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Military / National Security News

House FY2017 Appropriations Bills Exceed Budget Caps by $792 Million

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2016 (Updated: 26-Aug-2016 06:17 PM)

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has informed the White House and Congress that the 12 appropriations bills reported from the House Appropriations Committee for FY2017 exceed budgets caps by $792 million -- $17 million in defense and $775 million in non-defense spending.  If enacted, they therefore would be subject to automatic reductions (sequestration) to bring the total in line with the levels Congress and the President agreed to last fall.  The companion bills reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee, however, are below the caps.

In an effort to curb deficits, the White House and Congress agreed to 10-year limits on federal spending in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).  After a congressional "supercommittee" could not agree on how to implement the reductions, automatic cuts -- the sequester -- went into effect for FY2013. The consequences were sufficiently dire for both defense and non-defense agencies that agreements were reached to relax the limits for FY2014-2015 (the Ryan-Murray agreement) and FY2016-2017 (the Boehner-McConnell-Obama agreement).  Currently, the top line for defense spending for FY2017 is $609.868 billion and for non-defense (including NASA and NOAA) is $543.597 billion.

In a required "Sequestration Update" to the President and Congress on August 19, OMB reported that the House bills surpass the modified limits for FY2017 by $17 million in defense spending and by $775 million in non-defense spending.  The Senate bills are under the limits, however.  They provide $167 million less for defense and $2.032 billion less for non-defense.

Only one of the 12 bills (Military Construction-Veterans Affairs) has passed both the House and Senate.  Four others have passed the House (Defense, Financial Services, Interior and Environment, and Legislative Branch).  One other has passed the Senate (Transportation-HUD, as part of a package with MilCon-VA, but it was not incorporated into the House-passed bill). 

Congress will have to do something about appropriations before October 1 when FY2017 begins or the government will shut down.  The House and Senate reconvene on September 6, giving them four weeks.  They most likely will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded at FY2016 levels for a period of time, although Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said earlier this week that he could not rule out a shutdown because of Republican opposition to last fall's Boehner-McConnell-Obama agreement.  His hope, however, is that a CR will be enacted to cover through the November elections, with final agreement on FY2017 funding levels before the end of 2016 and the 114th Congress.

How the House and Senate resolve their differences to avoid breaching the budget caps and what effect that will have on civil or national security space programs is unknowable at this point. The caps are not broken down by agencies, only into defense and non-defense categories.  It is up to Congress to decide how to allocate the funds, which involves a lot of give-and-take. 

At this point, FAA's space office, NOAA's satellite programs, and NASA have fared well in the House and Senate appropriations committees.  The committees have been especially generous to NASA when compared to the President's request for FY2017, although the amounts are similar to what Congress appropriated for FY2016.

The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill provides $19.508 billion for NASA and the Senate committee approved $19.306 billion.  Congress appropriated $19.285 billion for FY2016, but for FY2017 the President requested $18.262 billion in appropriated funds -- a $1 billion cut. (As explained in SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2017 budget request, NASA displays its request as $19.025 billion because it includes $763 million in non-appropriated funding from mandatory accounts and a tax on oil companies.  NASA has never received money from the mandatory part of the federal budget, which pays for programs like Social Security and Medicare, and how the White House imagined that it would this year is a mystery. The tax on oil companies was part of a White House "clean transportation" initiative that never materialized.  The inclusion of the $763 million is widely viewed as an attempt to obscure the fact that the President's request was a significant cut for NASA.)

Congress's ability to provide so much more than the request is largely because the budget caps were relaxed and NASA has powerful champions on the House and Senate Appropriations committees. 

As a new President takes office and a new Congress convenes next year, decisions will need to be made on whether to change or eliminate the sequester rules.  They are set in law and will go back into full effect with the FY2018 budget, the first that will be submitted by the incoming President.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 22-September 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Aug-2016 (Updated: 21-Aug-2016 02:14 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, August 22-September 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will return for legislative business on September 6.

