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Military / National Security News

Trump: "I Will Free NASA" From Being Just a LEO Space Logistics Agency

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Oct-2016 (Updated: 25-Oct-2016 07:51 PM)

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump vowed today to "free NASA" from serving "primarily" as a logistics agency for low Earth orbit operations.   He also supported more public private partnerships and asserted that if he wins "America and Florida will lead the way into the stars."

Trump spoke at the Orlando Sanford International Airport today.  Originally, he planned to visit Kennedy Space Center on Florida's Space Coast, but those plans changed over the weekend.  Florida Today reported that the Trump campaign concluded there was no suitable indoor venue near KSC and outdoor locations posed security risks, but Trump did, indeed, speak outdoors at the Sanford rally.  He mentioned that it was to have taken place inside an airplane hangar, but it was too small for the crowd.

The space program came up at the end of an almost hour-long speech (available on YouTube).  The following is's transcript:

"My plan also includes major investments in space exploration, also right here [in Florida].  You know what we call this place.

"Over the last 8 years, the Obama-Clinton administration has undermined our space program tremendously. That will change. So many good things come out of it, including great jobs. That will change very quickly under a Trump administration and it'll change before it’s too late.

"Did you ever see what’s going on with space, with Russia and different places?  And us?  We’re, like, we’re like watching.   Isn’t that nice? So much is learned from that, too.

"A cornerstone of my policy is we will substantially expand public private partnerships to maximize the amount of investment and funding that is available for space exploration and development.  This means launching and operating major space assets, right here, that employ thousands and spur innovation and fuel economic growth.

"I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low earth orbit activity.  Big deal.

"Instead we will refocus its mission on space exploration. Under a Trump administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars.  With a victory in November, everything will change.  Just think about what we can accomplish in 100 days."

His characterization of NASA as an agency whose primary mission is providing logistics to low Earth orbit (LEO) is surprising even assuming that his remarks were centered on the human spaceflight program and not NASA's many robotic spacecraft in Earth orbit and elsewhere in the solar system.   The only logistics flights to LEO associated with NASA are the commercial cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS).   Upcoming commercial crew flights would also fit under that categorization, but it ignores the the ISS itself and the round-the-clock, round-the-year crew presence that enables scientific experiments important to future human exploration.

His embrace of public-private partnerships, rather than being at odds with the Obama Administration, is an extension of President Obama's policy, which itself built on the George W. Bush Administration's commercial cargo initiative.

Still, these are the most extensive remarks from the candidate himself.  Two campaign advisers, Robert Walker and Peter Navarro, published on op-ed in Space News last week laying out the broad strokes of a Trump civil space policy.  They followed-up this week with a second op-ed addressing national security space, asserting that Trump would follow a "peace through strength" strategy.  That includes a recognition that "many of our military needs can be met with commercially available launch, communications and observation capabilities," an approach that will reduce costs and access new advances more quickly, they stated.  "No space goals will be more important to Donald Trump than defense of our nation and that a freedom-loving people will lead the way to the heavens above."

Walker is Executive Chairman of the Wexler|Walker lobbying firm and a former member of Congress from Pennsylvania who served as chairman of what is now the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House.  He was part of Gingrich's inner circle.  Both are avid space supporters and advisers to Trump.   Navarro is a Harvard-educated economist and business professor at the University of California-Irvine.

What's Happening in Space Policy October 24-29, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Oct-2016 (Updated: 23-Oct-2016 05:56 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 24-29, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.

During the Week

Commercial space policy is at the top of the list this week. The FAA's Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) and its working groups meet on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday.  Those will be preceded by two associated meetings of interest -- one tomorrow (Monday) afternoon to discuss voluntary industry standards and another Tuesday morning on a Civil Space Traffic Management system. 

