Military / National Security News
Here is our list of space policy events in the coming week, November 17-21, 2014, and any insights we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
Congress is in session this week, but anything they are working on regarding space policy and funding is taking place behind the scenes. One set of negotiations is over a compromise version of a FY2015 omnibus appropriations bill that is expected to combine all 12 regular appropriations bill into one and fund the government through the rest of FY2015 (September 30, 2015). Word has it the bill will be publicly released the week of December 8, just in time to get it passed - hopefully - by midnight December 11 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.
It's not a sure bet, though. House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) warned this past week that if President Obama issues an Executive Order on immigration (i.e., takes action without waiting for Congress to act) before a deal is done on appropriations, there will be an "explosion." He's worried appropriations will get caught in the crossfire. If a new appropriations bill is not enacted by December 11, the government will shut down like it did in October 2013. Some Tea Party Republicans consider government shutdowns a useful tactic and might try to cause another one in reaction to any Presidential action on immigration. Even absent that, some have been arguing in favor of passing just another CR to fund the government for the first few weeks of the New Year when Republicans will control both the House and Senate and have more power to decide funding matters. (We talked about the road ahead for appropriations in an earlier article.)
Negotiations also are underway on a FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It is the only annual authorization bill that Congress routinely passes, even if that happens at the very last minute. The House passed its version in May, and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved a version in June, but it has not gone to the Senate floor for debate yet. They will probably skip that step and just bring the compromise to the floor. Congress hasn't missed passing an NDAA for more than 50 years no matter how high the political tensions. Senate John McCain (R-AZ), who likely will chair SASC in the next Congress, included a provision in the SASC-version of the bill prohibiting DOD from contracting with space launch services providers that use Russian suppliers -- aimed at the United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) use of Russian RD-180 engines for the Atlas V. ULA President Tory Bruno said last week that congressional staffers now understand the "very harmful" unintended consequences of that language and are revising it as part of the NDAA negotiations.
Like appropriations, the NDAA probably won't become public for a while yet. Congress will be in recess next week for Thanksgiving, then return for two more weeks to finish what they can for the 113th Congress.
Off the Hill, three NASA Advisory Council committees or subcommittees will meet this week in person or virtually (Planetary Protection on Monday and Tuesday, Institutional on Wednesday and Thursday, and Planetary Science on Friday). The NSF-NASA-DOE Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee meets at NSF on Monday and Tuesday. Alan Ladwig and Courtney Stadd's ISU-DC Space Café discussion is on Tuesday evening (rescheduled from last Tuesday, which was Veterans Day and HBO's Concert for Valor essentially took over DC). And the Secure World Foundation and American Astronautical Society will host a briefing on space weather on the Senate side of the Capitol Visitor Center at lunchtime on Thursday.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday-Tuesday, November 17-18
Tuesday, November 18
Tuesday-Thursday, November 18-20
Tuesday-Friday, November 18-21
Wednesday-Thursday, November 19-20
Thursday, November 20
Friday, November 21
Alluding to what he described as a moment of exciting change for the commercial launch industry, the newly appointed head of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) discussed how his company, the primary U.S. national security launch provider, will adapt to remain on top.
At an event Thursday hosted by the Atlantic Council, Salvatore “Tory” T. Bruno, ULA president and CEO, described his sense of “irrational optimism” at the future of the commercial launch industry. Widespread accessibility will be the key feature of a new environment, he explained, one where government and new commercial customers will need access to space to accomplish “missions we couldn’t conceive of in the past.”
ULA, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture established in 2006 with a record of 89 successful launches, is banking on experience to remain ahead in an industry facing new competition and possible constraints from foreign policy pressures. Last April, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) filed a complaint against the U.S. Air Force for awarding an $11 billion block buy contract to ULA for five years’ worth of launches on its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV). ULA has stated this block buy saved the government $4 billion, cutting launch prices in half. SpaceX has argued it can offer the same service for much less and is vying to compete for national space security launch contracts.
Although not referring to SpaceX directly, Bruno cited ULA’s “perfect record of mission success,” and “great heritage” as the benefit of doing business with the company. But the country is demanding new things, he said, and “I am going to transform this company.” Bruno vowed to “cash in” the company’s decades of experience, reorganize to make it more agile, and establish new business models to adapt to the new environment. These changes will lead to improvements in how ULA interacts with its customers, both governmental and commercial, shorter launch cycles, and launch costs cut in half again.
Among the changes already under way, in September ULA announced a partnership with Blue Origin for the development of an alternative to the Russian-built RD-180 engine which ULA uses on its Atlas V vehicle. In light of deteriorating diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia, for the past several months policymakers and industry leaders have been debating alternatives to reduce U.S. reliance on Russia for putting critical national security assets in orbit.