During the Weeks

It is just two weeks until Congress returns for legislative business, so this edition of What's Happening covers only those two weeks with the expectation that activity will begin ramping up again and there will be new events to list soon.

Not that the rest of August doesn't have a lot to offer. First is the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) conference coming up this week in Raleigh, NC.  It is certain to whet the appetite with concepts for the longer term future.  When they say innovative, they MEAN innovative.  "Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester," "Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander," and "Stellar Echo Imaging of Exoplanets" are just three of the novel ideas that will be presented. The conference will be livestreamed.

This Wednesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.  As we explained earlier, he is considered the front runner to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring at the end of the year.   Should be interesting to learn his views on the space program.  Considering how much government, private sector. and academic space activity there is in Maryland -- from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab to the Space Telescope Science Institute to Lockheed Martin corporate headquarters, to name just a few -- one could well anticipate that he'll be a strong supporter like Mikulski.  If elected, he won't have her seniority, though, so his influence on the outcome of, say, appropriations, likely will take some time to develop.

Next week, two of the panels for the Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey will meet.  As we explained in our last issue, this is the second ESAS Decadal Survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  The first was issued in 2007 and they are done every 10 years (a decade, hence "decadal"), so this one is expected to be completed next year.  Meetings of the other panels and two steering committee meetings now are scheduled through January 2017 as shown on our month-by-month FULL CALENDAR OF FUTURE EVENTS view (click on the link at the bottom of the Events of Interest list on our home page).

Those are the only four events we know about for the next two weeks as of Sunday morning (August 21) and are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks to see new events that we learn about later.

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 30-31

Thursday-Friday, September 1-2

What's Happening in Space Policy August 15 - September 2, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Aug-2016 (Updated: 14-Aug-2016 12:41 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 15 - September 2, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate return for legislative business on September 6.

During the Weeks

As described in our July 31 and August 7 editions, there's quite a bit going on this month even though it should be vacation time.  In addition to the events mentioned in those earlier issues -- including the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, AL (August 16-18), the NIAC symposium in Raleigh, NC (August 23-26), and the Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon in Greenbelt, MD with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (August 24) -- there has been one addition and one deletion over the past week for that time period.  This edition also adds the week of August 29-September 2.

The deletion is the return-to-flight launch of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket that was scheduled for August 22.   It has been postponed until the second half of September (date to be determined). The company said the delay was due to "a variety of interrelated factors" including continued processing, integration and testing of the re-engined rocket and the busy schedule aboard the International Space Station.

The addition is a NASA media briefing on August 17 to discuss the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission that is scheduled for launch on September 8.   OSIRIS-REx is the entirely robotic science mission that will obtain a sample of asteroid Bennu and return it to Earth in 2023 for scientific studies, not the Asteroid Redirect Mission that uses a robotic spacecraft to move part of an asteroid to lunar orbit where astronauts will obtain a sample and return it to Earth in the mid-2020s as part of NASA's effort to send people to Mars.  For the curious, OSIRIS-REx's full name is the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

The week added in this version of "What's Happening" includes meetings of two panels of the ongoing Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) Decadal Survey conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  This is the second ESAS Decadal Survey by the Academies.  The first was released in 2007.  Decadal Surveys are conducted every 10 years (hence "Decadal") for each of NASA's space and earth science disciplines (other agencies may be involved, too), so this one is due to be completed next year.  It has a steering committee and five panels on specific aspects of the topic. The two that are meeting within this period of time are solid earth (August 30-31) in Washington, DC, and hydrology (September 1-2) in Irvine CA.  The ESAS steering committee is co-chaired by Waleed Abdalati, University of Colorado-Boulder, and Bill Gail, Global Weather Corporation.  Again for the curious, the full name of the solid earth panel is Earth Surface and Interior: Dynamics and Hazards panel, which is co-chaired by Douglas Burbank, UC Santa Barbara and David Sandwell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Hydrology is formally the Global Hydrological Cycles and Water Resources Panel and is co- chaired by Ana Barros, Duke University, and Jeff Dozier, UC Santa Barbara. 

