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House Hearing: NASA Needs Stability, Except for Adding Back Lunar Surface Missions

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Feb-2017 (Updated: 21-Feb-2017 12:57 PM)

At Thursday’s House hearing on NASA’s past, present, and future, one point of agreement was that NASA needs stability, sustainability, and priority setting.  Still, committee members and witnesses alike advocated for restoring human missions to the surface of the Moon to NASA’s human spaceflight plan.  Only one witness, Tom Young, warned about the budget consequences of putting too many tasks on NASA's plate.

The hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee took place as a new presidential administration is taking shape and many space program advocates worry that decisions might be made that will disrupt the progress NASA has made since 2010 in building systems to take humans beyond low Earth orbit (LEO).  It was in 2010 that President Obama cancelled the George W. Bush Administration’s Constellation program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2020 as a steppingstone to Mars.

Intense congressional backlash led to the 2010 NASA Authorization Act wherein Congress directed the Administration to build a new big rocket and crew spacecraft -- the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion – to take astronauts beyond LEO, essentially continuing that part of the Constellation program.  Obama and Congress agreed that the long term goal is landing humans on Mars, but not on whether lunar surface missions are a necessary prerequisite. 

NASA’s ongoing Journey to Mars involves missions only in lunar orbit, not on the surface. While many in Congress and the space community call for stability and continuity at NASA – no big changes like those imposed by President Obama – an exception is made for the prospect of restoring lunar surface missions.

The future of the human spaceflight program was the focus of the hearing, although the rest of NASA’s portfolio (aeronautics, space technology, earth and space science) was also discussed.

Witnesses were Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. Senator Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Gemini and Apollo astronaut Lt. Gen. Tom Stafford (Ret.), former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan, and former NASA and industry executive Tom Young.

 
Witnesses at House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing February 16, 2017.  Left to right:  Harrison Schmitt, Tom Stafford, Ellen Stofan, Tom Young. Screengrab from committee webcast.

Schmitt, the only scientist to visit the Moon, and Stafford, who orbited the Moon on Apollo 10, clearly want lunar surface missions back in the plan.  Schmitt outlined his own plan for human exploration and utilization of both the Moon and Mars: human return to the lunar surface by 2025, a lunar settlement by 2030 using public and private capital funding, lunar resource production by 2035 using private capital funding and management, fusion-powered interplanetary booster by 2035 using public and private capital funding, a Mars landing by 2040, and a Mars settlement by 2045. 

Stofan defended NASA’s current plan and said it is achievable as long as there is focus, constancy of purpose, and continued leadership.  

Young’s main argument was that, for budgetary reasons, NASA will have to choose what single path it wants to pursue.  Currently it is spending about the same amount of money per year (roughly $4.5 billion) to develop SLS and Orion as to operate the International Space Station (ISS) including the commercial crew and commercial cargo programs.  NASA and its ISS international partners are committed to operating ISS until at least 2024, but the question is what happens next. 

Young believes that NASA needs to transition LEO operations to the commercial sector and focus its efforts on putting “boots on the ground” on the Moon or Mars.  He expressed a preference for Mars because it is more “compelling.” 

From Young’s perspective, for NASA to successfully complete all that is already on its plate – operate ISS in LEO and build and launch SLS/Orion for deep space exploration– will cost $10 billion more per year.   There are “too many paths competing for the same resources,” he said.  “A choice must be made soon between LEO and exploration.”   If the program keeps going as it is, 10 years from now everyone will be disappointed because “we will be negligibly closer to landing on Mars.”

Stafford’s remarks focused on the need for SLS.  He complimented Congress for insisting that NASA build it after President Obama cancelled Constellation, but expressed concern about the planned launch rate of, at most, one per year.  He argued that there must be at least two or preferably three per year to maintain proficiency.  Schmitt, Young and Stofan all agreed on the need to launch at least twice a year.  Stofan said scientists would be happy to use any of the extra flights.

Schmitt and Gene Cernan were the last two men to walk on the Moon in December 1972.  Cernan died last month.  He was an outspoken advocate for returning humans to the lunar surface.  Legislation has been introduced in the House to name SLS “Cernan 1” in his honor.

The day before the hearing, NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced that he had requested an internal NASA study to assess the feasibility of launching a crew on the first SLS/Orion flight instead of waiting for the second launch as currently planned. Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who chairs the Space Subcommittee, asked the witnesses if they thought it was feasible.

Stafford was enthusiastic, noting that the first launch of the space shuttle carried a crew.  (That was the only time in the history of human spaceflight in the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, or China that a crew was on the first flight of a new rocket.) 

Schmitt’s first response was “I have no idea,” stressing that while there will always be risks, they need to be well understood.  The question is “whether you can man-rate the system that fast” and still meet the safety requirements.  Later, however, he noted that the first “full up use” of the Saturn V rocket was the Apollo 8 mission that sent three astronauts to orbit the Moon, so the question is whether to do that again with SLS.  (There were two Saturn V launches to Earth orbit before the Apollo 8 mission.  Schmitt may have meant there had been no prior Saturn V launches to the distance of the Moon.) 

Stofan and Young endorsed Lightfoot’s plan of doing a study.

