Military / National Security News
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III told a Senate committee today that the bill has come due for a number of infrastructure activities that were postponed because of sequestration, including space launch infrastructure. By law, sequestration returns in FY2016 and Welsh and the other military service chiefs warned about the impacts if the law is not changed.
Welsh began his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) by commenting that the Air Force is the smallest it has ever been, with 54 fighter squadrons, down from the 188 at the time of Operation Desert Storm in 1990, and 200,000 fewer active duty airmen than the 511,000 in place at that time. Additional cuts will be required if sequestration -- part of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) -- returns, making the Air Force "even smaller and less able to do the things that we're routinely expected to do," Welsh said.
"Now, I would like to say that that smaller Air Force would be more ready than it's ever been, but that's not the case," he continued. Even though the last two years, when BCA budget caps were relaxed, have permitted improvements, there is a "broader readiness issue" involving infrastructure, including space launch infrastructure, that was "intentionally underfunded" in order to ensure individual and unit readiness instead. "That bill is now due, but BCA caps will make it impossible to pay," Welsh warned.
More broadly, he worried about technological gaps that could develop if sequestration is not reversed. One of those is space: "we cannot forget that that is one of the fastest growing and closing technological gaps," Welsh said. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert also mentioned space capabilities as an area of concern saying that "we're slipping behind and our advantage is shrinking very fast" in "electronic attack, the ability to jam, the ability to detect seekers, radars, satellites ...."
SASC is a friendly audience for airing such concerns. SASC Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) referred to the "mindlessness of sequestration" and its requirement to cut $1 trillion from defense spending by 2021. "If we in Congress don't act, sequestration will return in full in fiscal year 2016, setting our military on a far more dangerous course." The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), put it in a broader context saying that sequestration relief is needed at DOD "and for other critical national priorities, including public safety, infrastructure, health and education."
The BCA was enacted in 2011 when Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration could not reach agreement on how to fund the government in the face of political gridlock over Republican insistence that the deficit be reduced through spending cuts alone and Democratic insistence that it be achieved through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. A congressional "supercommittee" was created to find a solution, with the "poison pill" that if they did not, then automatic across-the-board cuts -- sequestration -- would ensue for all departments and agencies funded by congressional appropriations. They did not reach agreement, and sequestration went into effect. Across-the-board cuts do not allow choosing priorities -- every budget account is cut by the same percentage. Republican and Democrats in Congress and the White House oppose sequestration and agreed to temporary relief through the Ryan-Murray agreement in December 2013, but that covered only FY2014 and FY2015.
President Obama is expected to submit his FY2016 budget request on Monday (February 2), the formal kick-off of the FY2016 budget debate. The BCA was enacted when the House was controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats. Now both chambers are under the control of Republicans, but whatever they pass still must be signed into law by a Democratic President, so the outcome of the debate is still very much up in the air. Whether either side has moderated its views on the amount of deficit reduction required or how to achieve it will become known in the coming months.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of January 26-30, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
On the off chance you haven't been watching the weather forecasts, the week starts off with a major winter storm for the Northeast, so if you're headed in this direction for meetings, be prepared for delays. The Washington, DC area is not expected to get much snow (a few inches) but it may as well be the two feet they're forecasting for New England when it comes to impact. This area just does not do well in snow.
Tomorrow in warmer climes -- Houston -- NASA and its Commercial Crew Transportation Program (CCtCAP) partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will hold a news briefing at Johnson Space Center to provide an update on their progress in developing crew transportation systems to service the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017. The 11:00 am Central Time (12:00 noon Eastern) briefing will be broadcast on NASA TV.
Or head to Cocoa Beach, FL for the three-day (Tuesday-Thursday) NASA Advanced Innovative Concepts (NIAC) 2015 symposium. If you can't make it in person, it will be webcast.
Back here in DC, on Tuesday, when it may still feel like the Arctic, the Secure World Foundation will hold a really interesting seminar on "Space and the Arctic: Why Space Capabilities are Important for Sustainable Arctic Development" from 12:00-2:00 pm ET. Please RSVP in advance if you plan to attend.
An hour before that, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold its 114th Congress organizational meeting, postponed from last week. The House Appropriations Committee holds its organizational meeting on Wednesday. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) have interesting hearings on broad topics this week. It is not clear whether national security space issues will come up at all, but they may, and the hearings seem interesting nonetheless. One SASC hearing is on the impact of sequestration on national security with the military service chiefs (the sequester comes back into effect in FY2016 unless the law is changed) and the other is on global challenges with three former Secretaries of State (Kissinger, Shultz and Albright). The HASC hearing is on how to improve DOD's ability to respond to technological change.