Tomorrow's meeting is of ASTM International, a standards setting body, that will discuss whether it should create a new technical committee to develop voluntary consensus standards for commercial spaceflight.  Last year's Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLCA) called for the development of such standards and COMSTAC has had a working group on the topic for some time.  Tuesday morning, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), in conjunction with the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and the Satellite Industry Association, will hold an "industry day" (actually half a day) to discuss a Civil Space Traffic Management System.  The meeting is open to the public and has an interesting agenda that includes Doug Loverro, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy.   Space Traffic Management (STM) is a step beyond Space Situational Awareness (SSA).  While definitions vary, generally speaking SSA is knowing where everything is in orbit and where it's going, thereby enabling "conjunction analyses" to warn satellite operators if a collision is likely.  STM - with an emphasis on "management" --  would empower some entity to require those operators to take action to avoid a collision.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine has proposed that FAA/AST be assigned that role.  CSLCA called for a study by an independent organization on alternative frameworks for STM.  To date, FAA/AST has focused on the SSA portion.  FAA/AST is part of the Department of Transportation, which sent a report to Congress last month concluding it is feasible for them to take over DOD's role of providing SSA data to commercial and foreign entities (CFEs).  All of this likely will be discussed on Tuesday.

Separately, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is beginning a new Aerospace Security Project and its first meeting (tomorrow afternoon) is also looking at commercial space.  Loverro will be at that one, too, along with Scott Pace of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute and representatives of DigitalGlobe, Planet, and Boeing.  That discussion will focus on how the military can better leverage commercial space capabilities.

Elsewhere in the country, the American Astronautical Society (AAS) will hold its annual Von Braun Symposium in Huntsville, AL.  This year's theme is "Exploring the Universe and Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space."   Among the sessions is one on Wednesday morning  where Scott Pace (GWU) and Ann Zulkosky (Lockheed Martin) will discuss "After the Election -- What's Next for Space?"  The symposium will be webcast.  Note that all times on the agenda are Central Daylight Time.

There are quite a few space science meetings, too.  The NASA Advisory Council's Heliophysics Subcommittee meets via telecon on Tuesday from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm ET.  Heliophysics is the study of the Sun and its influence on Earth -- space weather -- and NASA and the National Air and Space Museum will have a panel discussion on the impact of space weather on human and robotic exploration missions at the same time (1:00-2:30 pm ET).  The full NAC Science Committee meets Wednesday and Thursday (also via telecon).  The NSF-NASA-DOE Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC) meets at NSF in Arlington, VA on Thursday and Friday. 

The American Society for Gravitational and Space Research meets in Cleveland from Tuesday-Saturday.  It will hold a pre-conference workshop Tuesday morning entitled "Nanoracks and Blue Origin."   Some of the conference sessions will be webcast, including a luncheon talk on Wednesday by former Senate staffer Jeff Bingham on evolving U.S. civil space policy and the role of the International Space Station.  NASA's Julie Robinson and Brian Motil have a session right after that on "15 Years of Microgravity Science on the ISS" that also will be webcast.  Lots of interesting sessions throughout the week.

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

Monday, October 24

Monday-Thursday, October 24-27

Tuesday, October 25

Tuesday-Thursday, October 25-27

Wednesday, October 26

  • FAA COMSTAC (full committee), NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm ET (webcast)

Wednesday-Thursday, October 26-27

Wednesday-Saturday, October 26-29

Thursday-Friday, October 27-28

Trump Would Reinstate White House Space Council - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Oct-2016 (Updated: 22-Oct-2016 12:31 PM)

UPDATED October 22, 2016 to reflect the fact that Trump no longer plans to visit Kennedy Space Center next week, as reported by Florida Today.

In an op-ed published in Space News on October 19, two advisers to Donald Trump's presidential campaign laid out the broad strokes of what a Trump space policy would look like.  Trump himself reportedly had planned to visit NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida next week as the campaign enters its final phase.  Florida is one of the battleground states that each candidate especially wants to win.  Florida Today reported on October 22, however, that those plans have changed.

The op-ed was penned by former Congressman Bob Walker and University of California-Irvine professor Peter Navarro.   Walker was a Pennsylvania Congressman for 20 years and is now Executive Chairman of one of the top lobbying firms in Washington, Wexler|Walker.  Earlier he was advising Ohio Gov. John Kasich's presidential campaign on space issues, writing an essay in response to questions posed by Aerospace America.