Stafford also argued in favor of reestablishing a White House National Space Council.  President George H.W. Bush was the last President to utilize a Space Council.  It was chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle.  Stafford was closely involved in the Quayle Space Council, chairing the “Synthesis Group,” which wrote a report that laid out various options for sending humans to Mars in response to the first President Bush’s 1989 Space Exploration Initiative (SEI).  Stafford reminded the committee of his report, showing them a copy, and the fact that the first President Bush’s goal was to land people on Mars in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon.

Although most of the hearing dealt with human spaceflight, Stofan also defended NASA’s earth and space science activities, as well as aeronautics, and some committee members asked about those programs.

Stofan made the point that while it is important to push limits and send people to Mars, “the only planet we can live on is Earth” and NASA’s earth observations are critical to understanding it.  

In response to Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), she said NASA’s earth science budget has been relatively flat in recent years when adjusted for inflation, not growing.  She listed a number of applications of earth science data that are critical to different economic sectors and have led to creation of new companies. 

More broadly, she urged Congress to continue to support NASA’s current plan to implement the Decadal Surveys produced by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that identify key science questions that can be answered using NASA’s space and earth science spacecraft.

The bottom line of the hearing was strong support for human exploration of the Moon and Mars with scant attention to how it will be funded, other than Young’s warning.  Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) repeated the refrain that NASA’s funding should be doubled to 1 percent of the federal budget.  Whether the Trump Administration will propose a doubling of NASA’s budget, or Congress would approve it, remains to be seen.  The Members of Congress who authorize and appropriate funds for NASA clearly are enthusiasts on a bipartisan basis, but where NASA will fit in national priorities for government spending is always the question.

Scant attention also was paid to the role of the commercial sector in the future U.S. space program.   Schmitt raised it in connection with his plan for human exploration, where he envisions a critical role for the private sector in exploiting lunar resources, for example.   Young advocated turning LEO over to the commercial sector so NASA can concentrate on exploration beyond LEO.  Overall, however, the hearing was aimed at government-funded activities at NASA.

What's Happening in Space Policy February 20-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Feb-2017 (Updated: 22-Feb-2017 02:01 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 20-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

The week begins with a Federal holiday on Monday, Presidents' Day -- combining recognition of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22).   The House and Senate are taking the entire week off from their Washington duties and will work in their States and districts instead.  Just before it left, the Senate passed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017.  The House could take it up anytime once it returns.

While things will be relatively quiet in Washington, there's a lot happening in Earth orbit.

SpaceX launched its 10th operational cargo mission (SpaceX CRS-10 or SpX-10) to the International Space Station (ISS) today on the second try (the first attempt was scrubbed on Saturday for technical reasons).  The Dragon spacecraft, full of 5,489 pounds of supplies and equipment, will arrive at the ISS on Wednesday morning about 6:00 am ET.  NASA TV will cover the arrival as astronauts use the robotic Canadarm2 to reach out and grab it so it can be attached (berthed) to a docking port.  NASA TV coverage begins at 4:30 am ET.

Russia is also launching a cargo ship to ISS this week.  The launch of Progress MS-05 is very early Wednesday morning Eastern Standard Time (12:58 am), with docking on Friday (NASA TV will cover both).  This is the first Progress launch since a December 1, 2016 launch failure.  A lot is riding on it, and not just the cargo.  Russia uses the same type of rocket to send crews to ISS so this launch needs to demonstrate that the problems have been fixed so crew launches can resume.

Meanwhile, NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) will meet at Kennedy Space Center in public session on Thursday.   The agenda includes updates on NASA's development of Exploration Systems (SLS, Orion and associated ground systems), commercial crew, and the iSS.  One can listen to the meeting via telecon (no WebEx though).  ASAP's most recent annual report expressed both praise and concern about safety at NASA.  NASA's announcement last week that it is assessing whether to put a crew on the first flight of the Space Launch System might provoke discussion, too.

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, February 20

  • Federal holiday (Presidents' Day)

Wednesday, February 22

Wednesday-Thursday, February 22-23

Thursday, February 23

Friday, February 24

 

 

Senate Passes 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Feb-2017 (Updated: 18-Feb-2017 12:08 AM)

The Senate passed the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act today.  The bill is very similar to one that passed the Senate in December as the 114th Congress was coming to an end. The House had completed its legislative business by then so could not act on it and that bill died at the end of the Congress. This new bill, S. 442, represents a compromise with the House, so expectations are high that it will quickly be passed by the House and presented to the President for signature.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Space, Science, and Competitiveness subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the full committee, issued a joint press release along with other bipartisan members of the committee praising the bill for providing stability to NASA during this time of a presidential transition.

The new bill has some changes from the version that passed the Senate in December.  One clarifies that the primary consideration for the acquisition strategy for the commercial crew program is to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) "safely, reliably, and affordably" and to serve as a crew rescue vehicle.  Another directs NASA to report to Congress on how the Orion spacecraft can fulfill the provision in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that it be able to serve as a backup to commercial crew, including with use of a launch vehicle other than the Space Launch System. A third is a finding that NASA has not demonstrated to Congress that the cost of the Asteroid Redirect Mission is commensurate with its benefits, a stronger statement than what was in the 2016 bill.  The new bill also has a section on use of Space Act Agreements.