ULA intends to phase out the RD-180 over time and transition to an “American solution” to launching satellites using Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine. Bruno said that transition is coming “very soon,” but ULA will continue buying RD-180s under its existing contract with RD-AMROSS and is accelerating their delivery. ULA wants to have eight rather than five delivered next year, he acknowledged.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), expected to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in the next Congress, included language in the Senate version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2410, sec. 1623) prohibiting DOD from contracting for space launch services from companies using Russian suppliers. Asked about his reaction to the language, Bruno replied that, as originally drafted, the language would have been “very harmful” to ULA in ways “the drafters did not intend” and is being revised as part of negotiations over the final version of the bill.
When asked by a reporter for Russia’s news agency, Itar-TASS, why the RD-180s were being phased out and deliveries accelerated, Bruno made no reference to the tense geopolitical circumstances, however. Instead, he framed it strictly as a business decision. Praising the RD-180 as a “great” engine that is very reliable with “terrific performance,” he nonetheless said it was time to move past the technologies of the 1970s and 1980s and build a lighter engine with improved thrust. As for moving up the delivery timetable, he said that was in response to anticipated market demand for more Atlas V launches.
The Atlantic Council has posted the webcast of the event on its website.
The House and Senate return to work today to finish out the 113th Congress and get ready for the 114th, which begins in January. The congressional landscape will change significantly then, with Republicans taking control of the Senate in addition to the House. Generally, space activities have bi-partisan support in both chambers. Where that has broken down in the past is over budgets and that could be a defining issue in the 114th Congress.
But first, over the next several weeks Congress needs to complete work on FY2015 appropriations. There remains a question as to whether the appropriations will cover the rest of the fiscal year – through September 30, 2015 – or only a few months, but something must be done by December 11 to keep the government open. On that day, the Continuing Resolution (CR) currently funding the government expires.
The prevailing wisdom is that Congress will pass an omnibus FY2015 appropriations bill combining all 12 regular appropriations bills and fund the government through the rest of FY2015. Some Tea Party Republicans, however, want a short term bill to carry the government only through the first few weeks of the New Year when Republicans are in control of both chambers.
The House has passed seven of the 12 regular appropriations bills, and although the Senate has not passed any, the Senate Appropriations Committee completed work on eight. The two that fund most space activities are Defense (national security space programs) and Commerce-Justice-Science (NASA and NOAA). A third, Transportation-HUD, funds activities at the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
The House has passed and the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved all three of those bills increasing the likelihood that final action on them can be completed by year’s end if prevailing wisdom holds true.
Congress also has not yet completed action on new authorization bills for NASA or DOD. Like appropriations, the House has passed bills for both, but the Senate has not passed either. Congress has an unblemished record for more than 50 years of passing annual DOD authorization bills, formally called a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Pundits are predicting that one will pass this year, too, probably by using the House-passed bill as the basis for a behind-the-scenes compromise and sending it to the Senate floor for a vote, skipping the step of passing a Senate version first.
As for NASA, it is always possible that similar negotiations could also result in a bill clearing Congress this year, but the NASA bill is not considered as crucial as the NDAA. With little time on the legislative calendar, the imminent change in party control, and the departure of key Senate Democratic staffer Ann Zulkosky, getting the NASA bill done could be problematical.
The Senate also is expected to try and approve at least some of President Obama’s nominations, particularly those for judicial positions. Whether Dava Newman’s nomination to be NASA Deputy Administrator can get through in such a short time will depend on many factors, such as whether she has a Senate champion willing to push for it or if any opposition has developed. Expectations were that it would not be considered until next year and that is probably a good bet.
What will happen in the 114th Congress is anyone’s guess. There’s a presidential election coming up in 2016 and each party will use the next two years to convince the electorate to choose a President from their side of the aisle (President Obama cannot run for another term, so there will be no incumbent). Not to mention that all of the House and one-third of the Senate will once again be up for election. How all of that plays out in congressional politics is to be determined. There is much talk at the moment of the two parties working together because the electorate is weary of Washington gridlock, but such talk is typical right after an election. Rarely does it actually lead to compromise. With some Republicans vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and fight the President on issues from immigration to the Keystone Pipeline, it is difficult to be optimistic.
All the committee and subcommittee chairmanships will change in the Senate, since the Republicans are taking control. Even though Republicans retained control in the House, 11 committee chairmanships are up for grabs because of term limits or retirements. There is a lot of speculation about who will be in charge of what, which is important, but in terms of the fate of government-funded space programs, a more important factor is whether deficit cutting returns as the dominant issue in Congress.