While in Congress, Walker served as chairman of what is now the House Science, Space and Technology Committee when Republicans took over the House in 1995 and was one of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's inner circle.  Both men are ardent space program supporters.  Gingrich also is associated with the Trump campaign.

An op-ed in a trade publication is not the same as a statement from the candidate himself.  Florida Today had reported that Trump was planning to visit KSC on October 24 and participate in an industry roundtable.  However, it updated its report on October 22 saying that he would not visit the Space Coast after all because there was no suitable indoor venue and outdoor venues "present security concerns." The event would have been reminiscent of Gingrich's own presidential campaign in 2012 when he held an industry roundtable and made a major speech in Cocoa, FL (near KSC) laying out plans for a Moon base.

A key element espoused by Walker and Navarro in the Space News op-ed is reinstating the White House National Space Council, chaired by the Vice President.

The 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act created NASA to conduct U.S. civil space activities and assigned military space efforts to DOD.  It established a White House National Aeronautics and Space Council to coordinate those activities.  Originally the President was to chair the council, but that was quickly changed to the Vice President and it operated through the first Nixon term.  Nixon abolished the Council in 1973, however, and a variety of other mechanisms were used thereafter to coordinate government space activities and provide advice to the President. 

Following the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy, Congress became so dissatisfied with how the White House was making space policy decisions, however, especially the length of time and lack of transparency, that it recreated a National Space Council (without the aeronautics component) in the 1989 NASA Authorization Act.  President George H.W. Bush signed an Executive Order shortly after taking office formally establishing it as part of his Executive Office of the President.  Chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle, it had an often fractious relationship with NASA.  Mark Albrecht, who served as Executive Director for most of the Bush Administration, wrote a book with an insider's view of what transpired during those years.

Subsequent Presidents have chosen not to staff or fund the Council, although it still exists in law. Currently, national security space policy resides within the White House National Security Council and civil space policy is overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, with the White House Office of Management and Budget playing a major role as well.

Opinions in the space policy community about the value of such a Council run the gamut.  Opponents argue it is just one more White House entity that can say "no" to any idea, but without the clout to say "yes" and make something happen.  Supporters insist that a top-level mechanism is needed not only to effectively coordinate government civil and national security space programs, but to bring in the commercial sector and develop a holistic approach to space.

Walker and Navarro clearly share the latter opinion.  They say the Council would "end the lack of proper coordination" and "assure that each space sector is playing its proper role in advancing U.S. interests."

The op-ed offers few specifics, other than to praise private sector launch vehicle development efforts and question the need for the government to duplicate such capabilities.  Overall it is a rallying cry for the need to have a strong space program based on classic arguments that it will spur invention, innovation, and economic growth and appeal to aspirational and inspirational needs:  "Americans seem to know intuitively that the destiny of a free people lies in the stars.  Donald Trump fully agrees."

Neither Trump nor his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton have space policies posted on their campaign websites.  Both the Republican and Democratic party platforms mention space activities, but only briefly.  Trump has made a number of statements in response to questions about the space program during the campaign, but they often are vague and sometimes conflict.  Clinton also has responded to questions about space, but she is invariably enthusiastic and often tells the story of how she wanted to be an astronaut herself, but at the time, females were not allowed in the astronaut corps.

What's Happening in Space Policy October 16-22, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Oct-2016 (Updated: 16-Oct-2016 06:36 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 16-22, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until November 14. 

During the Week

At 7:30 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) tonight, China will launch a two-man crew aboard the Shenzhou-11 (SZ-11) spacecraft from the Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert (where it will be 7:30 am Monday),  They are headed to the new Tiangong-2 space station with docking expected in two days.  They will remain aboard for 30 days, doubling the duration of China's longest human spaceflight mission to date. Tiangong-2 is small, 8.6 metric tons (MT), compared to the 400 MT International Space Station (ISS), but it is a precursor to a larger 60 MT space station the Chinese plan to have in place in the early 2020s.

ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe.  It has been permanently occupied by multinational crews rotating on 4-6 month shifts since the year 2000 and is regularly resupplied via cargo missions launched by two U.S. companies (Orbital ATK and SpaceX) and the Japanese and Russian space agencies.  The next cargo mission, Orbital ATK's OA-5,  was scheduled for launch tonight from Wallops Island, VA at 8:03 pm EDT.  At press time, however, Orbital ATK announced that the launch of the Cygnus cargo spacecraft is being postponed for 24 hours because of a bad ground support cable.  The new launch time is Monday at 7:40 pm EDT.   Cygnus OA-5 will deliver supplies, equipment and scientific experiments to the three crew members currently aboard (one each from NASA, JAXA and Roscosmos).  Cygnus is being launched with a new version of Orbital ATK's Antares rocket.  This is the first flight of Antares since an October 28, 2014 failure.  If launched tonight, Cygnus was to arrive at ISS Wednesday morning, but with a Monday launch, arrival at ISS will be delayed a few days.  Three new ISS crew members are being launched to ISS on the Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft early Wednesday morning EDT.  They are taking the 2-day route to ISS arriving on Friday.  NASA and Orbital ATK said at a press conference yesterday that if the OA-5 launch was delayed to Monday, as now has happened, they would have the Cygnus spacecraft loiter in orbit for a few days to allow the Soyuz MS-02 crew to dock first.  The Cygnus arrival is now scheduled for Sunday, October 23.  The Soyuz MS-02 crew (one American, two Russians) will restore the ISS to its usual crew complement of six.

The European Space Agency (ESA)-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission already had an important event today. The spacecraft is carrying a small lander, Schiaparelli, and they made the trip to Mars together.  They are three days away from Mars now and it was time for them to separate.  Separation occurred at approximately 10:30 am EDT, but was followed by a nail-biting period of time when ESA was not receiving telemetry from TGO.  That problem appears to be resolved now and the mission is proceeding as scheduled.  On Wednesday, Schiaparelli will land on Mars and TGO will enter orbit.  ESA will provide live coverage of those events and hold a press conference on Thursday.

To recap only these events (all EDT):

Today (Sunday)

  • ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter/Schiaparelli lander separation
  • Chinese launch of Shenzhou-11 with two crew members to Tiangong-2 space station at 7:30 pm EDT (usually broadcast on China's CCTV, available in English on the Internet)


  • New launch date for U.S. Orbital ATK launch of Cygnus OA-5 cargo mission to ISS, 7:40 pm EDT (broadcast on NASA TV)


  • Chinese crew arrives at Tiangong-2 (time not announced)


  • Russian Soyuz MS-02 launch to ISS from Kazakhstan with three crew members (one American, two Russian) at 4:05 am EDT (watch on NASA TV)
  • ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter enters Martian orbit and Schiaparelli lands (watch on ESA's website, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm EDT)


  • ESA press conference about ExoMars (watch on ESA's website, 4:00-5:00 am EDT)


  • Soyuz MS-02 docks at ISS (time not announced)


  • Orbital ATK Cygnus OA-5 arrival at ISS (if launch is on October 17), grapple at approximately 7:00 am EDT

Many other events are on tap this week in addition to those launches and arrivals.  Among them is the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division on Planetary Sciences (DPS) in Pasadena, CA.  This year it is combined with a meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress.  Exciting discoveries and other results from planetary exploration missions are the staple of this conference.  It starts today and runs through Friday.

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA) is having an interesting discussion on Tuesday morning at the Newseum in Washington, DC.  CSBA challenged teams from four prominent Washington think tanks to develop alternative strategies and rebalance DOD's major capabilities in light of today's security challenges.  They could choose from over 1200 pre-costed options provided by CSBA to add to or cut from the projected defense program for the next 10 years.  They will present their conclusions at the meeting.  It will be interesting to see if they recommend any changes to the national security space portfolio.  The event will be webcast.

On Friday, the State Department and the Secure World Foundation will hold a day-long seminar at the State Department on International Best Practices for Space Sustainability. It features four panels of top experts from around the world (your editor is lucky enough to moderate the industry panel).  Hopefully you followed the instructions and registered by last Friday as required for this event (for security checks etc.).