The bill authorizes funding only for FY2017, which is already underway.  The total is $19.508 billion, the same as the amount recommended by the House Appropriations Committee, although allocated differently.  Authorization bills recommend funding levels, but only appropriations bills actually provide funding to government agencies like NASA. Congress has not completed action on the FY2017 appropriations bills.  NASA is currently funded under a Continuing Resolution at its FY2016 funding level, with an exception that funds may be spent on the Space Launch System, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems programs to keep their schedules on track.

Now that the Senate has passed the bill, action moves to the House.  Three weeks ago, the chairmen of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and its Space Subcommittee, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Brian Babin (R-TX), urged quick passage of the bill.  The House is in recess next week, but action could come anytime thereafter.

Committee Rosters for 115th Congress Fill Out - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Feb-2017 (Updated: 16-Feb-2017 06:33 AM)

Update, February 15:  At press time this morning, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee's website listed Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) as the ranking member of its space subcommittee.  However, later this morning committee Democrats issued a press release with an updated list of its members showing that Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is the ranking member of that subcommittee.  Our table has been updated accordingly.  Peters remains as a member of the subcommittee.

Original Story, February 15, 2017.  House Democrats have announced their full committee and subcommittee members of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, filling out the rosters for the congressional committees that oversee the nation's space programs for the 115th Congress.   Memberships on the other space-related committees were announced earlier.

Oversight and funding of the U.S. space program involves a number of committees.  The list below is only of those with the most direct responsibilities and is not meant to be comprehensive.  The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have jurisdiction over all government agency operations, for example, but they rarely deal with space issues.   Similarly, the committees that oversee the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the Department of the Interior (which operates the Landsat satellites) or the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Department of Commerce that assign spectrum to commercial and government users respectively do not often focus on space issues.

The following table, therefore, is limited to the authorization and appropriations committees for NASA, NOAA, DOD, the Intelligence Community (IC), and the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the Department of Transportation.  It shows the top Republicans and Democrats ("ranking members") at the full committee and subcommittee level.   Complete rosters of committee and subcommittee members are on each committee's website.

 

House

Senate

Authorization

Cmte/Sbcmte

Republicans

Democrats

Cmte/Sbcmte

Republicans

Democrats

Science, Space &Technology

Commerce, Science, &Transportation

Full Committee

Lamar Smith (TX)

Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX)

Full Committee

John Thune (SD)

Bill Nelson (FL)

Space Sbcmte

(NASA, FAA/AST)

Brian Babin (TX)

Ami Bera (CA)

Space, Science & Competitiveness Sbcmte (NASA, FAA/AST)

Ted Cruz (TX)

Ed Markey (MA)

Environment Sbcmte (NOAA)

Andy Biggs (AZ)

Suzanne Bonamici (OR)

Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries & Coast Guard

Dan Sullivan (Alaska)

Cory Booker (NJ)

Armed Services

Armed Services

Full Committee

Mac Thornberry (TX)

Adam Smith (WA)

Full Committee

John McCain (AZ)

Jack Reed (RI)

Strategic Forces Sbcmte

Mike Rogers (AL)

Jim Cooper (TN)

Strategic Forces Sbcmte

Deb Fischer (Nebraska)

Joe Donnelly (IN)

Intelligence

Intelligence

Full Committee

Devin Nunes (CA)

Adam Schiff (CA)

Full Committee

Richard Burr (NC)

Mark Warner (VA)

Appropriations

Full Committee

Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ)

Nita Lowey (NY)

Full Committee

Thad Cochran (MS)

Patrick Leahy (VT)

Commerce-Justice-Science Sbcmte

(NASA, NOAA)

John Culberson (TX)

José Serrano (NY)

Commerce-Justice-Science Sbcmte

(NASA, NOAA)

Richard Shelby (AL)

Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

Defense Subcmte

(DOD, IC)

Kay Granger (TX)

Peter Visclosky (IN)

Defense Subcmte

(DOD, IC)

Thad Cochran (MS)

Dick Durbin (IL)

Transportation-HUD Subcmte

(FAA/AST)

Mario Diaz-Balart (FL)

David Price (NC)

Transportation-HUD Subcmte

(FAA/AST)

Susan Collins (Maine)

Jack Reed (RI)

State Abbreviations:  AL (Alabama), AZ (Arizona), CA (California),  FL (Florida), IL (Illinois), IN (Indiana), MA (Massachusetts), MS (Mississippi),  NC (North Carolina), NH (New Hampshire), NJ (New Jersey),  NY (New York), OR (Oregon), RI (Rhode Island), SD (South Dakota), TN (Tennessee), TX (Texas), VA (Virginia), VT (Vermont), WA (Washington)

What's Happening in Space Policy February 13-18, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Feb-2017 (Updated: 12-Feb-2017 05:50 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 13-18, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold the year's first congressional hearing on NASA this week. Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) said that it was intended to provide a "panoramic" view of NASA's past, present and future to acquaint new committee members with the agency.   No current NASA employees are on the witness list, but all four worked at the agency at one time:  Harrison "Jack" Schmitt, who along with Gene Cernan were the last two men on the Moon (he also was a U.S. Senator from 1977-1983); famed Gemini and Apollo astronaut Tom Stafford, who currently chairs NASA's International Space Station Advisory Committee; Ellen Stofan, who just stepped down after three years as NASA's Chief Scientist; and Tom Young, whose storied career includes serving as mission director for the Viking program, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and industry executive with Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin (after Martin Marietta and Lockheed merged to form the current company).  Schmitt was the only scientist to walk on the Moon.  He is a geologist, as is Stofan.  Should be really interesting.  No shrinking violets on that panel!  That's on Thursday at 10:00 am ET.  The committee webcasts its hearings on its website and YouTube channel.