The full list of upcoming events for the next three weeks is shown below.  Keep checking back to see additions that we learn about later and add to our Events of List interest (or those that get postponed).

Monday, August 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Wednesday, August 17

Thursday, August 18

Friday, August 19

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 30-31

Thursday-Friday, September 1-2

What's Happening in Space Policy August 8-26, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Aug-2016 (Updated: 07-Aug-2016 10:46 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 8-26, 2016, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Weeks

It may be the dog days of August, but after a one-week respite, there's a lot happening, starting with the Small Satellite Conference in Utah.  It actually began yesterday with a 2-day pre-conference workshop that is being livestreamed.  It's not clear from the meeting's website whether the Monday-Thursday sessions also will be available that way.  Lots of creative ideas will be discussed, no doubt, at this, its 30th anniversary. Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) from Space News is on site tweeting if there's no livestream or you don't have time to listen in.

Last week we laid out all the meetings through August 19 that we knew about at the time.  They are all still posted on our Events of Interest list and in the summary below.  In this section, we will focus on August 22-26, a week that wasn't included last time.

At the top of the list is the scheduled return to flight of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket on August 22 from Wallops Island, VA.  It's a daytime launch (5:59 pm ET) so won't be as visible from surrounding areas as the night launches, but still could be viewable from the D.C. area (depending on the weather).  Orbital ATK often posts maps of where to look and we will add links to them to our calendar entry when they're available.  As anyone who follows space launches knows, plans can always change for technical or weather reasons.  We'll update our calendar entry with any news we get.  (Orbital ATK will discuss its 2Q 2016 financial results this Wednesday; more information may be provided at that time.) This is the first flight of the re-engined Antares (now using new Russian RD-181s instead of refurbished Russian NK-33/AJ26s) following the October 28, 2014 failure.  Orbital ATK has launched two Cygnus cargo spacecraft on United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets in the meantime.  They were designated OA-4 and OA-6; this one is OA-5 and, as one may guess, was originally intended to launch in between those two, but was delayed.

If the Small Satellite Conference piques your curiosity with all those new ideas, another place to hear fresh views is the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) symposium.  It will be held August 23-25 in Raleigh, NC and will be livestreamed.

On August 24, the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) is hosting a luncheon with Rep. Chris Van Hollen that may be particularly interesting. He is widely expected to succeed Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is retiring at the end of this year.  Van Hollen won the Democratic primary (against Rep. Donna Edwards) earlier this year.  He faces Republican Kathy Szeliga in November, but Democrats have held both Maryland Senate seats since 1986 and therefore is expected to win.  His views on the space program are not well known, so this will give the space community an opportunity to hear directly from him.  Mikulski is one of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, especially for earth science and other programs executed at Goddard Space Flight Center, so the extent to which her successor shares those views is important.   Whatever his views, though, he'll be a freshman in a system that thrives on seniority and it will take some time before he can attain Mikulski's influence, especially on the all-important Senate Appropriations Committee. She chaired the committee when Democrats controlled the Senate and is now the top Democrat there.  (For those interested in such matters, usually the highest ranking committee or subcommittee member of the party that is not in power is referred to as the "ranking member."  On Senate Appropriations, though, it has become common to designate that person as the "vice chairman" or "vice chairwoman" in a nod to bipartisanship, so Mikulski is currently vice chairwoman of the committee.)

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday (August 7) morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for events that we learn about later and add to the Events of Interest list.

Saturday-Thursday, August 6-11

Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9

Tuesday, August 9

Wednesday, August 10

Thursday-Friday, August 11-12

Monday, August 15

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Thursday, August 18

Friday, August 19

Monday, August 22

Tuesday-Thursday, August 23-25

Wednesday, August 24

 

Note:  This article was updated to add the August 19 spacewalk and the preview press conference on August 15.  It was later corrected with the name of Van Hollen's Republican opponent, who is Kathy Szeliga, not Katie McGinty.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 1-19, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 31-Jul-2016 (Updated: 31-Jul-2016 12:39 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next THREE weeks, August 1-19, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Weeks

Whew!  The conventions are over.  Congress is in recess.  It's vacation time!  For one week, at least.