And last but not least of our highlighted events for the week, the final 2016 presidential debates is Wednesday night from 9:00-10:30 pm EDT.  It will be nationally televised (check local listings).   The election is on November 8.

All of those events and others we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list or for schedule changes.

Sunday, October 16

Sunday-Friday, October 16-21

Monday, October 17

Tuesday, October 18

Wednesday, October 19

Thursday, October 20

Friday, October 21

What's Happening in Space Policy October 9-14, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Oct-2016 (Updated: 09-Oct-2016 03:52 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 9-14, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.

During the Week

The week starts tonight (Sunday) with the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R).  Don't expect the space program to come up at all, but these debates are important elements of the presidential election, the foundation of our democracy.   Everyone should be paying attention!  This one is a town-hall format at Washington University in St. Louis from 9:00-10:30 pm ET (nationally televised, check local listings).

Tomorrow, October 10, is a Federal holiday (Columbus Day), so government workers, at least, will have a day off to recuperate. This is a holiday that many businesses do NOT observe, however, choosing instead to close on the day after Thanksgiving.  So whether you get to sleep in tomorrow or not depends on where you work.

For the space program, this week's big event is the launch of Orbital ATK's re-engined Antares rocket on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  Launch schedules are always subject to change, but at the moment it is planned for 9:13 pm ET on Thursday night (two pre-launch briefings will take place the day before).  Antares launches from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA.  It is a night launch.  Weather permitting, it should be viewable for a good-sized segment of the East Coast.  This is the first Antares flight since an October 28, 2014 failure that destroyed that rocket and a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with cargo for ISS.  This mission is designated OA-5, for Orbital ATK-5, although it is the sixth operational flight in this series.  Orbital ATK names its cargo spacecraft after deceased astronauts.  This one is named after Alan Poindexter who died in 2012 from injuries sustained in an accident.  He flew on two space shuttle missions (STS-122 as pilot, STS-131 as commander) that delivered modules to the ISS as part of its construction.

Also on Thursday night, Women in Aerospace (WIA) will hold its annual awards dinner in Arlington, VA.   Six distinguished women will receive awards -- including a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for Molly Macauley -- and Patti Grace Smith, who passed away earlier this year, will also be recognized.

The annual International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS 2016) will be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico on Wednesday and Thursday, with pre- and post-events the prior and following days.  The website does not indicate if any of the symposium will be webcast.   If we find out that it will be, we'll post the link in our calendar item about this event.   Looks really interesting, so hopefully it will be livestrearmed.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday, October 9

Monday, October 10

  • U.S. Federal Holiday (Columbus Day), government offices will be closed

Tuesday, October 11

Wednesday, October 12



Thursday, October 13

Friday, October 14

What's Happening in Space Policy October 3-7, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Oct-2016 (Updated: 02-Oct-2016 03:06 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 3-7, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess until November 14.

During the Week

Happy World Space Week!   In 1999, the United Nations declared October 4-10 as World Space Week to commemorate the beginning of the Space Age -- October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik -- and the entry into force of the 1967 U.N. Outer Space Treaty (October 10, 1967).  Space agencies and other organizations around the world hold events to celebrate the occasion.  A list is on the World Space Week website.

Among the various specific space policy events coming up this week, we know of only one that has officially declared itself a World Space Week event, however.  That is the International Space University-DC (ISU-DC) U.S. alumni chapter, which is holding its next Space Cafe on Wednesday, October 5, at the The Brixton in Washington, DC.  The speaker is Dennis Stone, who is the World Space Week Association President and Project Executive of NASA's Commercial Space Capabilities Office at Johnson Space Center.

There are many other events that could be, though, including one on Tuesday, the 59th anniversary of Sputnik, that might create quite a bang.  Blue Origin will conduct a test of its in-flight escape system for the New Shepard reusable rocket, activating it 45 seconds after launch.  Blue Origin President Jeff Bezos said the rocket, which has flown four times already, was not designed to withstand the forces it will experience and is not expected to survive the test (though there is a small chance it might).  Assuming it does not, he said the impact with the desert floor of the still almost fully fueled rocket "will be most impressive."  The test will be webcast beginning at 10:50 am ET.