Earlier in the week. the D.C. alumni chapter of the International Space University is holding another of its "Space Cafes."  These monthly informal get togethers always feature really interesting speakers and this time is no exception -- there will be four of them, in fact, all from Europe.  Jean-Luc Bald from the European Union's Washington office; Micheline Tabache, the Washington representative of the European Space Agency (ESA); and Norbert Paluch and Juergen Drescher, the Washington reps for the French and German space agencies respectively.  Remember that the venue for the ISU-DC Space Cafes has changed to The Brixton at 901 U Street, NW.  The Space Cafes usually are on Tuesdays, but this one is Monday (tomorrow).

The date has slipped a couple of times already, but the current plan is for SpaceX to launch its first cargo mission to the ISS since the September 1, 2016 on-pad explosion on Saturday at 10:01 am ET.  This is SpaceX's 10th operational Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) mission for NASA -- SpaceX CRS-10 or SpX-10.   It will mark SpaceX's first launch from NASA's Launch Complex 39A, which SpaceX is leasing from NASA.   Previous SpaceX East Coast launches have been from the pad SpaceX leases from the Air Force at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.  That is Launch Complex-40, which was damaged in the September 1 incident.  SpaceX plans to use LC-39A for launches of both its current Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy (FH) still in development.  The company expected that the first launch from LC-39A would be the maiden flight of the FH last November.  That didn't work out, but the launch pad was close to being ready so is available for this flight.  SpaceX is confident it has fixed the problem that caused the September 1 explosion and the Falcon 9 returned to flight status with an Iridium launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA last month.  No new date for the FH's maiden flight has been announced.

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

Monday, February 13

Tuesday, February 14

Wednesday-Friday, February 15-17

Wednesday-Saturday, February 15-18

Thursday, February 16

Thursday-Friday, February 16-17

Thursday-Saturday, February 16-18

Saturday, February 18

FAA Commercial Space Conference Takeaways From Bridenstine, Babin, Gerstenmaier, and Stern

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2017 (Updated: 16-Feb-2017 05:20 PM)

The 20th FAA Commercial Space Transportation conference in Washington, DC ended today.  Among the many interesting keynotes and panel discussions were presentations by Reps. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and Brian Babin (R-TX) and the head of NASA's human spaceflight program Bill Gerstenmaier.

Babin chairs the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Bridenstine is a member of that subcommittee as well as the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversees many national security space programs. Gerstenmaier is NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations (HEO), which oversees the International Space Station (ISS) and its associated commercial cargo and commercial crew programs, as well as development of the Space Launch System (SLS), Orion crew spacecraft, and other systems needed to send humans beyond low Earth orbit.

The conference was organized by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). 

CSF Chairman Alan Stern opened the conference yesterday with an announcement that surprised many in the audience.  Pointedly telling reporters in the room that he wanted them to hear him clearly, he said CSF was announcing that it supports SLS.   "Exploration of space for all purposes, including commercial spaceflight, is our interest and to that end the CSF is announcing that we see many potential benefits" in NASA's SLS program.  "There are bright futures across the spectrum in commercial space and the SLS can be a resource that ... makes our future .. even brighter."

The statement is somewhat surprising because there is a tension between those who support government development of new launch vehicles and those who think that should be left to private sector companies with the expectation they can do it more quickly and cost effectively.  Since CSF represents many of the companies developing and marketing space launch services, its support for a government-developed system was far from assured.

Here are snapshots from the remarks by Bridenstine, Babin, and Gerstenmaier.

Bridenstine

Bridenstine's prepared remarks closely tracked those he made last year at this conference and in other venues.  Today he listed four actions that are needed to effectively leverage the commercial space industry:

  • strike a balance between what the government should purchase, own and operate and what the government should acquire as a service;
  • fix the regulatory structure by restoring AST to the more prominent position it had before 1995 in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and adequately fund it;
  • relieve DOD of the task of providing space situational awareness (SSA) data to non-military entities by reassigning it to a civil agency like AST (but not necessarily AST -- it is an issue Congress should discuss);
  • provide commercial space companies with a process that ensures a minimum regulatory burden with maximum regulatory certainty.

With regard to the last point, he advocates that AST be assigned responsibility for regulating non-traditional commercial space activities like asteroid mining or placing habitats on the Moon in order to comply with U.S. obligations under the Outer Space Treaty.   He is developing legislation that would create an "enhanced payload review process" building on AST's existing payload review process to authorize and continually supervise private sector activities in space.  Currently AST regulates only launch and reentry, not what takes place in space.  "We must ensure there is no question as to the statutory and regulatory mechanisms the United States government can utilize to affirmatively approve" non-traditional space activities. 