There is nothing on our space policy events calendar for this week, though we are keeping an eye on NASA to see if they issue an announcement about the results of the July 15 Key Decision Point-B (KDP-B) review of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).   NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier said at a NASA Advisory Council meeting last week that the decision memorandum would be out this week or next. He said that cost growth in the program was forcing NASA to decide whether to accept the increased cost estimate or reduce program content to keep it at the originally promised $1.25 billion level.

Apart from that, one has to look all the way to Saturday for the next event of interest -- the annual Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University.  This is USU's 30th conference on a topic that is all the rage today, but three decades ago was of only modest interest.  It is aptly entitled "Pioneering an Industry."

Also of special interest during this time period is a presentation by the European Union's (EU's) Jean-Luc Bald, First Secretary for Space for the EU's delegation to the United States.  He will speak at an International Space University-DC alumni chapter "space cafe" on August 9.  (Note the new location for these ISU-DC space cafes -- Brixton, 901 U Street, NW -- instead of The Science Club on 19th Street, which closed in March.)  Inquiring minds want to know what if any aerospace-related impact will result from the United Kingdom's decision to leave the EU, including future UK participation in EU space programs (Galileo and Copernicus).  Should be an interesting conversation.

Personally we're feeling a little overdosed with NASA advisory committee meetings after last week, but for those who can't get enough, the NAC Heliophysics Committee meets August 8-9 at NASA HQ in Washington and the Outer Planets Assessment Group will get together in Flagstaff August 11-12.  The heliophysics meeting will be available remotely through WebEx/telecom; the OPAG website doesn't say one way or the other.  Also on the planetary science side of things, the National Academies study committee that's reviewing NASA's Planetary Science Division's new Research & Analysis (R&A) structure holds its second meeting on August 16-18.  It will be at the Keck Center in Washington, DC.

On a completely different front, the annual Space & Missile Defense Conference in Huntsville is coming up August 16-18.  There is a resurgence of interest (in Congress, at least) in using space-based weapons platforms as part of a layered ballistic missile defense (BMD) system.  Last year's National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 114-92, Sec. 1685)) required the Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to begin concept definition of a "space-based ballistic missile intercept layer" providing a "boost-phase layer for missile defense" or "additional defensive options against direct ascent anti-satellite weapons, hypersonic glide vehicles, and maneuvering reentry vehicles."  The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) doubled down on that in this year's bill (H.R. 4909/S. 2943). The House version, for example, requires the MDA Director to begin planning "for concept definition, design, research, development, engineering evaluation and test of a space-based ballistic missile intercept and defeat layer" and "for the research, development, test and evaluation activities with respect to a space test bed for a missile interceptor capability."   The idea of space-based BMD weapons platforms was studied extensively during the Reagan Administration's "Star Wars" era, but cost and technical feasibility issues moved them to the back burner. The Obama Administration is not persuaded that much has changed.  It issued a veto threat against H.R. 4909 and that provision was cited as one of the reasons.  In any case, the Huntsville conference could be particularly interesting this year.  MDA Director VADM James Syring will speak on Wednesday morning (August 17).   There's no indication if it will be livestreamed.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, July 31, are shown below.   Check back throughout the weeks for other events we learn about later and add to the Events of Interest list.