Republicans and Democrats have been fighting for the past six years over how to reduce the deficit. The Republicans want only funding cuts, while Democrats want a combination of funding cuts and tax increases. The result of the deadlock over this issue was sequestration – across-the-board funding cuts for federal agencies that are part of the “discretionary spending” portion of the budget that Congress directly allocates (as opposed to mandatory spending for programs like Medicare and Social Security).
Both parties oppose sequestration, but could not reach a compromise on any other solution. In December 2013, a temporary truce was negotiated by the chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), where sequestration limits were lifted, but only for FY2014 and FY2015. Consequently, budget fights were not as intense for FY2015 and NASA, for example, would get a significant boost if it gets what is allocated in its House-passed and Senate Appropriations Committee-approved appropriations bill.
That could be a short-term win, though. Unless Congress changes the law, sequestration is back for FY2016 and beyond. Republicans do not like sequestration any more than Democrats, and now that they will control both chambers, they could try to repeal sequestration and replace it with cuts to mandatory spending. They can only go so far, though, without alienating their own voters or prompting a presidential veto. Discretionary programs like NASA and NOAA could once again be in the budget bulls eye and while DOD as a whole may fare better, it is far from clear if that would extend to its space programs.
A lot of what happens in the 114th Congress may depend on whether "establishment" Republicans, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), can work with their Tea Party colleagues or if there will be intra-party fights. Also, in the Senate, the Democrats could adopt the tactics McConnell has used so effectively as Minority Leader in preventing action on most legislation. The Senate will have 53 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democrats, essentially a 53 - 46 split (one race, Louisiana, is still undetermined). That is basically the inverse of the situation today. Just as Senate Republicans stymied action under Democratic control, so could Democrats do the same now that they will be in the minority.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of November 9-15, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns to work on Wednesday, November 12.
During the Week
From a policy perspective, certainly the biggest event this week is the return of Congress after a long break leading up to last week's mid-term elections. As everyone knows, Republicans won control of the Senate and House Republicans added many seats to their side of the aisle. Some races remain undetermined so there is not yet a final count of how many R's and D's there will be in the 114th Congress that convenes in January, but in the Senate there will be at least 52 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents (both currently caucus with Democrats and one has said he will continue to do so in the next Congress). The Senate race in Alaska has not been called yet, and there will be a run-off for the Louisiana Senate seat next month. In the House, there will be at least 244 Republicans and 184 Democrats. The other races have not been called yet. As many observers are pointing out, it has been 80 years since the Democrats have had so few seats in the House. We'll have more on how the changes in Congress could impact space programs in an article later this week.
That's next year, though. On Wednesday, it is the 113th Congress that reconvenes and it still has work to do. The one must-pass piece of legislation is the FY2015 appropriations. The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 11, so Congress has until then to pass another CR or the 12 regular appropriations bills probably packaged together into a single omnibus bill or series of "mini-buses." It is possible that some Republicans may try to delay passage of final appropriations bills until next year when they are in control of both chambers and therefore will agree only to a short-term CR to carry the government over into the New Year, but the betting at the moment seems to be that the matter will be settled by the end of this year. That could change, of course.
There also are big events in space activities coming up. Tonight (Sunday) three International Space Station (ISS) crew members return to Earth in their Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft: NASA's Reid Wiseman, Europe's Alexander Gerst and Russia's Max Suraev. NASA TV will cover undocking (7:30 pm EST) and landing in Kazakhstan (10:58 pm EST).
Then on Wednesday, November 12, ESA's Philae lander will land on Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko, the first spacecraft to achieve such a feat. ESA's Rosetta spacecraft, with Philae aboard, arrived at the comet in August after a 10 year journey. Lots of media events in Europe are scheduled for the days before, of, and after the landing. Confirmation that Philae successfully landed is expected about 11:00 am EST on Wednesday. NASA TV will cover that part of the mission from 9:00 - 11:30 am EST.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.
Sunday, November 9
Tuesday, November 11
Wednesday, November 12
Friday, November 14
Saturday, November 15
The results of some congressional races are still not final, but as of 6:00 am ET November 5, it is clear that Republicans will control the Senate in the 114th Congress and added to their majority in the House.
With Senate races in three states (Alaska, Louisiana, and Virginia) still not over, Republicans have at least 52 seats in the Senate, one more than needed to control the chamber. Democrats have 43 and there are 2 Independents. In the House, Republicans will have at least 242 seats, a gain of 13, and there will be at least 174 Democrats. Results from the remaining districts are pending.