His views on regulation of non-traditional space activities contrast with those advocated by Babin (discussed below).  Bridenstine said in response to a question that he and Babin are good friends and although they have not reached agreement on how to harmonize their disparate approaches, he is optimistic they will.

Bridenstine is a leading candidate to become NASA Administrator.  Although he is best known for his leadership in Congress on space issues at DOD, FAA and NOAA, his American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) from last year addressed NASA issues, too. Today he declined to answer a question about whether he might become Administrator, but did express his strong support for NASA's SLS and Orion programs.  He is identified with the commercial space sector and some SLS/Orion advocates worry that commercial space supporters may try to undermine SLS/Orion by arguing that the commercial sector can provide requisite capabilities quicker and cheaper.  Bridenstine clearly stated today that SLS and Orion have his full support, however.  He also said he is "100 percent" in favor of sending humans to Mars and reiterated his enthusiasm for a return to the Moon.

ASRA was never intended to pass as a stand-alone bill, but rather to serve as a repository for provisions that could be incorporated into other legislation.  Ten of its provisions were included in the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Bridenstine said today that he plans to introduce an updated version of ASRA and welcomes input.  

Bridenstine also was asked about a letter he recently sent, along with two other Members of Congress, questioning whether DARPA's Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) program conforms with National Space Policy wherein the government is not supposed to compete with the private sector and is supposed to make government technologies available to commercial companies on an equitable basis. The letter states that DARPA's plan to award a $200 million contract to a single company, which would retain the satellite and the intellectual property, violates the policy and would distort the market.  DARPA was about to award that contract to Space Systems/Loral, but Orbital ATK filed suit against DARPA yesterday to stop it.  Orbital ATK is developing geosynchronous satellite servicing technologies itself.  Bridenstine said today that RSGS is critical for national security and while there are some technologies that only DARPA can develop, such as completely autonomous mechanical servicing, others can be provided commercially, such as maneuvering capabilities.  DARPA demonstrating technologies is one thing, but commercializing them is another, he argued, and that is why he wrote the letter. 

Babin

Babin's speech also closely paralleled what he said last year.   He and Bridenstine disagree on how to regulate new non-traditional space activities to ensure the United States complies with its international treaty obligations.  While Bridenstine wants to create an enhanced payload review process administered by AST to provide regulatory certainty to companies, Babin does not accept that regulations are needed at all.  He asserts that companies should not have to obtain government permission to conduct any space activity.  Instead, the burden should be on the government to demonstrate that it has a requirement to intrude.  He wants a regime where private sector activities are "presumed authorized" and the government can place restrictions on those activities only if it cannot address its concerns by any other means.

Babin also disagrees on the idea of AST taking responsibility for providing SSA to non-military users.  He argues that there are other options -- other government agencies or a public private partnership -- that need to be explored first.  As he said last year, he plans to hold hearings on these topics this year.

Gerstenmaier

Gerstenmaier focused his remarks on risk -- specifically the risks inherent in human spaceflight.  His office oversees the development of commercial crew systems by SpaceX and Boeing that will take crews to and from ISS beginning next year, as well as the Orion spacecraft that will take astronauts to cis-lunar space and eventually to Mars.

One metric for characterizing risk in this context is the probability of a failure that would kill the crew -- Loss of Crew (LOC).  Gerstenmaier's message is that there will always be "unknown unknowns" in any system, no matter how many times it flies, and thus there will always be some level of risk  The more the system flies, the more experience is gained, and the more engineers learn about what might fail.  He noted that when the first space shuttle flew in 1981, models calculated the LOC at 1 in 500 to 1 in 5000.   After accumulating data on all 135 shuttle flights -- two of which, Challenger and Columbia, ended with the deaths of their crews -- NASA concluded that the actual risk for that first flight was 1 in 12.  At the end of the program, after those 135 flights, the risk overall was put at 1 in 90.

The LOC for the commercial crew program was set at 1 in 275, but he stressed that too much importance is assigned to that figure. He argued that LOC numbers are useful for comparing different designs, for example, but not in determining absolute risk.  "Do not judge a spacecraft by its LOC number," he urged.   The challenge is to not become complacent as systems start flying because there is always more to learn.  "Stay hungry, stay curious, stay humble" and do not be afraid to discover new problems, discuss them, understand them, and solve them.

The public and other stakeholders need to understand and acknowledge these risks, he said, so NASA needs to learn how to effectively communicate with them as these new systems are about to come on line.

Note:  Gerstenmaier said the LOC metric is 1 in 275 for commercial crew, but it actually is 1 in 270.

What's Happening in Space Policy February 6-10, 2017 - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 05-Feb-2017 (Updated: 06-Feb-2017 08:16 AM)

Here's our list of space policy events for the week of February 6-10, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session part of the week.

