Military / National Security News
Here is our list of space policy-related events for the upcoming week and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate remain in recess; they will return April 28.
During the Week
The three-day Humans to Mars Summit 2014 at George Washington University has an all-star lineup of speakers including NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Technology Mike Gazarik, and NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden. NASA put out its own press release about the event to let everyone know Bolden will "outline NASA's human exploration path to Mars" during his keynote address on Tuesday at 9:00 am ET.
Tuesday is Earth Day. A chance to celebrate our home planet. NASA is sponsoring activities all week online and in various locations around the country. The B612 Foundation chose Earth Day to release "video of data from nuclear-test-ban-organization showing multiple atomic bomb scale asteroid impacts on Earth since 2001." Their press conference will be livestreamed from the Seattle Museum of Flight at 11:30 am Pacific (2:30 pm Eastern).
Here's a list of all the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Monday-Saturday, April 21-27
Tuesday, April 22
Tuesday-Thursday, April 22-24
Wednesday, April 23
UPDATE: The room for Tuesday's House Appropriations CJS subcommittee hearing on NASA has changed. Now in 2359 Rayburn.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
It's a busy week in Congress as they try to make progress on a number of legislative issues before going on their Passover/Easter break next week. Not only are there a number of interesting congressional hearings on tap, but the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will mark up a new NASA authorization bill on Wednesday, April 9. The bill doesn't have a number yet and the draft text is not posted on the committee's website so far, but the true test will come during the markup to see what amendments are offered. The markup begins at 9:00 am ET and only one hour is scheduled (there's a hearing on a different topic in the same room that begins at 10:00 am), suggesting that little debate is expected. Later that day, across Capitol Hill, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will mark up H.R. 2140 (Heinrich) at 2:30 pm ET. Its purpose is to improve the transition between experimental permits and commercial licenses for commercial reusable vehicles.
As for hearings, of special note are the House Appropriations CJS hearing on NASA's FY2015 budget request on Tuesday morning, which will also hear from former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh who chaired a study that looked at security (as in access by foreign nationals) at NASA's centers. The next day it has a hearing on the budget request for the Department of Commerce, which includes NOAA. Also on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee's Science and Space subcommittee will hold a hearing on From Here to Mars that includes Susan Eisenhower among the witnesses. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations CJS subcommittee will hear from the Department of Commerce, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its annual posture hearing on the Air Force, which probably will include more discussion of U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines for the Atlas 5.
All of that is happening on Capitol Hill, but tomorrow (Monday, April 7), the action will be out at the University of Maryland conference center where Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable. One of NASA's biggest supporters in Congress, she is also one of the most powerful Senators as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in addition to chairing the appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.
Here are the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Monday, April 7
Tuesday, April 8
Wednesday, April 9
Thursday, April 10
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, White House science and technology policy official Richard DalBello, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden all sought to clarify today whether or not NASA is still cooperating with Russia other than in operating the International Space Station (ISS). At the end of the day, the best answer seems to be that it’s an evolving situation with no clear guidance other than that the ISS is not affected.
Yesterday, a memo from NASA’s Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations became public that instructs NASA personnel to suspend contacts with their Russian government counterparts except for activities related to operation of the ISS because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The memo did not explain what stimulated the decision or offer many specifics about how it would impact NASA-Russia cooperation. Hours later NASA issued an “official” statement that was announced via Twitter with a link to a Google+ webpage that was not helpful in explaining the situation.
The bottom line of the comments today is that the directive applies to all government agencies, not just NASA; that each agency will determine what activities are exempted or not on a case-by-case basis; and it is an evolving situation. The unambiguous message is that operations of the ISS are not impacted.
Bolden spoke at a long-scheduled joint meeting of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB) this morning. He opened his remarks by addressing this issue and saying there was a “firestorm in Moscow,” which he blamed on the media and politics.
He said he spoke with his Russian counterpart, Roscosmos Director Oleg Ostapenko, this morning and both agreed that the ISS should be kept out of the political realm. That ISS is not included in this directive has been made clear since the beginning. The question concerns other NASA activities with Russia.
NASA has not provided a list of non-ISS cooperation, but, for example, NASA uses Russian wind tunnels for aeronautics experiments and a Russian instrument – the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) – is on the Mars Curiosity rover. The memo states that NASA personnel can attend multilateral meetings involving Russians as long as they take place outside of Russia, but two major international conferences – the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) and the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS) – both are scheduled to take place in Russia this year. Whether NASA employees will be able to participate is unclear.