Saturday-Thursday, August 6-11

Monday-Tuesday, August 8-9

Tuesday, August 9

Thursday-Friday, August 11-12

Tuesday-Wednesday, August 16-17

Tuesday-Thursday, August 16-18

Thursday, August 18

 

What's Happening in Space Policy July 25-29, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Jul-2016 (Updated: 24-Jul-2016 02:08 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of July 25-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Week

Nationally, the big event this week is the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.  Not much is expected in the realm of space policy, although former astronaut Mark Kelly will speak on Wednesday.  He will appear with his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011.  They have become leaders in the gun control movement and that is expected to be the focus of their presentation, not the space program (but one never knows).   None of the congressional Democrats with leading roles in space policy are on the speakers list as of today (Sunday), although Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) will be there.  He represents the district that includes the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena and is known as a strong supporter of JPL programs, but he no longer serves on the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.  He moved over to the Intelligence Committee and his comments are more likely to focus on those issues.  The latest version (July 21) of the 51-page Democratic party platform has one paragraph about NASA that expresses pride in what it has accomplished and promises to "strengthen support for NASA and work in partnership with the international scientific community to launch new missions into space."   We didn't see anything about either commercial or national security space activities in the document.

Within the space policy community, the focus this week will be meetings of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees all week.  The meetings are at the Ohio Aerospace Center in Cleveland, but will be available by WebEx and telecon for those who cannot attend in person.  This will be the first NAC meeting since Steve Squyres stepped down as chair.  Former astronaut Ken Bowersox has been appointed the interim chair.  He had been chairing the NAC Human Exploration and Operations (NAC/HEO) Committee and Wayne Hale has been appointed to fill that position.

The NAC/HEO committee meets tomorrow and Tuesday.  Michele Gates, program director for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is on the schedule for 2:30 pm ET tomorrow (Monday) to give an update on ARM, which just went through one of its milestone reviews -- Key Decision Point-B or KDP-B -- on July 15 to determine whether the project is ready to move into Phase B.  [A description of KDPs and project phases is in the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 7120 document for those keenly interested in NASA program management.]  NASA has not made any announcement about what transpired at the KDP-B review.  We were told nothing would be out until this coming week, so hopefully Gates will provide that information. 

The other NAC committees/task groups meet Monday-Wednesday in advance of the full NAC meeting Thursday and Friday.  Always interesting to listen to if you have the time.

AIAA's Propulsion and Energy Conference is also on tap this week in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Great line-up of sessions and speakers.   Winner for cleverest title in our view is "Launch Vehicle Reusability:  Holy Grail, Chasing Our Tail, or Somewhere in Between?"  The conference will be livestreamed.  Remember that Utah is in the Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) zone, which is two hours behind Eastern Daylight Time (i.e. 9:00 am MDT is 11:00 am EDT).

Those events and others we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to the Events of Interest that we learn about later.   For convenience, we're grouping all the NAC meetings together rather than listing them day-by-day.  They are listed separately in our Events of Interest list.

NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its subgroups, Monday-Friday, July 25-29, all at Ohio Aerospace Institute, Cleveland, Ohio and available by WebEx/telecon

Other Events

Monday-Tuesday, July 25-26

Monday-Wednesday, July 25-27

Monday-Thursday, July 25-28

Tuesday, July 26

Tuesday-Friday, July 26-29

What's Happening in Space Policy July 17-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Jul-2016 (Updated: 17-Jul-2016 02:23 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 17-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until September 6.

During the Week

The week starts off with a bang -- of rocket engines firing -- to launch the SpaceX CRS-9 cargo mission to the International Space Station at 12:45 am Monday.   Today (Sunday), NASA will hold a briefing on what's aboard the cargo ship at 3:00 pm ET and coverage of the launch begins at 11:30 pm ET.   Watch both on NASA TV.

SpaceX plans to land the Falcon 9 first stage back on a pad at Cape Canaveral a few miles from the launch site. That feat has been done only once before. The other landings were on drone ships out at sea.  The landing burn begins 7 minutes 38 seconds after liftoff (following boostback and entry burns), with landing shortly thereafter.

The bang of a gavel will occur later in the day as the Republicans kick off their presidential convention in Cleveland.  The GOP has released its list of speakers, but it is just a list, not an agenda showing when each will speak.  Perhaps of special interest to readers of this website is that former NASA space shuttle commander Eileen Collins is one of the speakers.   If we learn the day and time, we will post it on our Events of Interest list.