Rice University's Baker Institute will hold a panel discussion entitled "Lost in Space 2016" tomorrow night (Monday) with a panel of space policy analysts and practitioners.  It is a reprise of a panel four years ago at the time of the last presidential election.   The panel will be webcast (5:30-7:30 Central/6:30-8:30 pm Eastern) and includes Mark Albrecht, Leroy Chaio, Joan Johnson-Freese, Neal Lane, Michael Lembeck, Eugene Levy, and John Logsdon, with George Abbey as moderator.  An impressive line-up.

Speaking of the election, Tuesday night (almost certainly NOT in commemoration of Sputnik's 59th anniversary) is the one and only Vice Presidential debate between Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence.   Fireworks are not expected, but it should be interesting nonetheless.  It is from 9:00-10:30 pm ET and will be nationally telecast (check local listings).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events Of Interest list.

Monday, October 3

  • Lost in Space 2016 panel, Rice University's Baker Institute, Houston, TX, 5:30-7:30 pm Central/6:30-8:30 pm Eastern, webcast

Monday-Tuesday, October 3-4

Tuesday, October 4

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 4-5

Tuesday, October 4 - Monday, October 10

Wednesday, October 5

Wednesday-Thursday, October 5-6

Wednesday-Friday, October 5-7

Thursday, October 6

  • MEPAG, virtual, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm Pacific/11:30 am - 3:30 pm Eastern (Adobe Connect)
  • NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, 10:15-11:30 am Central/11:15 am-12:30 pm Eastern), audio available

Congress Votes to Keep Government Open Through December 9

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2016 (Updated: 28-Sep-2016 10:32 PM)

The Senate and House both passed a FY2017 Continuing Resolution (CR) today that will keep the government operating through December 9, 2016.  Without it, government agencies would have had to shut down at midnight Friday, September 30, the end of fiscal year 2016.  The President is expected to sign the bill.

Government departments and agencies like NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded through a set of 12 appropriations bills that provide money one fiscal year at a time.  A U.S. fiscal year is October 1 - September 30.   If the bills are not passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, their operations must cease other than exceptions for life and safety, for example.

When the 12 regular appropriations bills are not passed in time, Congress typically passes a CR that funds the departments and agencies at their previous year's levels for a set period.   In this case, that is through December 9.  By then, Congress must either pass another CR or, hopefully, the full year appropriations bills.  This CR actually includes the full-year FY2017 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) appropriations bill, leaving 11 of the 12 regular bills to be passed later.

The CR also includes funding to combat the Zika virus domestically and internationally, to respond to flooding in Louisiana and other states, and several other specialized needs. 

Details of the legislation, H.R. 5325 as amended, are posted on the Senate Appropriations Committee's website.  (Note that previous action on H.R. 5325 is not relevant.  That bill, which began as the FY2017 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, simply is being used as the legislative vehicle for the CR.  The original text was deleted and this new text was substituted.) 

The bill's full title is "Continuing Appropriations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017, and Zika Response and Preparedness Act."

The President's FY2017 requested funding levels for NASA and NOAA are not so different from their current funding levels that a short-term CR like this one is not expected to make much difference on a day-to-day basis.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 26-30, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Sep-2016 (Updated: 26-Sep-2016 09:33 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of September 26-30, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's quite a week coming up!  

For the country: the first of the three presidential debates is tomorrow (Monday) and Congress hopefully will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating after Friday when fiscal year 2016 ends. The House and Senate are still working on the details of their separate versions of the CR, but they have five days left. Typically they leave appropriations deals to the last minute with the expectation that a hard deadline makes people more willing to compromise.  The alternative is a government shutdown, which is not an appealing prospect in an election year.  Word is the CR will keep the government open through December 9, by which time Congress must pass either another CR or, better yet, the actual FY2017 appropriations measures.  Typically Congress combines all 12 regular appropriations bills into a single "omnibus" measure, but House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly would prefer several smaller "minibuses" dealing with two or three of them at a time.  The exception may be the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill, which the House wants to include in the CR this week.  We'll see if the Senate is willing to go along with that. 

