “responsive space” mode. It could take off from anywhere in the world and deliver cargo or people to any inclination orbit and, with its cross-range capability, land anywhere there is a runway that can handle a 747 or A320 aircraft.
SNC has a strong presence here at IAC2014, with company officials, including Sirangleo, stressing the company's 26-year history in the space business and Dream Chaser's origin as a NASA design for returning crews from the International Space Station (ISS). NASA's program, HL-20, was cancelled and SNC picked it up. SNC is one of the three companies supported by NASA in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase of the commercial crew program, but recently lost out to Boeing and SpaceX on the final phase, Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP). SNC is protesting that decision.
Beames said taking crews or cargo to the ISS is only one possibility and that as a former "Air Force guy" he is “excited” about the military possibilities of such a capability. In a later interview, he offered the example of launching smaller versions of GPS to reconstitute the GPS constellation on an as-needed basis.
Beames stressed that no final decision has been made on the partnership and the next step is to "mature the architecture."
Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
We are here in Toronto to cover the annual International Astronautical Congress, the joint meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and International Institute of Space Law (IISL). As always, it promises to be fascinating ... and overwhelming. So many sessions, so little time. It'll be quite a challenge to choose the "best" sessions to cover, but we'll do what we can.
If you're not here and are back in Washington, DC, be sure not to miss Adam Steltzner's lecture at the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday afternoon. He is the winner of the first Yvonne C. Brilll Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering. The lecture was created by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering in honor of Brill, a distinguished aerospace engineer who passed way last year.
Lots more going on. Our list of what we know about as of Sunday afternoon follows.
Monday, September 29
Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3
Tuesday, September 30
Saturday-Friday, October 4-10, 2014
Tuesday, October 7
Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9
Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10
Thursday, October 9
Here is our list of events for the next TWO weeks, September 21-October 3, 2014, starting with MAVEN's arrival at Mars tonight (Sunday). Congress is in recess until November 12.
During the Weeks
Mars will get two new visitors this week. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is due to enter orbit around Mars tonight, September 21, at 9:37 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Signal travel time between Mars and Earth means that NASA won't know certain that everything went smoothly until 9:50 pm EDT. NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 pm EDT.
On Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning local time in India), India's first mission to Mars, Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM), will join MAVEN and three other U.S. and European spacecraft orbiting Mars. MOM is scheduled to fire its engine to enter orbit at 07:17 Indian Standard Time on Wednesday (9:47 pm Tuesday EDT). The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has not announced its plans for live coverage. Check the ISRO website for up to date information.
Back here in Earth orbit, SpaceX's CRS-4 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), with its cargo of mice, fruit flies, spacesuit batteries, a 3D printer and many other supplies and scientific experiments, will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday morning at 7:04 am ET. Two days later three new ISS crew members will launch to and dock with the ISS on Soyuz TMA-14M.
Meanwhile, here on terra firma, there are many interesting events on the schedule. John Logsdon will provide an update on his research for his upcoming book Richard Nixon and the American Space Program at 4:00 pm EDT on Monday at the National Air and Space Museum. The event is free, but you MUST register in advance in order to access the museum's office area. Later on Monday (8:00 pm EDT), the Secure World Foundation and The Space Show will host a webinar on Satellites and Disaster Management. The NASA Advisory Council's heliophysics subcommittee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday at NASA Headquarters, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose will talk to the AIAA National Capital Section in Arlington, VA on Thursday.
Quite a full week, as many in the space community also get ready to head to Toronto for the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) next week. It officially runs from September 29-October 3, but there are a number of associated meetings in the days preceding the conference beginning on September 25.
For those not traveling to Toronto, there are two very interesting events in the Washington, DC area that week. On Monday, September 29, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will talk to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD.
On Tuesday afternoon (September 30), the inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering will be presented at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington (the one on the Mall, not on 5th Street). This first Brill Lectureship, created in honor of the distinguished aerospace engineer Yvonne Brill, was awarded to Adam Steltzner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Steltzer led the entry, descent and landing team for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. Steltzer's lecture will be on "Engineering and the Mars Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) System."
Here is the list of the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, September 21, for the two-week period through October 3, 2014.
Sunday, September 21
Monday, September 22
Tuesday, September 23
Tuesday-Wednesday, September 23-24
Thursday, September 25
Thursday-Sunday, September 25-28
Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3
Monday, September 29
Tuesday, September 30
SpaceX will break ground for its new launch site near Brownsville, TX on Monday, September 22, 2014. It will cap quite a busy week-long period for the entrepreneurial space launch company that started with winning a CCtCAP award from NASA and, hopefully, launching a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend.
On Tuesday, NASA awarded SpaceX one of two Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts (Boeing got the other). The $2.6 billion contract is for SpaceX to complete development of its Dragon V2 spacecraft for taking astronauts to and from the ISS, fly a demonstration mission, and up to six missions thereafter. NASA’s goal is to have SpaceX and/or Boeing commercial crew vehicles operational by 2017. Boeing received a $4.2 billion award.
Right now, SpaceX is waiting for the weather to cooperate at Cape Canaveral, FL for the launch of its fourth operational “commercial cargo” to the ISS, Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)-4. The SpaceX CRS-4 cargo mission was supposed to launch early this morning, but was postponed to early tomorrow morning (September 21, 1:52 am ET) because of bad weather. The forecast is only 40 percent favorable for launch tomorrow morning. If it is delayed again, the next opportunity is on September 23.
Both the commercial crew and commercial cargo programs are essentially public-private partnerships where NASA and the private sector each provide funding for development (instead of the government providing all of the funds), with the government serving as a market for the resulting services. SpaceX competes with Orbital Sciences Corporation for the commercial cargo launches. Its competition for commercial crew will be Boeing and perhaps other companies that are willing to proceed without government funds in the hope that the market for taking people to and from space is larger than just NASA.
Meanwhile on September 22, SpaceX will break ground near Boca Chica Beach, TX, close to Brownsville, for an orbital launch facility which it hopes will be completed by 2016. The FAA approved SpaceX’s application to conduct launches from the site in July. The license allows up to 12 commercial launch operations per year of the Falcon 9 and prospective SpaceX rockets including Falcon Heavy and “a variety of reusable suborbital vehicles.” The launch site is on 68.9 acres of land just three miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. Space launches from there can travel out over the Gulf of Mexico, avoiding overflight of land during the early stages of launch just like the other U.S. orbital sites in Virginia (Wallops Island), Florida (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA's adjacent Kennedy Space Center), California (Vandenberg Air Force Base) and Alaska (Kodiak). By having its own launch site, SpaceX will have more flexibility in launch dates by not having to coordinate with other users. SpaceX currently launches from Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg. It will continue to use those facilities when necessary and its commercial crew flights will launch from Pad 39A at KSC, which SpaceX is leasing from NASA.
Note: SpaceX CRS-4 was successfully launched at 1:52 am EDT, September 21, 2014.
The Senate just passed the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the government through December 11, 2014 and avoiding a government shutdown.
The House and Senate are still in session at this hour (September 18, 7:00 pm EDT), but are expected to adjourn later today and not return until after the November elections.
The vote on the CR, which also includes a limited authorization for President Obama to take military actions related to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was 78-22. The bill passed the House yesterday and now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it.
The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion. Government agencies including NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0544 percent across-the-board reduction to pay for new activities included in the bill that are primarily related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis. Two space-related provisions allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extend the authorization for the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015.