Back-to-back conferences at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California this week will bring together experts interested in the scientific, robotic and human exploration of Phobos and Deimos, the two moons of Mars (Monday-Tuesday), and then a broader group looking at human exploration of those celestial bodies as well as the Moon, Mars, and near-earth asteroids (Wednesday-Friday).  Neither conference website mentions whether webcasts will be available, but such information often is made available only at the last minute.

The 40th anniversary of the landing of NASA's Viking 1 spacecraft on Mars is on Wednesday, July 20.  NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia will celebrate with a history panel on July 19 and a day-long symposium on July 20.  NASA TV will broadcast some of the sessions.

July 20 is also the 47th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. The Space Transportation Association (STA) and the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration will hold a meeting that afternoon where Orbital ATK's Charlie Precourt (a former astronaut) will talk about progress in developing the Space Launch System (SLS).  Orbital ATK is building the solid rocket boosters for SLS and recently completed a successful test firing.

The National Academies' Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable (STIGUR) will meet at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC on Thursday.   The agenda is not posted yet.

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

Sunday, July 17

Sunday-Monday, July 17-18

  • Launch of SpX-9, Cape Canaveral, FL, 12:45 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 11:30 pm ET July 17)

Monday-Tuesday

Monday-Thursday, July 18-21

Tuesday-Wednesday, July 19-20

Wednesday, July 20

Wednesday-Thursday, July 20-21

Wednesday-Friday, July 20-22

Thursday, July 21

Congress Departs for the Summer With Much Work Undone

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Jul-2016 (Updated: 15-Jul-2016 12:14 AM)

The House and Senate headed out of town for the summer today, leaving a great deal of work unfinished.  In particular, none of the 12 appropriations bills that fund the government have cleared Congress yet.  They will have four weeks to do something about appropriations when they return after Labor Day.

The extra long (seven week) recess is because of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions that will be held in the next two weeks.  The Republican convention begins in Cleveland on Monday and runs through Thursday (July 18-21).  The Democratic convention in Philadelphia is the following Monday-Thursday (July 25-28). 

The conventions will be followed by the traditional congressional August recess, which, in election years like this, is used mostly for campaigning.

The appropriations bill score sheet looks good in terms of committee action.  All 12 have been reported from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.  Floor action is another matter. 

The House has passed six of the 12 FY2017 appropriations bills:  Defense, Energy/Water, Financial Services, Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (Milcon/VA), Legislative Branch, and Interior/Environment.

The Senate passed the Energy/Water bill, and a single bill that combined Milcon/VA, Transportation-HUD, and funding to deal with the Zika virus. 

The two chambers came close to final passage of a compromise Milcon/VA bill that included the Zika funding (but not the Transportation-HUD bill).  The conference report passed the House, but did not survive a cloture vote in the Senate, so is stalled.

Attempts to bring the defense appropriations bill to the Senate floor for debate also failed cloture votes.

The Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, did reach the Senate floor, but was derailed by the gun control debate (as its name conveys, the bill also includes funding for the Department of Justice).  The House version has not gone to the floor yet.

Both chambers return on September 6 and will be in session the rest of that month.  Fiscal Year 2017 begins on October 1, so something -- likely a Continuing Resolution (CR) -- will need to be passed by then. 

This outcome is not unexpected.  Congress's difficulties in passing appropriations bills is all too well known.  The only question is how long the CR will last.  Almost certainly past the November 8 elections.  Depending on which party wins the White House, the House, and the Senate, final appropriations could be completed by the end of the calendar year, or pushed into 2017 when the new Congress convenes and the new President takes office.

One bill that has made progress is the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The House and Senate have each passed their versions and formally agreed to go to conference to work out the differences.  Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that, but the NDAA is influential in the decisions made by the appropriations committees.  Conference negotiations on the NDAA are expected to take place at the staff level during the recess.