Bolden said this morning that his message to his employees is to keep doing whatever they are doing with Russia unless told to stop, including plans to participate in COSPAR (he did not address ICAS).
DalBello spoke to the ASEB/SSB meeting later in the day. In response to a question, he stressed three points: this is an evolving situation, it applies across the government, and the ISS is excluded. He deferred to White House press spokesman Jay Carney as providing the official Administration guidance on the matter.
At his daily White House press briefing, Carney said the following, putting it in context of other U.S. actions with regard to Russia’s annexation of Crimea:
Given Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the U.S. government has taken a number of actions, to include curtailing official government-to-government contacts and meetings with the Russian Federation on a case-by-case basis consistent with U.S. national interests. We’ve talked about this previously and as we’ve already said we’ve suspended bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, we’ve suspended other bilateral meetings on a case-by-case basis, and put on hold U.S.- Russia military-to-military engagement including exercises, bilateral meetings, port visits and planning conferences. We also will not meet with sanctioned individuals. We have informed the Russian government of those meetings that have been suspended, as you know. In terms of specific case-by-case decisions that are made in response to this broader directive, I would have to refer you to each agency. In the case of NASA there are some actions being taken, but obviously with the space station, in particular, that program, and engagement with Russia on that program, continues.
The directive that created this guidance to NASA and other government agencies reportedly was issued by the White House National Security Council and is classified and therefore not in the public domain.
Bolden said that relations with Roscosmos are “good” and “healthy.” As for the Russian government reaction more broadly, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin oversees Russia’s space sector. He is one of the Russian individuals sanctioned by the Obama Administration on March 17, 2014 because of his role in the Ukrainian situation. An English-language Twitter account purportedly belonging to him (@drogozin) carried this rather sarcastic message:
NASA suspends cooperation with Roscosmos (Rus Fed Space Agency) apart from work on the ISS http://t.co/IJ0Td5PjEe Yet, apart from over the ISS we didn't cooperate with NASA anyway)
That account had a separate tweet about U.S. reliance on Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines:
A Russian broom for an American witch. Still, our engines are better) http://t.co/Xf4gM8bR7w
Indeed, the United Launch Alliance sent DOD’s 19th Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) weather satellite into orbit today aboard an Atlas V, which uses the RD-180 engines. DOD officials testified to a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) subcommittee this afternoon that they are conducting a 45-day study on what it would take to build a U.S. designed and produced alternative to the RD-180. (Check back later for our summary of the hearing; meanwhile, the webcast is posted on the committee’s website.)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its annual assessment of DOD's acquisition of selected weapon programs today. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) was one of several DOD space programs reviewed and GAO reports that the program's cost will be $70 billion through 2030, $35.7 billion more than the previous estimate from 2012.
Each year GAO assesses a selected set of DOD's major acquisition programs. Currently, DOD has 80 such programs and GAO reviewed 38 of them for the report released today. The space programs included in the report are:
The Air Force EELV program office procures launches for national security and other satellites from the United Launch Alliance using the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets. GAO said that after the program exceeded a congressionally-mandated threshold for cost growth (a "Nunn-McCurdy breach") in 2012, DOD restructured the program as required and established a new baseline in 2013. The new program cost estimate grew to $70 billion through 2030, an increase of $35.7 billion, which program officials attributed to "extension of the program life-cycle from 2020 to 2030, procurement of 60 additional launch vehicles, the inherently unstable nature of the demand for launch services, and industrial base instability."
Often described as the congressional watchdog agency, GAO also noted that there are nine variants of the Atlas V and five variants of the Delta IV -- a total of 14 EELV variants. While there have been 66 successful EELV launches, and each of the 14 variants has flown at least once, only three have demonstrated technology, design and production maturity by meeting Aerospace Corporation's "3/7 reliability rule."
Under that rule, GAO explains, a launch vehicle is considered to have design maturity after three successful launches and production maturity after seven successful launches. By GAO's reckoning, all 14 variants have demonstrated technology maturity, 10 have demonstrated design maturity (with three successful flights), and only three have demonstrated production maturity with seven successful flights. Those three are the Atlas V 401, the Delta IV Medium and the Delta IV Heavy.