During the Week

The big event this week is the FAA's annual Commercial Space Transportation conference in Washington, DC on Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday.  This year it is being organized by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and held at the Ronald Reagan Building.  As usual it has top notch keynote speakers and panel sessions.  One keynote many will be watching is Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is speaking at 12:30 pm ET on Wednesday.   He is widely rumored to be seeking the NASA Administrator job and, in any case, is a prominent congressional advocate for commercial space, especially broadening the role of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.  The agenda says nothing about webcasting.  If we learn anything about a webcast, we'll add the link to our calendar item for this event. [UPDATE: A CSF spokeswoman says there will NOT be a webcast this year.]

The Senate will continue to consider nominations, some more contentious than others.  No date seems to be set for confirming Wilbur Ross for Secretary of Commerce, but he was easily approved by the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  A Senate vote could come at any time.

Over on the House side, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold its 115th Congress organizational meeting on Tuesday at 10:00 ET according to National Journal's Daybook, although it is not posted on the committee's website (as of Sunday morning, at least). The committee is holding its first hearing of the year (on EPA) at 11:00 that morning, so an organizational meeting in advance makes sense.  The Republican committee leadership identified its key priorities for this Congress and announced subcommittee leadership and membership positions last week.   "Constancy of Purpose Within NASA" is the fifth of the committee's top five priorities.  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) will continue to chair the Space Subcommittee and Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) takes over as chair of the Environment Subcommittee (which oversees NOAA's satellite programs).

On a completely different topic, the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) will have a panel discussion on Spectrum Traffic Jams on Friday.  The battle for spectrum -- especially freeing spectrum for use by the commercial sector by taking it away from government users, and satellite versus terrestrial needs  -- wages on.  Al Wissman from NOAA, Victoria Samson from the Secure World Foundation, and Valerie Green from Ligado join Caleb Henry of Space News for the lunchtime discussion.  Note that the meeting is at the City Club of Washington (555 13th Street, NW), not the University Club where WSBR often holds its luncheon meetings.

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

Monday-Friday (February 6-10) (second week of meeting)

Tuesday, February 7

Tuesday-Wednesday, February 7-8

Tuesday-Thursday, February 7-9

Wednesday, February 8

Friday, February 10

 Note:  This article has been updated.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 30 - February 3, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jan-2017 (Updated: 29-Jan-2017 09:59 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 30 - February 3, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Tuesday is NASA's official Day of Remembrance, honoring the crews of Apollo 1, space shuttle Challenger, space shuttle Columbia and other astronauts who lost their lives in connection with spaceflight.  Some events have already taken place, including two at Kennedy Space Center last week to specially honor the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire that killed Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee on January 27, 1967.  Nineteen years and a day later, on January 28, 1986, Challenger's 7-person crew died 73 seconds after launch when an O-ring on a solid rocket booster failed.  Seventeen years and four days after that, on February 1, 2003, Columbia's 7-person crew died during their descent to Earth after a 16-day mission when superheated gases entered a hole in Columbia's wing punctured by a piece of foam that fell from the shuttle's External Tank during launch.  NASA has a special Day of Remembrance webpage honoring all of them.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot will lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday and other events will take place at various NASA centers around the country.

In Congress this week, a new version of the NASA Transition Authorization Act is being readied for potential consideration by the Senate.  The Senate passed a 2016 bill in the closing days of the 114th Congress, unfortunately after the House already had completed its legislative business so the bill did not clear Congress.   Members and staff have kept working on it and a 2017 version with some modifications is being circulated.  According to a draft we've seen, there are three especially interesting changes.  One clarifies that the primary consideration for the acquisition strategy for the commercial crew program is to carry U.S. astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) "safely, reliably, and affordably."  Another directs NASA to report to Congress on how the Orion spacecraft can fulfill the provision in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that it be able to serve as a backup to commercial crew, including with use of a launch vehicle other than the Space Launch System.  The third is a finding that NASA has not demonstrated to Congress that the cost of the Asteroid Redirect Mission is commensurate with its benefits, a stronger statement than what was in the 2016 bill.  Discussions are still ongoing, apparently, about potential language regarding best practices for using Space Act Agreements.  The course of legislation is rarely smooth, so there's no guarantee the bill will be introduced and considered this week, but we hear that's the plan.

Also on the Senate side, a vote is scheduled for Tuesday at 12:20 pm ET on the nomination of Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Transportation.  A vote on Wilbur Ross's nomination to be Secretary of Commerce has not been formally scheduled, but is expected this week.

Subject to a rule being granted, the House will take up a completely different piece of legislation this week.  A still unnumbered House Joint Resolution (H. J. Res.) would disapprove of a final rule issued by DOD, NASA and the General Services Administration (GSA) on August 25, 2016 that went into effect on October 25, 2016 to implement Executive Order 13673 regarding Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces.  The resolution is posted on the House Rules Committee's website and states that Congress disapproves of 81 Fed. Reg. 58562 to improve contractor compliance with labor laws.  The House Rules Committee will take it up on Tuesday.  Assuming the rule is granted, the House is scheduled to vote on it on Thursday.

Off the Hill, the American Physical Society is holding its "April Meeting" in January.  It began yesterday and runs through January 31.  Of particular note is a presentation by the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, on Tuesday.  He will talk about "Science and Technology Cooperation as an Effective Bridge for Strengthening Relations Between Russia and the US."   The conference is not focused on space and Kislyak's talk may be quite broad about S&T cooperation, but it would be surprising if the ISS doesn't get mentioned.