If you're interested in a career in space policy and in the D.C. area on Tuesday, don't miss the panel discussion on that topic Tuesday evening at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. Five young professionals who are climbing that ladder of success right now will be there to offer their perspectives and advice.
We also want to note that this week begins the anniversaries of the three fatal spaceflight accidents: Apollo 1 (or Apollo 204) on January 27, 1967; Challenger, January 28, 1986; and Columbia, February 1, 2003. NASA usually holds a remembrance event around this time, but we have not heard when/where/what it will be this year.
The meetings that we do know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, January 26
Tuesday, January 27
Tuesday-Thursday, January 27-29
Wednesday, January 28
Wednesday-Thursday, January 28-29
Thursday, January 29
SpaceX announced today that it reached agreement with the Air Force on a "path forward" and is dropping its lawsuit against a 2013 Air Force contract with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for a "block-buy" of 36 launch vehicle cores for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.
SpaceX filed suit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in April 2014 arguing that the 2013 contract should not have been awarded on a sole-source basis, but opened for bid. The company's founder and Chief Designer, Elon Musk, said at the time that ULA's prices for launching the two EELVs -- Atlas V and Delta IV -- were "four times as expensive" as a SpaceX launch and the award was "not right."
SpaceX has been awarded a few Air Force launch contracts (such as the DSCOVR launch now scheduled for February 8), but not for the potentially more lucrative launches of national security satellites by EELV-class rockets. It is still awaiting certification from the Air Force to be able to compete for those launches. Air Force officials indicated last year that certification was expected by the end of 2014, but most recently said it may not come until this summer.
The company said in statement today that its agreement with the Air Force "improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches." The agreement calls for the Air Force to "work collaboratively" with SpaceX to complete the certification process, The SpaceX statement also said that the Air Force "has expanded the number of competitive opportunities for launch services under the EELV program while honoring existing contractual obligations."
"Per the settlement, SpaceX will dismiss its claims relating to the EELV block buy contract pending in the United States Court of Federal Claims," the SpaceX statement concludes.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is a strong supporter of SpaceX's efforts to win EELV contracts. At a Senate hearing last summer, he left no doubt about his dissatisfaction with the Air Force's handling of the EELV block-buy award and its treatment of SpaceX. He is now the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), which oversees the Air Force.
SpaceX's complaint against the ULA contract came at the same time U.S.-Russian geopolitical relationships soured because of Russia's actions in Ukraine. It highlighted ULA's utilization of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas V rocket and catalyzed a debate about U.S. dependence on Russian rocket engines. The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) essentially prohibits DOD from entering into a new contract or renewing a current contract for purchasing Russian rocket engines for national security space launches. The law authorizes $220 million in FY2015 for the Air Force to develop a "next generation" rocket propulsion system by 2019. Meanwhile, ULA and Blue Origin announced last fall that they are teaming to develop a new U.S.-produced engine for the Atlas V that is already completely funded (i.e., no government funds are required).
UPDATE, January 20: New House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mac Thornberry will lay out his agenda for the 114th Congress at 10:00 am ET this morning (Monday) to the American Enterprise Institute. It will be webcast.
UPDATE, January 19: The White House announced today that astronaut Scott Kelly will be one of the many guests sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday's State of the Union address. Whether or not the President will mention Kelly and his upcoming year-long mission to the ISS or anything else about the space program is unclear, but it raises that possibility.
January18, 2015: Here is our list of space policy related events coming up for the week of January 19-23, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate will be in session for part of the week (Monday is a holiday -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and on Tuesday will meet in joint session to hear President Obama's State of the Union Address.
During the Week
The list of events this week is somewhat short, but they are important events that will set the stage for what transpires in months to come.
The two committees that set policy for NASA will hold their organizational meetings this week: the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Tuesday and the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee on Wednesday. Committee and subcommittee members are usually formalized at these meetings and the chairs and ranking members often use the opportunity to lay out their priorities for the year. The Senate committee will now be run by Republicans instead of Democrats since Republicans won control of the Senate in last year's elections. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) will be chairman and Sen. BIll Nelson (D-FL) is the ranking member. In space policy circles. a lot of attention is being paid to the selection of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to chair the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee and what that may mean especially for NASA's earth science program. Cruz told the Houston Chronicle his overall priorities for oversight of the U.S. civil space program, starting with reauthorization of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) and returning NASA to its "core priority of exploring space."