GAO's point is that until design and production maturity have been demonstrated "problems with fleetwide designs or production processes may go undiscovered, which could cause significant cost and schedule risk."
The Air Force is still investigating the root cause of a Delta IV upper stage anomaly in October 2012, GAO continues. "While the engine performed normally on launches in May and August 2013, the Air Force delayed a third launch of the Delta IV scheduled for October 2013, due to new conclusions from the investigation and to fully understand the anomaly and reduce any potential risks."
The delayed launch in October 2013 was of the GPS IIF-5 satellite. The Air Force successfully launched that satellite on a Delta IV Medium on February 21, 2014.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
On Tuesday, the House will take up H.R. 2413, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act. Its broad focus is on improved weather forecasting and telling NOAA to focus on weather rather than climate (though it does not preclude climate activities), but there are a couple of satellite-related provisions in it. The bill is being brought up on the suspension calendar, which is usually reserved for bills that are not very controversial and are expected easily to garner a two-thirds vote in favor. There were early concerns that the bill was too anti-climate, but those were largely resolved during full committee markup of the bill in December when a revised version ("amendment in the nature of the substitute") was approved by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. It was adopted by voice vote, which indicates it was acceptable to both sides (or opponents would have insisted on a recorded vote). There were no major changes to the satellite-related provisions.
Speaking of the weather, while we'd like to be able to report that the chance of wintry weather interfering with Washington, DC events is over for the year, it's actually snowing right now. Not to whine, but first they said there'd be a few "conversational" snowflakes and nothing would stick, then they promised it wouldn't stick to the roads but would on the grass, but now there's a winter weather advisory with a forecast of 1-3 inches across the area. We definitely need improved weather forecasting! Fortunately we don't have any Washington, DC based space policy events on our list for tomorrow that might be disrupted. (But seriously! When will this winter be over?)
Just as the weather gets nice mid-week (they say), we'll all be sitting in congressional hearings (or at our desks watching them on the Internet) or over at the Keck Center on Fifth Street attending meetings of the NRC's Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and Space Studies Board (SSB). ASEB meets on Wednesday, SSB on Friday, and in between they meet jointly on Thursday. The meetings are free to attend, but advance online registration is HIGHLY recommended to ease passing through security to get to the meeting room. Some sessions will be available by webcast; check the agendas for more information and instructions on how to listen in.
Several congressional hearings will be held on U.S. Strategic Command, the Air Force budget request, and national security space programs. Issues concerning the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program and the use of Russian RD-180 engines for the Atlas 5 rocket have come up in similar hearings for the past several weeks and could well come up again this week.
The list below shows all the hearings and meetings we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Tuesday-Thursday, April 1-3
Wednesday, April 2
Thursday, April 3
Friday, April 4
No One-Size-Fits-All Solution to Reducing Cost of National Security Space Capabilities, Say Panelists
At a briefing this morning focused on a recently released Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) report, representatives from the national security space community emphasized that many new processes out there hold promise to reduce costly space programs, but that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
The new report, Easing the Burden: Reducing the Cost of National Security Space Capabilities, contains findings and recommendations that resulted from a two-day Cost Reduction workshop with industry and government officials organized by AIA in May 2013.
Panelists at today’s event described some of the findings of the report and provided examples of the programs and practices their organizations are exploring to reduce the cost of national security space capabilities in all phases of implementation. Jeff Trauberman, Vice President, Space, Intelligence & Missile Defense at Boeing, for instance, said that Boeing’s adoption of commercial practices in the development of three satellites of the Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS) communications system had resulted in $150 million in savings.
The panelists emphasized that changes in contracting, acquisition and management practices deliver the greatest cost savings, without necessarily incurring additional risk from the technological or engineering perspective. Alternative architectures, however, are also being explored. As David Barnhart of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) explained, the Phoenix Program he manages is addressing this very question by developing a myriad of technologies that would enable satellite capture, autonomous rendezvous and assembly in-orbit, as well as the ability to augment capabilities as requirements evolve.
Panelists said that practices being considered for their cost-saving benefits – such as disaggregation, block buys and hosted payloads – hold promise, but that none will be appropriate for all missions or requirements. In a version of the phrase that was repeated throughout the event, AIA’s Vice President of Space Systems Frank Slazer said that there is “not a one-size-fits-all solution.”