Way, way, way off the Hill -- in Vienna, Austria -- the Science and Technology Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) holds its annual two-week meeting beginning tomorrow. 

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

Monday, January 30

Monday-Tuesday, January 30-31 (actually began on January 28)

Monday, January 30 - Friday, February 10

Tuesday, January 31

  • NASA Day of Remembrance, wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, 11:00 am ET, events also at other locations and times

Thursday, February 2

Friday, February 3

Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Bill Makes a Comeback

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2017 (Updated: 15-Jan-2017 03:48 PM)

The House passed a new iteration of the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act on January 9.  H.R. 353 is the latest version of legislation that passed the Senate in the closing days of the 114th Congress, but did not clear the House.  The bill's focus is not on satellites, but several provisions would affect NOAA's satellite activities.

The legislation dates back to 2013 and went through many changes before passing the Senate on December 1, 2016 as H.R. 1561.  That was thought to be a compromise between the House and Senate, combining elements of the version of H.R. 1561 that passed the House on May 19, 2015; S. 1331, the Seasonal Weather Forecasting Act, approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on May 20, 2015; S. 1573, Weather Alerts for a Ready Nation Act, reported from the Senate Commerce Committee on October 19, 2015; and H.R. 34, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act, which passed the House on January 7, 2015 and the Senate (amended) on October 6, 2015.  (Note that H.R. 34 became the legislative vehicle for the 21st Century Cures Act, which recently became law, but does not contain any of the tsunami language.)

Although Senate passage seemed to bode well for the legislation, it turned out that not everyone agreed with the compromise.  House Republicans from Georgia objected to a water resources provision that earlier had been added by Florida Senator Bill Nelson (D) even though Georgia's two Senators had agreed to the bill by unanimous consent.  The Washington Post reported that House leadership removed the language and tried to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but the Senate indicated it would not accept the bill if amended in that manner. The controversial language calls for a study of water resources of the Chattahoochee River, a major water source for Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

Thus, the bill died at the end of the 114th Congress.  It now has been reintroduced as H.R. 353, without the water resources provision.  The question remains as to whether the Senate will agree to this version.   (The new bill also omits the tsunami provisions, which were reintroduced separately as H.R. 312.)

Satellite-related provisions of H.R. 353 require NOAA to do the following:

  • develop and maintain a prioritized list of observation data requirements necessary to ensure weather forecasting capabilities to protect life and property to the maximum extent practicable and utilize Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSEs), Observing System Experiments, Analyses of Alternatives and other assessment tools to continually evaluate observing systems, data and information needed to meet those requirements and identify potential gaps and options to address gaps;
  • undertake OSSEs to quantitatively assess the relative value and benefits of observing capabilities and systems and determine the potential impact of proposed space-based, suborbital, and in situ observing systems on analyses and forecasts;
  • conduct OSSEs prior to the acquisition of government-owned or -leased operational observing systems, including polar orbiting and geostationary satellites with a lifecycle cost of more than $500 million and prior to the purchase of any major new commercially provided data with a lifecycle cost of more than $500 million;
  • complete an OSSE to assess the value of data from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Radio Occultation (RO) within 30 days of enactment of this law;
  • complete an OSSE to assess the value of data from a geostationary hyperspectral sounder global constellation within 120 days of enactment;
  • after completing the OSSEs, make public an assessment of private and public weather data sourcing options, including their availability, affordabilty, and cost-effectiveness;
  • complete and operationalize the COSMIC-1 and COSMIC-2 satellite constellations (joint programs with Taiwan for obtaining GNSS-RO measurements)
  • enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences or another appropriate organization before September 30, 2018 to study future satellite needs;
  • submit a strategy to enable the procurement of quality commercial weather data within 180 days of enactment;
  • publish data and metadata standards and specifications for space-based commercial weather data within 30 days of enactment and enter into at least one pilot contract  within 90 days of enactment, and within 3 years of the contract date, submit a report to Congress on the results;
  • publish data and metadata standards and specifications for geostationary hyperspectral data as soon and possible;
  • if the results of the commercial weather data pilots are successful, obtain commercial weather data from private sector providers where appropriate, cost-effective and feasible, and as early as possible in the acquisition process for future government meteorological satellites, consider whether commercial capabilities could meet those needs; and
  • continue to meet international meteorological agreements, including practices set forth through World Meteorological Organization Resolution 40

The bill authorizes $6 million per year for FY2017-2020 for the commercial weather data pilot program. 

The FY2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act provided $3 million for NOAA to initiate a commercial weather data pilot program and it is progressing already, with two contracts awarded in September 2016.  NOAA requested $5 million for FY2017; Congress has not completed action on FY2017 appropriations bills. 

H.R. 353 is an authorization bill that officially authorizes the activity and recommends future year funding.   (Not sure of the difference between an authorization and an appropriation?  See our "What's a Markup?" Fact Sheet.)

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), vice chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, and has 5 Republican and 1 Democratic co-sponsors. Among the co-sponsors are Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who has chaired the House SS&T's Environment Subcommittee for several years, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), who has been the top Democrat on that subcommittee. Both spoke in favor of the bill during debate on the House floor, as did House SS&T chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) and ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) submitted a statement.  The bill passed the House by voice vote.