For the space policy community: the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico.  IAC is the BIG international conference that combines annual meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and the International Institute of Space Law (IISL).   IAC will webcast all the plenary sessions.  The one that has generated the most buzz is on Tuesday when Elon Musk will lay out his plans for making humanity a multiplanet species.  It's at 1:30 pm local time in Guadalajara, which is on Central Daylight Time.  So that's 2:30 pm Eastern.

Two congressional hearings of note are also scheduled for this week, both on Tuesday (most congressional hearings are webcast on the respective committee's website).  In the morning, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee's Space Subcommittee asks "Are We Losing the Space Race to China?" and four witnesses will give their answers:  Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission; Mark Stokes from the Project 2049 Institute; Dean Cheng from the Heritage Foundation; and Jim Lewis from CSIS.  

That afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hear from three eminent experts on the topic of "National Security Space: 21st Century Challenges, 20th Century Organization."  The witnesses are John Hamre, former Deputy Secretary of Defense; Adm. James Ellis, Jr. (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Strategic Command; and Marty Faga, former Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and former President and CEO of the MITRE Corporation.  The great advantage of being "former," of course, is that one can speak freely.  Should be especially interesting.  

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.   Check back throughout the week for others that we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, September 26

Monday-Friday, September 26-30

Tuesday, September 27

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 27-28

Wednesday-Friday, September 28-30

Thursday, September 29

Thursday-Friday, September 29-30


Correction:  An earlier edition of this article listed the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA as the location of the National Academies Workshop Planning Committee meeting on September 27-28.  It will be held in Washington, DC, not at Beckman.  The workshop itself, scheduled for December 5-6, will be held at Beckman.

SpaceX Knows What Happened on September 1, But Not Why

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 24-Sep-2016 (Updated: 24-Sep-2016 10:04 PM)

SpaceX is still studying 3,000 channels of engineering data to determine the root cause of the September 1 on-pad fire that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 communications satellite.  A preliminary review has determined it was a breach of a second stage helium system, but why it happened still is unknown.  The company nevertheless said it anticipates returning to flight as early as November.

The "anomaly" took place during a routine pre-launch test two days prior to when the launch was scheduled. 

In a statement on its website, the company says a "large breach in the cryogenic helium system of the second stage liquid oxygen tank took place. All plausible causes are being tracked in an extensive fault tree and carefully investigated."  

The only Falcon 9 launch failure to date, on June 28, 2015, was also caused by a problem in the second stage.  In that case, SpaceX was launching its seventh Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission, CRS-7, for NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its Dragon spacecraft.   Dragon and the cargo were destroyed.

Although that failure and the September 1 anomaly involved the second stage, SpaceX says that "we have exonerated any connection with last year's CRS-7 mishap."

The Amos-6 satellite that was lost is a commercial satellite owned by Israel's Spacecom, so this was a commercial launch for a commercial customer.  The FAA regulates commercial space launches like this one and under its rules the launch service provider, not the government, is in charge of the investigation.  However, the launch service provider, SpaceX in this case, may invite whoever it wants to participate in the investigation.

SpaceX said the Accident Investigation Team includes SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, and industry experts.  NASA and the Air Force are SpaceX customers, and Space X leases launch pads from both agencies.

This anomaly took place at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's (CCAFS) Launch Complex 40 (LC-40).  SpaceX says that "substantial areas of the pad systems were affected," but others were not, including the Falcon Support Building and a new liquid oxygen tank farm.

CCAFS is adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and SpaceX also leases NASA/KSC's Launch Complex-39A for launches of both Falcon 9 and the larger Falcon Heavy.  SpaceX had planned the first test flight of Falcon Heavy from LC-39A this year.   The statement did not indicate whether plans to resume flights in November assumed use of LC-40 or LC-39A.