For space policy and programs, the biggest impact likely will be in funding. Republicans have been pressing for cutbacks in government spending to reduce the deficit, while Democrats have argued for a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Republicans oppose tax increases.
Congress returns to work next Tuesday (November 12). Little legislation is likely to be passed in the lame duck session knowing that party control of the Senate will change in January.
The one must-pass piece of legislation is FY2015 appropriations. FY2015 began on October 1 and the government is operating under a Continuing Resolution that expires on December 11.
Whether a bill will pass to cover the rest of FY2015 (through September 30, 2015) or only for a few weeks or months to provide funding through the beginning of the next Congress when Republicans will have more power to shape its contents is an open question. NASA was poised to receive a significant increase over the President's request for FY2015 in bills that passed the House and cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a bipartisan basis, so it is possible that the increase will survive, but if reducing the deficit becomes the driving force, it could be endangered. NOAA's satellite programs similarly fared reasonably well in FY2015 budget action so far. A major issue in the DOD space policy and budget realm is whether to add money to begin development of a U.S. rocket engine to replace Russia's RD-180, used for the Atlas V, which is a very complex issue and it is difficult to assess how much that will be affected by the Republican gains.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the week of November 2 - 8, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Week
News can be expected throughout the week on the October 28 Antares launch failure and the October 31 SpaceShipTwo (SS2) accident. Orbital Sciences Corporation is leading the Antares investigation and has been posting regular updates on its website. The National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) is leading the SS2 investigation, where one of the two pilots died and the other is hospitalized. NTSB held two briefings yesterday (at 9:00 am and 8:00 pm Pacific Time), and a third is scheduled for tonight (Sunday) at 8:00 pm PT (11:00 pm ET). We will post information on any briefings that we learn about during the week on the calendar.
On the national scene, the biggest news in the coming week will be, of course, Tuesday's mid-term elections. Republicans are expected to retain control of the House and could win control of the Senate as well, although some races are very close, legal challenges may by filed against some state voter registration laws or processes, and there is a chance there could be as many as four Independents in the Senate (there are two now), which could sway the balance of power depending on which party they choose to caucus with (the two incumbent Independents caucus with the Democrats). All of that makes prognostication especially difficult and could mean that the issue of which party controls the Senate may not be settled on Tuesday.
The most important thing is for EVERY ELIGIBLE VOTER TO GET OUT AND VOTE! YOUR VOTE DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Lots of other interesting events are on tap, too. Certainly the most intriguing one is a panel discussion sponsored by the American Chemical Society and American University on Thursday on "The First and Final Frontiers: The Overlapping Technology Policies of Farming and Space Exploration." The Washington Space Business Roundtable's luncheon later that day also should be particularly interesting. Mark Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is the speaker. Between SNC's lawsuit against the government over the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contract awards and this past week's commercial space setbacks (though they did not involve SNC), Sirangelo's take on the present and future of commercial space should be thought provoking. It's a busy day. The ACS/AU event is from 10:00-11:00 am ET, NASA is having a briefing at KSC (watch on NASA TV) at 11:00 on the planned December launch of the Orion capsule on its Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), and the WSBR luncheon starts at 11:30.
On Saturday, NASA, in partnership with the University of Arizona, will hold the first of two "citizen forums" on the Asteroid Initiative. This first one is in Phoenix. The second, on November 15, is in Boston. People had to apply to participate in person and that process is closed; those chosen are being paid $100. Anyone else can participate online (no stipend), but must register.
Sunday, November 2
Monday, November 3
Monday-Tuesday, November 3-4
Tuesday, November 4
Wednesday-Thursday, November 5-6
Thursday, November 6
Saturday, November 8
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) talked to many experts and reviewed a host of reports on DOD's plans for disaggregation of some of its satellite systems. In the end, GAO concluded that little is known about the pros and cons of using that acquisition approach for future space systems and warned that "poorly informed decisions could made" by DOD.
GAO was directed to conduct its review by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in the report accompanying the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act. The committee particularly asked GAO to assess "the potential benefits and drawbacks of disaggregating key military space systems and examine if disaggregation offers decreased acquisition and lifecycle costs and increased survivability of a satellite constellation compared to more traditional acquisition approaches."