Considering the challenges to the broad adoption of some of the cost-saving practices discussed, panelists mentioned the need for increased acquisition stability. “We’re very narrowly near-term focused,” said Keith Robertson of the National Reconnaissance Office. Speakers commented how disagreement over requirements – even at the Congressional level – in addition to funding instability can be detrimental to a program, eventually driving up cost.
This need for stability also goes back to the health of the industrial base. As Slazer noted, actions that help the industrial base also help national security. This includes a concern for education and the ability of industry to attract a younger generation of professionals. “We need to return to the fifties” on the nation’s ability to generate a pool of talent to support the industrial base, said Rick Skinner, Director, Business and Advanced Systems Development, Northrop Grumman Aerospace.
The top Republican and top Democrat on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee sent a joint letter to President Obama on Friday championing human spaceflight as NASA's chief priority. They were joined by 30 other members of both parties in arguing in favor of human deep space exploration "on an American rocket launched from American soil."
Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), subcommittee chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, sponsored very different versions of a new NASA authorization bill last year. Palazzo's was approved by the committee on a party-line vote, breaking a tradition of bipartisanship on NASA issues. This joint letter to the President may signal a new, unified approach. The committee's Senate counterpart also approved a NASA authorization bill last year on a party-line vote. Neither bill proceeded any further.
Edwards said at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) luncheon last week that she and House committee Republicans are trying to find common ground so a bill can pass the House, at least, this year.
The subcommittee will hold a hearing on NASA's FY2015 budget request on Thursday.
The Palazzo-Edwards letter says "We must prioritize U.S. leadership in space exploration, especially in light of the expansion of human spaceflight programs in countries such as China and Russia over the past decade." Later it adds "In addition to the threat to our civilian preeminence in space, the increasing efforts of other countries to develop human spaceflight capabilities may also threaten U.S. national security."
Grouping China and Russia together in this context is surprising. Russia is not only a partner in the U.S. human spaceflight program today, but an enabler of it. As will be evidenced once again tomorrow night, the only way American astronauts can travel to and from the International Space Station (ISS) is on Russian spacecraft, and the ISS itself is an integrated facility of Russian and American (and European, Japanese and Canadian) hardware. Russia's human spaceflight program pre-dates the U.S. program (Yuri Gagarin was the first man to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961) and had a long series of successful space stations from 1971-2001, including the world's first space station (Salyut 1 in 1971) and the first multi-modular space station (Mir, 1986-2001). The letter's reference to an "expansion" of Russia's human spaceflight program over the past decade is curious -- it was and is a partner in the ISS and, under contract to NASA, is providing crew transportation services for non-Russian astronauts.
China, by contrast, is still on the human spaceflight learning curve, with just five crewed missions over the past 11 years. It plans a 60-ton space station by 2023, but that is modest in comparison to ISS. Some Chinese space officials have been quoted in Chinese media about sending people to the Moon, but China's most recent official 5-year space plan calls only for studies on a "preliminary plan for a human lunar landing."
The letter, and Thursday's hearing, are set against a backdrop of tense relationships between the United States and Russia over Russian's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. So far, those geopolitical tensions do not seem to have affected ISS cooperation, but the letter's juxtaposition of Russia and China and national security interests may signal a desire by the subcommittee, at least, for increased scrutiny of U.S. reliance on Russia.
In any case, the letter appears to represent agreement between the two parties on their top NASA priority -- human exploration beyond low Earth orbit. That may not be good news for NASA's space science, space technology and aeronautics programs, but politically it is a step forward in resolving NASA's future in a budget-constrained environment.
The letter noticeably does not state what should be the next step in human space exploration. That issue has separated Congress and the Obama Administration since 2010 when the President cancelled the Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon and replaced it with the concept of sending humans to an asteroid. The Obama Administration continues to try and win people over to its asteroid plan and will hold a public forum on Wednesday afternoon towards that end.
Edwards has not been a supporter of the asteroid mission in the past, but said at the MSBR luncheon that she happened to see NASA Administrator Bolden explaining the Asteroid Redirect Mission to students recently and finally understood why it is important. The hearing on Thursday may be an opportunity to see if she is willing to fight for it.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session and, yes, there's another chance for wintry weather here in the DC area on Tuesday, so check to be sure that any events you're interested in on Tuesday or Wednesday are still on track. (It's not supposed to be too bad this time, though.)