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) will retain their leadership positions on the full House SS&T committee and its Space Subcommittee respectively. Smith said last year that CSLA will be one of his top priorities in this Congress. A prohibition on the FAA enacting new regulations on commercial human spaceflight expires this year, so that is certain to be a topic for debate. How the October 2014 Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo crash will affect the outcome is an open question.
On Tuesday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR). While he won't be able to talk about the President's upcoming budget request for FY2016, which will not be released until February 2, he should be able to explain how the agency will spend the extra half billion dollars Congress provided for the current fiscal year above the President's request, and provide updates on ongoing programs. He and members of his NASA Advisory Council (NAC) had frank exchanges about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) last week and perhaps he will try once more to convince the space community that moving an asteroid -- or part of an asteroid -- from one place in the solar system to another is critical to achieving the long term goal of sending humans to Mars. That is the part of the mission NAC members question. NASA says it will announce in "mid-January" its choice of whether to move an entire small asteroid (Option A) or pluck a boulder off of a larger asteroid (Option B) and move just that part. It is mid-January already. Perhaps Bolden will make the announcement at the MSBR meeting, though we have not heard any rumors to that effect. The decision was supposed to have been announced last month, but was delayed at the last moment.
Also on Tuesday, President Obama will present his annual State of the Union Address. There is no indication that the space program will be mentioned, but it should be interesting nonetheless to see what the President has in mind as he faces his last two years in office with a Congress controlled entirely by Republicans. During his first two years, Democrats controlled both chambers. Democrats lost the House in 2010 and he faced a split Congress for the next four years. Now they have lost the Senate as well and Republicans made significant gains in the House. Expectations are low that Washington gridlock will come to an end. Senate Democrats may be as effective in the minority as the Republicans were for four years and the President wields the veto pen.
Tuesday, January 20
Wednesday, January 21
Today has been a busy day, with many interesting announcements from around the globe ranging from locating Europe's Beagle-2 lander on Mars to SpaceX's release of video of its Falcon 9 first stage crashing into instead of landing on an autonomous drone ship to NASA's release of its source selection statements for the CCtCAP awards to Boeing and SpaceX and several more.
Here are brief summaries with links to more information:
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 12-16, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The week starts off with the berthing of the SpaceX CRS-5 (SpX-5) Dragon spacecraft with the International Space Station at about 6:00 am ET Monday morning. It may seem anticlimatic compared with Saturday's SpX-5 launch -- or rather the attempted landing of the Falcon 9 first stage on an autonomous drone ship. While that didn't go as planned, as a test it certainly was a success as a step towards reusability.
Congressional committee activities for the 114th Congress get off to a start this week. Many House committees, including the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), are holding their organizational meetings to adopt rules, lay out majority and minority agendas, and complete administrative tasks. Rep. MacThornberry (R-TX) takes over the HASC gavel this Congress from Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA), who retired. Over in the Senate, SASC is holding an actual hearing with a single witness -- Henry Kissinger -- expounding on global challenges and U.S. national security. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will chair SASC in this Congress. Space topics do not usually arise in hearings like these on broad, top level national security issues, but U.S. dependence on Russia for rocket engines, the overall state of national security space assets, or perceived threats posed by China's space activities might come up depending on where the conversation goes.
Down at Stennis Space Center, MS, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and two of its committees -- Science and Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) -- will meet this week. A joint session Monday afternoon between the Science and HEO committees might be particularly interesting. Then, on Tuesday morning HEO Associate Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier will provide the HEO committee with an update on HEO activities overall and Michele Gates and Lindley Johnson will present an update on the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Later in the day, Alan Lindenmoyer will offer NAC-HEO "lessons learned" from the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The meetings are available virtually via WebEx and telecon (click on the links to those meetings below or on the right menu for instructions).
Those and other events of interest that we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, January 12
Monday-Tuesday, January 12-13
Tuesday, January 13
Wednesday-Thursday, January 14-15
Thursday, January 15
Friday, January 16
Here is our list of space policy related events coming up for the first week-and-a-half of the New Year and any insight we can offer about them. The 114th Congress convenes at noon on Tuesday, January 6.