SpaceX also leases an Air Force pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA for launches to polar orbits and is building its own launch site near Brownsville, TX.


Aerojet Rocketdyne Makes Case for AR1

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2016 (Updated: 21-Sep-2016 07:43 AM)

Aerojet Rocketdyne's Jim Simpson made the case for the new AR1 rocket engine yesterday explaining that its conservative design and low cost will meet mission assurance and affordability objectives desired by potential customers,   It is on schedule to be ready for certification by 2019 at a cost of $824 million -- $536 million from the government plus $288 million from the company and its industry partners.

Simpson, Aerojet Rocketdyne's Senior Vice President for Strategy and Business Development, spoke to a media roundtable yesterday that was held in conjunction with the Air Force Association's Air, Space, Cyber Conference.  Joining him was Steve Cook, Vice President for Corporate Development at Dynetics, a partner in the AR1 program.

The impetus for developing the AR1 is eliminating U.S. dependence on Russia's RD-180 engines that power the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  Atlas V is the workhorse for launching national security satellites and is also used for NASA and commercial spacecraft.

ULA agrees on the need to replace the RD-180, although there has been a long debate in Congress over the timing for doing so.  Originally Congress mandated that a new U.S.-built engine be ready by 2019 and prohibited ULA from acquiring RD-180s for use beyond that time. Agreement was recently reached, however, allowing the company to purchase RD-180s through 2022.

Nevertheless, 2019 remains the goal for developing a new engine to allow time for it to be tested and certified as part of a launch system that would be ready by the time RD-180-powered Atlas Vs are no longer available.

ULA plans to replace the Atlas V system with an entirely new rocket, Vulcan, by then.  It announced a partnership two years ago with Blue Origin to use its BE- 4 engine, which is now in development and also intended to be ready by 2019.  BE-4 uses an innovative propellant -- liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquefied natural gas (methane) – instead of LOX/kerosene.

Aerojet Rocketdyne came forward with the AR1 as an alternative to BE-4.  ULA currently plans to choose between BE-4 and AR1 next spring.

Simpson acknowledged that BE-4 is the baseline engine for Vulcan, but he and Cook highlighted what they see as AR1’s advantages starting with the fact that it uses traditional LOX/kerosene and staged combustion and therefore has less risk than BE-4.  They pointed to the engine’s conservative design and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s long track record in rocket engine design, development and production as offering the mission assurance vital to national security satellites in particular.  Simpson added that Atlas Vs fitted with AR1s can use existing Atlas V launch pads, reducing costs as well.

Creating a low cost engine is part of the company’s plan, with a goal of $20-25 million for a pair of AR1s.   The use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) is one route to lower cost.  A 40,000-pound-thrust 3-D printed pre-burner was tested this week, Simpson said, and other components are under consideration, though specifics were not offered.  He said the new incremental-build approach to development will further lower costs.  Each element is built and tested and the system evolves gradually, instead of the test-fail-fix approach where full scale engines are built for testing.

If ULA retires Atlas V as planned and chooses BE-4 for Vulcan, AR1 still could be used for other customers, Cook stressed.  Among them is NASA, which is currently working on the first two versions of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will be able to launch 70 metric tons (MT) and 105 MT respectively.  A 130-MT version is planned for some time in the 2020s and AR1 could be used for that configuration, replacing the solid rocket strap-ons in the current design.

Cook managed the Ares rocket program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center before joining Dynetics in 2009.  Ares was part of the Constellation program, which was cancelled the next year and subsequently replaced by SLS.

Cook explained that NASA and the Air Force each put $21 million into the development of advanced liquid boosters beginning in 2012 and although the effort – Advanced Booster Engineering Demonstration and/or Risk Reduction (ABEDRR) -- was not directly related to AR1, it contributed to risk reduction for liquid propellant engines broadly.

Simpson said the Air Force has committed to spending $115 million for the first phase of AR1 development and a total of $536 million overall.   Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners have already committed $77 million to date with a total of $288 million assuming the project goes forward.   He added that if the funding profile changes, so could the cost and schedule.