There has been no action on a new NASA authorization bill this year, although Republican and Democratic Senators at yesterday's Senate Commerce Committee hearing on NASA and American leadership in space expressed enthusiasm for passing a bill before the end of the year.  The House passed a FY2015 (yes, 2015, not 2016) bill last year that could be a vehicle for Senate action, or a completely new bill could be introduced.  Although time is getting short, if there is agreement on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill, a bill can pass quickly.  The goal is to provide stability to NASA programs during the presidential transition.  A major area of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is NASA spending on earth science research.  Republicans on both sides of Capitol Hill argue that it should not be a priority for NASA because other agencies can fund it while NASA focuses on space exploration.  The White House and congressional Democrats argue that earth science research is an essential NASA activity and a critical element of a balanced portfolio of programs.

What's Happening in Space Policy July 11-16, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jul-2016 (Updated: 10-Jul-2016 04:49 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 11-16, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The Washington space policy community is still reeling from the news of Molly Macauley's murder Friday night while walking her dogs near her home in Baltimore.  Molly was one of the most respected and admired members of our relatively small group of space policy analysts and practitioners and was well-known to just about everyone in it.  No word yet on funeral arrangements.  We'll certainly post any information we get.  Molly was Vice President of Research and a Senior Fellow at Resources for the Future, a Washington-based think tank, which has posted a lovely tribute to her.

Meanwhile, the work of the space policy community must go on. This is the last week Congress is scheduled to meet until after Labor Day, so there's a lot they should be getting done.  Whether they do or not remains to be seen with everyone focused on tragic deaths elsewhere in the country.  Senate leaders tried to bring up the defense appropriations bill last week, but Democrats blocked it.  They're going to try again tomorrow.  On Friday, the House approved a motion to go to conference on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), so that's a step in that direction anyway, but authorization bills don't provide any money.  Only appropriations bills do that.  There's no indication when the Senate will resume consideration of the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, and it is not on the House calendar either.  The House and Senate will have four weeks after they return on September 6 to get some sort of appropriations passed to keep the government operating after FY2016 ends on September 30.

There are three congressional hearings about space this week.   First is a House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee hearing on "Astronomy, Astrophysics and Astrobiology" with witnesses talking about programs at NASA and the National Science Foundation. That begins at 10:00 am ET on Tuesday.  An hour later (which means the two will overlap), the House Small Business Committee holds a hearing on the role of small business and NASA.  It's the first time we can think of that that committee has held a space hearing.  Witnesses are from Explore Mars (Beverly, MA), Emergent Space Technologies (Greenbelt, MD), Craig Technologies (Cape Canaveral, FL) and Honeybee Technologies (Brooklyn, NY).

On Wednesday, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will chair only his third space hearing since becoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee at the beginning of 2015.   He's been busy running for President and reportedly will speak at the Republican Convention next week, but on Wednesday he will focus on "NASA At a Crossroads: Reasserting American Leadership in Space Exploration."  Witnesses are Bill Gerstenmaier from NASA; Mary Lynne Dittmar from the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration; Mike Gold from SSL (formerly Space Systems Loral); Mark Sirangelo from Sierra Nevada Corporation; and Dan Dumbacher, formerly NASA, now at Purdue.  We published summaries of Cruz's previous two space hearings: February 25, 2015 on U.S. Human Space Exploration Goals and Commercial Space Competitiveness and  March 13, 2015 on NASA's FY2016 budget request.

The American Astronautical Society, CASIS and NASA will hold the 5th International Space Station R&D conference in San Diego Tuesday-Thursday, with a special pre-conference session tomorrow afternoon on utilization of Japan's Kibo module.  The conference itself will be webcast -- lots of really interesting speakers each day, including a conversation with Mark and Scott Kelly and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta on the Twins Study from Scott Kelly's 340-day stay aboard ISS.  Remember that all times in the agenda are in Pacific Daylight Time (Eastern Daylight Time - 3).

Two interesting national security space seminars also are on the docket this week. The Hudson Institute holds a meeting on Space and the Right to Self Defense on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a report it just published on that topic. The study director, Hudson Institute Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs, will moderate a discussion with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl.   Thursday morning, the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute will hold a breakfast meeting featuring Elbridge Colby of the Center for a New American Security on U.S. defense and deterrence strategy for space.