During the Weeks
The New Year gets off with a bang in 2015 with three major conferences, a SpaceX launch that could demonstrate the Falcon 9 first stage returning to land on a barge, the beginning of a new Congress, and meetings of three NASA advisory groups.
The three conferences are:
Special sessions (e.g. Town Halls, lectures, plenaries) will be held at each. The conference organizers have varying policies on webcasting, so check at the links provided to determine if these events can be viewed remotely.
SpaceX's fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX CRS-5 or SpX-5, was postponed from December 19 to January 6 because a Falcon 9 static fire test did not go as planned. Launch on January 6 is at 6:18 am EST. While SpaceX cargo resupply missions to the ISS have become somewhat routine, SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk has been using them -- with NASA's concurrence -- to test the reusability of the Falcon 9 first stage. On two missions already, the first stage has returned vertically to "land" on the ocean -- tipping over into the water, of course, at the end. On this flight, SpaceX will attempt to land it on a specially designed barge as the next step towards reusability.
Later that day, back in Washington, the 114th Congress will convene with the House and Senate both in Republican hands. Will that mean less gridlock? Post-election vibes suggest that in the Senate, at least, liberal Democrats may take pages from the playbook used by Tea Party Republicans to demonstrate that the minority party wields power, too, so there are no sure bets.
NASA's advisory bodies -- or "analysis groups" (AGs) in some cases -- also get off to a fast start. Two of the AGs are first up: the ExoPlanet Exploration Analysis Group (ExoPAG) this weekend (January 3-4) and Small Bodies Analysis Group (SBAG) on January 6-7. AGs are not officially allowed to give advice to NASA because they are not chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Only FACA-chartered bodies are supposed to give "advice," but non-FACA groups can provide input that seems a lot like advice. ExoPAG provides input to the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Astrophysics Subcommittee and SBAG provides input to NAC's Planetary Science Subcommittee. Both of those subcommittees report to NAC's Science Committee. Another NAC Science subcommittee, Heliophysics, meets on Friday, January 9.
These and other meetings scheduled for January 1-9, 2015 are listed below.
Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4
Sunday-Thursday, January 4-8
Monday-Friday, January 5-9
Monday, January 5
Tuesday, January 6
Tuesday-Wednesday, January 6-7
Thursday, January 8
Thursday-Friday, January 8-9
Friday, January 9
Orbital Sciences Corporation confirmed via Twitter a story published by Aviation Week & Space Technology that it has chosen a different Russian engine, RD-181, for its Antares rocket. The last Antares launch, powered by Russian NK-33 engines (refurbished by Aerojet Rocketdyne and redesignated AJ26), exploded 15 seconds after liftoff on October 28.
Orbital confirmed after the launch failure that it would use a different engine for future Antares rockets, but as recently as last week, Orbital Chairman, President and CEO David Thompson declined to publicly identify the engine despite rumors that it would be Russian.
Aviation Week's Frank Morring posted a story yesterday quoting Orbital's vice president for space launch strategic development Mark Pieczynski as saying the RD-181, built by Energomash, "is about as close as you could possibly get to replacing the current twin AJ-26 engines in Antares, so it minimizes the redesign of the core." The first set of RD-181s is expected in the summer of 2015, Morring reported, with a second set arriving in the fall.
Orbital has announced plans for recovering from the October 28 launch failure, which destroyed the Cygnus spacecraft that was carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of Orbital's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA. The contract requires Orbital to deliver 20 tons of cargo to ISS by the end of 2016. To fulfill the contract, Orbital will use another company's rocket for at least one launch of Cygnus while getting the reconfigured Antares ready for launch in 2016. That other company is the United Launch Alliance (ULA). Orbital is buying one ULA Atlas V launch, with an option for one more.
In tweets yesterday and today, Orbital (@OrbitalSciences) said that the RD-181 is the "only propulsion system that enables us to complete cargo commitments to @NASA under #CRS contract by end of 2016." It also disputed reports on some media outlets that the value of its order for the engines is $1 billion. "Total possible value (including options) of #RD181 order significantly below the $1 billion being reported by some media outlets."
One of those media outlets is Russia's Sputnik News, formerly RIA Novosti. It reported today that the order is for 60 RD-181 engines, citing another Russian newspaper, Izvestiya. According to that account, an official from Russia's space agency Roscosmos said there is a firm contract for 20 engines with a commitment to deliver a total of 60. A subsequent story from Sputnik News quotes Orbital's Barron Beneski as saying the $1 billion figure is incorrect and "The full value if all the options were exercised would be significantly less."
Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting the purchase of a different Russian engine, the RD-180, for use in ULA's Atlas V rocket. Atlas V is used for many U.S. national security spacecraft and U.S. dependence on Russia for those engines became a significant issue after Russia's actions in Ukraine. The final version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibits the Secretary of Defense from awarding or renewing a contract to procure rocket engines designed or manufactured in Russia for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Atlas V and Delta IV are the two EELVs, so the language does not affect Antares.
Morring quotes Orbital's Ron Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of the company's Launch Systems Group, as saying the company "coordinated with all relevant congressional staffs" and notes that the ISS program itself is dependent on cooperation with Russia. ISS is an international partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries. NASA has been dependent on Russia to launch crews to the ISS since the space shuttle was terminated in 2011.
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the rest of 2014 as the holidays approach. This edition covers December 15-31, 2014. The Senate will be in session tomorrow, at least, but the expectation is that the 113th Congress will come to a close very soon.
During the Week
The Senate is scheduled to be in session tomorrow for what may be the last day of the 113th Congress, though even at this late date it is difficult to say that with any certainty. After a tumultuous few days, the House and Senate have passed and sent to the President the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 -- the "CRomnibus" -- which funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies through the end of FY2015 (September 30, 2015). Only the Department of Homeland Security is funded under another Continuing Resolution (CR), through February 27, 2015, because of the immigration debate. We've published many stories about the debate, the angst, the uncertainty, etc. and will not reiterate it here (type "cromnibus" into our search box and you should be able to retrieve them). Suffice it to say that it was a very nice holiday gift for NASA -- a $549 million increase above the President's request, or $363 million more than FY2014. The question will be whether Congress will sustain that level of funding in future years. A one-year plus-up is nice, but it's the long haul that counts. NOAA's satellite programs also did well. We'll publish an article summarizing the DOD space program provisions shortly.
Outside the beltway, the highlight of this week certainly will be the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. AGU is webcasting many of its press conferences and those related to NASA are listed below and on our calendar on the right menu. Among them -- findings from MAVEN, Curiosity, and Rosetta are on tap for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, and a look forward at New Horizons' arrival at Pluto next year is on Thursday.
And, if all goes well, SpaceX will launch its fifth operational cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. Three pre-launch briefings are scheduled for Thursday. Arrival at the ISS will be on Sunday if the launch goes on Friday. NASA TV will cover it all.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
SpacePolicyOnline.com wishes all of you Happy Holidays and a fantastic New Year!
Monday-Friday, December 15-19
Monday, December 15
Tuesday, December 16
Wednesday, December 17
Thursday, December 18
Friday, December 19
Sunday, December 21
Update: Links to the text of the bill and joint explanatory statements for CJS (NASA and NOAA) and Defense have been added.
The Senate just passed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, colloquially called the "cromnibus." It funds NASA, NOAA, DOD and most other government departments and agencies -- except the Department of Homeland Security -- through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015).
Demonstrating once again that it is always darkest before the dawn, the 56-40 vote came after a 24-hour period when it looked like the Senate was in for a long debate about the bill. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders had hoped to spend the weekend at home and come back and vote on the bill Monday, but Tea Party Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) objected late last night and consequently the Senate was in session today.
Throughout much of the day, many worried that the Senate could not even pass a new Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until Wednesday (otherwise funding would have expired tonight). That CR finally passed this afternoon, but it was unclear when a vote on the cromnibus would take place.
Cruz and Lee did force a vote on the constitutionality of President Obama's immigration executive order "though it was badly defeated by bipartisan opposition, 22-74" according to Politico. Politico goes on to point out that the Cruz-Lee delay opened an opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring a number of President Obama's long-delayed nominations to the floor for a vote and now "there's little Republicans can do to stop him."
From the standpoint of funding the government, at least, it was good news. The cromnibus -- a combination of a CR to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through February 27, 2015 and the rest of the government through the end of the fiscal year -- includes a significant increase for NASA and strong support for NOAA's satellite programs. DHS is funded only by a shorter-term CR as a signal of Republican disapproval of the President's immigration executive order. Immigration is part of DHS's portfolio.
The text of the bill was written as a Senate amendment to a House-passed bill on an unrelated topic (H.R. 83). The joint explanatory statement (formerly a conference report) is separated into "divisions" for each of the regular appropriations bills. Division B is Commerce-Justice-Science (including NASA and NOAA); Division C is Defense.