During the Week
With the tense U.S.-Russian relationships resulting from the situation in Ukraine commanding attention, perhaps the most interesting event this week will be the launch of two Russians and an American to the International Space Station (ISS) from Kazakhstan on Tuesday. There is no outward sign of cracks in the ISS partnership, so the expectation is that this will be as routine as a launch ever can be. Launch is at 5:17 pm EDT; docking is just under 6 hours later at 11:04 pm EDT.
Meanwhile, back here in the States, congressional hearings on the budget for science agencies in general and NASA specifically kick off before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. NASA's hearing will come a day after a forum at NASA Headquarters with an update on its Asteroid Initiative -- the "initiative" is the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) plus the Asteroid Grand Challenge plus the extra money in NASA's Science Mission Directorate to augment the search for asteroids -- on Wednesday afternoon. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg who recently was aboard the ISS will speak there. She and Luca Parmitano -- the ESA astronaut whose helmet filled with water during that EVA last year -- will speak at the University of Maryland, College Park, MD, later that day about their recent tour of duty aboard ISS.
Lots of other interesting events are on tap, too. The list below has everything we know about as of Sunday afternoon.
Monday, March 24
Tuesday, March 25
Wednesday, March 26
Wednesday-Thursday, March 26-27
Thursday, March 27
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told a House appropriations subcommittee today that the situation in Ukraine will lead to a review of the U.S. use of Russian rocket engines. The Atlas V, used for many national security space launches, uses Russian RD-180 engines.
During a hearing before the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee today, Hagel was asked by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), whether the Ukrainian situation demonstrates that it is time for "joint Air Force, NASA funding to develop additional capabilities for making powerful rocket engines here in the U.S."?
Hagel replied "You're obviously referring to the relationship we have with the Russians on the rocket motors and, well, I think this is going to engage us in a review of that issue. I don't think there's any question about that."
Aderholt represents Alabama's 4th district, close to Huntsville and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which specializes in the development of rockets and rocket engines. It also is close to Decatur, home to United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) manufacturing facilities for the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. ULA provides launch services to the U.S. government primarily for national security space satellites using those two rockets, which collectively are called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs). Issues surrounding competition for U.S. government launch services using EELVs versus "new entrants" like SpaceX are a hot topic today.
Elon Musk, founder and Chief Engineer of SpaceX, made the case at a congressional hearing last week for phasing out the Atlas V because of its dependence on Russian engines and using his "made in America" Falcon rockets instead. At the same hearing, ULA's Michael Gass stressed that ULA has a two-year supply of the RD-180 engines and is confident it could produce more on its own if the supply from Russia was disrupted.
Until today, U.S. officials have downplayed the effects on U.S. space relationships of the geopolitical situation in Ukraine. Hagel's statement is the first public sign that it is causing second thoughts about U.S. reliance on Russian space hardware. Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket also relies on Russian and Ukrainian hardware and, of course, the United States is completely dependent on Russia for taking crews to and from the International Space Station since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.
The following events may of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session. As hard as it is to believe, Washington, DC may get another (thankfully brief) taste of winter Wednesday night into Thursday. If the forecast holds, be sure to check to see if any Thursday events in DC are still on track.
During the Week
Of geopolitical as well as space interest, two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut are due to land in Kazakhstan tomorrow night (Monday) Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). U.S. officials insist that International Space Station (ISS) operations are not being affected by the tensions over Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. This landing, of Soyuz TMA-10M carrying Russians Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy and NASA's Mike Hopkins, could help prove that point. Landing is scheduled for 11:24 pm EDT (9:24 am Tuesday local time at the landing site).
Fortuitously, noted Russian space authority Anatoly Zak will be speaking at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) earlier that day as part of the NASM/Applied Physics Lab Space Policy & History Forum series. Zak runs the RussianSpaceWeb.com website and is author of the superb book Russia in Space published last year. His talk is at 4:00 pm ET. There is no charge, but RSVPs are REQUIRED in order to enter the part of the museum where the talk will be held. See the entry for Monday below for instructions.
Lots of other interesting hearings, meetings and conferences are on tap. Here's what we know about as of early Sunday afternoon.
Monday, March 10
Monday-Thursday, March 10-13
Tuesday, March 11
Wednesday, March 12
Thursday, March 13
Friday, March 14