What's Happening in Space Policy January 16-20, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Jan-2017 (Updated: 15-Jan-2017 12:05 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 16-20, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.   The Senate will be in session most of the week; the House will be in session only on Friday.

During the Week

The workweek begins on Monday with a federal holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and ends on Friday with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States.  Friday is not a federal holiday, but government offices and many businesses in the Washington, DC area will be closed.  Word of warning if you're coming to DC for any reason this week: the security folks are going to start closing roads on WEDNESDAY in preparation for Friday's inaugural activities.  Federal workers in DC are being encouraged by the Office of Personnel Management to telework Wednesday and Thursday because it's going to be very difficult to get around town those days, never mind Friday or Saturday (when protests will continue, including the Women's March on Washington). 

Trump will be sworn in at noon on Friday (January 20) and at that point President Obama's political appointees lose their jobs unless they've been specifically asked to stay on.  At NASA, Administrator Charlie Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman are leaving, and Robert Lightfoot, the top NASA civil servant, will become Acting Administrator.   (Lightfoot will be speaking at the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD on Tuesday.)   Another Obama political appointee, Chief Financial Officer David Radzanowski, has been ask to stay for a while, however.  We're trying to get information from NOAA on who will be in charge there at 12:01 pm ET. 

No announcements have been made by the Trump transition team as to who they plan to put in place permanently at NASA or NOAA, although there are widespread rumors that Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is a top candidate for NASA Administrator.  He has been very active legislatively in DOD, NOAA, and FAA space issues (he chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee), but not much with NASA.  He is an advocate of creating a legal and regulatory environment that facilitates the emergence of new commercial space activities, expanding the role of the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation to include non-military space situational awareness and authorizing in-space activities (not just launch and reentry), and promoting public private partnerships.  He spearheaded the creation of the commercial weather data pilot programs at NOAA and DOD, but stresses they are in addition to, not instead of, the government's own weather satellites.  His is not the only name circulating as potential Administrator, and he also has been mentioned as a candidate for Secretary of the Air Force, however, so this is not a sure bet.  Stay tuned.

At DOD, Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Ash Carter and Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James (and presumably the other service secretaries) are leaving.  Trump has announced plans to nominate Gen. James Mattis (USMC, Ret.), 66, as SecDef and the Senate Armed Services Committee has already held his nomination hearing.  Space activities did not come up during the open hearing.  The committee gave him a set of written questions in advance and four were about space, but were not very newsworthy (they are posted on the committee's website).  The Senate and House passed legislation last week allowing him to serve as SecDef even though he retired only 3 years ago and the law requires a 7-year separation.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill, clearing the way for Mattis to be confirmed as soon as Trump takes office.  Literally.  Confirmation votes are expected in the Senate Friday afternoon. 

The Senate will continue confirmation hearings this week.  Among them are the hearing for Wilbur Ross Jr. to be Secretary of Commerce.  The 79-year old billionaire is an investor, company turn-around specialist, and former banker.  What views he may hold on NOAA or its satellite activities are unknown.  Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee held the nomination hearing for Elaine Chao, 63, to be Secretary of Transportation and it was clear she was not yet up to speed on that department's space-related responsibilities.   Which is hardly surprising in either case.  Both Commerce and Transportation have very broad portfolios. Space is a minor part of what they do.

By the end of the week, Mattis, Ross and Chao are likely to be confirmed by the Senate for their new positions. Though some of Trump's nominee-designates are controversial, these three do not seem to be among them.  Chao has experience in leading federal agencies already, having served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush.  Mattis has a long and distinguished military career and was most recently Commander of U.S. Central Command, so clearly has strong leadership skills, but has not run a federal agency.  Rumors are that Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work is being asked to stay for a few months to ease the transition.  Ross has led businesses, but has no prior government experience (which is not uncommon for Cabinet-level positions).  It is interesting to note that outgoing Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker recommended in her "exit memo" that the Commerce Department be "streamlined" into a "Department of Business" as President Obama proposed in 2012, with NOAA and other parts of Commerce transferred elsewhere (NOAA would have gone to the Department of the Interior).  With his business focus, one wonders if Ross might advocate for the same thing.

Frank Kendall, the outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, will give his final speech in that position on Tuesday at CSIS where he will talk about (and sign) his new book "Getting Defense Acquisition Right."  Will be interesting to hear what he says about acquisition of space systems, which is expected to be a major topic in Congress this year.  The event will be webcast.

On Wednesday, NASA and NOAA will release the latest annual data on global temperatures and discuss the most important climate trends of 2016.  That will be done via a media teleconference call.  Anyone may listen and see the associated graphics on the NASA Live website (formerly NASA News Audio).

European Space Agency (ESA) Director General Jan Woerner will hold his annual press breakfast at ESA HQ in Paris on Wednesday morning.  It's a bit early in the United States (3:00-5:00 am Eastern), but ESA often posts the webcast for later viewing on its website.

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

Monday, January 16

  • U.S. Federal Holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

Tuesday, January 17

Wednesday, January 18

Wednesday-Friday, January 18-20

Friday, January 20