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

Monday-Thursday, July 11-15 

  • 5th International Space Station R&D Conference (AAS/NASA/CASIS), San Diego, CA (webcast)  [Monday is a pre-conference day; the conference itself is Tuesday-Thursday.  It is not clear if the pre-conference activities on Monday also will be webcast]

Monday-Sunday, July 11-17

Tuesday, July 12

Tuesday, July 12 - Tuesday, July 19

Wednesday, July 13

Thursday, July 14

  • Future Space 2016 (Future Space Leaders Foundation), 106 Dirksen (7:30 am - 12:00 pm ET) followed by luncheon at Reserve Officer Association building across the street (12:30-1:30 pm ET)
  • U.S. Defense and Deterrence Strategy for Space (AFA Mitchell Institute), Air Force Association, 1501 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA, 8:00 am ET

Saturday, July 16

What's Happening in Space Policy July 4-9, 2016 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jun-2016 (Updated: 04-Jul-2016 10:41 PM)

This is our list of space policy events for the week of July 4-9, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House returns to work on July 5; the Senate on July 6.  [This posting was updated on July 4.]

During the Week

Monday, July 4, is a federal holiday and government offices officially are closed, but some folks at NASA surely will be on duty because the BIG EVENT for the coming week is the arrival of NASA's Juno spacecraft at Jupiter that day.

Miles O'Brien explained in a recent PBS Newshour segment what Juno will tell us about Jupiter that the Galileo spacecraft didn't (basically Galileo was looking at the cloudtops outward while Juno will look under the clouds down through Jupiter's core).  NASA has held a number of pre-arrival briefings already. Another will be broadcast on NASA TV on Monday at noon ET with a mission update. 

NASA TV coverage of orbit insertion begins at 10:30 pm ET and a post-arrival briefing is scheduled for 1:00 am ET July 5. 

The spacecraft will fire its engine at 11:18 pm ET on July 4 for 35 minutes to enter Jupiter's orbit, ending at 11:53 pm ET.  Everything is automated at this point -- either the engine will work properly or it won't.  The signal travel time from Jupiter to Earth is 48 minutes.  The times here are Earth-receive times accounting for the delay.

Closer to Earth, a new crew will launch to the International Space Station on Wednesday evening Eastern Daylight Time (Thursday GMT, Moscow Time, and local time at the launch site).  The three crew members -- NASA's Kate Rubins, JAXA's Takuya Onishi and Roscosmos's Anatoly Ivanishin -- will be using an upgraded version of the Soyuz spacecraft, Soyuz MS-01.   Since it's new, they will take the longer 2-day trajectory to the ISS to test everything out, docking early Saturday morning EDT.

Meanwhile, here on Earth, on Thursday, the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on the nation's current and next generation weather satellites.  It is a bit unusual in that it blends plans for civil and military weather satellites.  The witness list as of today includes two experts on NOAA's weather satellite programs -- Steve Volz, head of NOAA/NESDIS and the GAO expert who follows those civil weather satellite programs (David Powner), and two on DOD's weather satellite program -- Ralph Stoffler, Director of Weather in the office of the USAF Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and the GAO expert on military satellites (Cristina Chaplain).  Subcommittee chairman Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma) serves on both this subcommittee and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) which may explain the decision to hold a combined hearing on the weather satellite plans for both NOAA and DOD.  House SS&T typically webcasts its hearings on its website and YouTube.

The events we know about as of Monday, July 4, are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest list.

Monday-Tuesday, July 4-5 ET

  • Arrival of the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter (watch on NASA TV)
    • July 4, 12:00 pm ET, pre-orbit insertion briefing
    • July 4, 10:30 pm ET, orbit insertion and NASA commentary
    • July 5, 1:00 am ET, post-orbit insertion briefing

Wednesday, July 6

Thursday, July 7

Saturday, July 9

Note:  This article, orignally published June 30, 2016, was updated throughout on July 4, 2016.