Disaggregation has become a popular, if not well understood, term for launching many smaller satellites instead of a few large ones to accomplish a given mission such as early warning, weather, or communication. GAO describes it as "breaking up" large satellites into multiple smaller ones. The idea is that smaller satellites may be less costly to develop, produce and launch than large, complex satellites, and that space systems as a whole might be less vulnerable (and therefore more resilient) if there were more targets that had to be neutralized to degrade system performance significantly. Hosted payloads are an example of disaggregation where a user such as DOD puts a sensor or other payload on another entity's satellite so that it does not have to pay for the entire satellite. CHIRP (Commercially Hosted Infrared Payload) is one example of DOD utilizing the hosted payload concept where it tested a new infrared sensor as a payload on a commercial communications satellite owned by SES. Although widely considered a success, DOD discontinued CHIRP in 2013 because of budget constraints.
SASC specifically asked GAO to look at capabilities provided by three satellite systems: Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) communications satellites; Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) for missile warning, missile defense, technical intelligence and battlespace awareness; and Weather System Follow-on (WSF), a successor to the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).
GAO said, however, that there are so many unknowns, it could not make a definitive assessment at this time. Therefore it limited the report to describing the potential benefits and limitations and to assessing whether DOD has enough knowledge to make informed decisions today about whether to use disaggregation for acquiring new space systems.
GAO's answer to the latter question is no. Although DOD and other organizations have conducted many studies, and DOD has Analysis of Alternatives (AOAs) underway, they are insufficient to support good decision-making, the report concluded. GAO found that "... the intent of the AOAs is not to examine the merits of disaggregation on its own, but rather as one of the many options that may or may not provide solutions. The additional studies beyond the AOAs have been useful in providing results to inform the ongoing AOAs, officials told us, though some have been regarded as inconclusive because they were not conducted with sufficient analytical rigor or did not consider the capabilities, risks, and trades in a holistic manner." In addition, DOD "lacks common measures for resilience that can be used consistently in AOAs..." even though "DOD leaders have emphasized resilience as a priority when considering future systems," and demonstration projects like CHIRP provide technological insight and lessons learned, but do not focus on operational feasibility.
As for the potential benefits and drawbacks, GAO provided many examples of both, but its ultimate conclusion was that not enough is known today: "Without a determined and disciplined effort to develop information about the full range of disaggregation issues -- including operations -- decisions on future space capabilities could be under-informed and opportunities missed."
Here is our list of space policy related events coming up in the next TWO weeks, October 27-November 7, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them. Congress returns on November 12.
During the Weeks
This issue covers the next TWO weeks, and certainly the most interesting event in that time period is November 4 -- election day in the United States. More on that in our next issue, but put it on your calendar and GET OUT AND VOTE!
In the nearer term, Orbital Sciences Corporation will launch its next cargo mission, Orb-3, to the International Space Station tomorrow (October 27) from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, VA. The launch at 6:45 pm ET may be visible along the east coast (weather permitting). Orbital has a map showing where to look on its website. NASA TV will provide coverage beginning at 5:45 pm ET. A post-launch press conference is scheduled for approximately 90 minutes after launch.
The American Astronautical Society (AAS) will hold its annual Wernher von Braun symposium in Huntsville, AL from October 27-30 (the 27th is a welcome reception and the 30th is a tour of the United Launch Alliance production facility in nearby Decatur, AL). Three "Washington Perspectives" are on the schedule: on October 28 by Cristina Chaplain of the Government Accountability Office; and on October 29 by Dick Obermann, minority staff director of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, at 8:00 am Central Time, and by Kate Kronmiller of Orbital Sciences Corporation at noon CT. Lots of other very interesting discussions on tap as well. There is no indication on the agenda if any of the event will be webcast.
On November 6, Mark Sirangelo of Sierra Nevada's Space Systems Division will talk to the Washington Space Business Roundtable. Between Sierra Nevada's lawsuit over NASA's award of the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts to Boeing and SpaceX (and not Sierra Nevada), and the company's non-NASA plans for its Dream Chaser spacecraft, it should be particularly interesting.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday evening are listed below.
Monday, October 27
Monday-Thursday, October 27-30
Tuesday-Thursday, October 28-29
Wednesday, October 29
Monday, November 3
Monday-Tuesday, November 3-4
Tuesday, November 4
Wednesday-Thursday, November 5-6
Thursday, November 6
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
UPDATE: A link has been added to A video of the landing released by the Air Force on October 22, and with an even more accurate mission duration calculation by Jonathan McDowell that it lasted 674.93 days, which we round to 675 days rather than the Air Force's 674 days.
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
The Air Force released a video of the landing on YouTube on October 22.
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 asked the Air Force for clarification, but none was offered. McDowell rechecked his calculation and produced an even more accurate duration of 674.93 days, so we will continue to use 675 days.
Note: This article was updated on October 17 with the Air Force press statement and landing photo, and on October 22 with the link to the video and McDowell's more precise mission duration calculation..