Space Law News
House and Senate budget conferees tasked with reaching a budget deal by December 13 surprised many not only by reaching agreement at all, but a few days early.
House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) announced today a two-year (FY2014-2015) budget agreement that replaces the sequester and sets government spending approximately mid-way between the amounts earlier approved separately by the House and Senate. The total amount of government spending recommended for FY2014 in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 is $1.012 trillion. The House had approved $967 billion while the Senate approved $1.058 trillion.
How those figures filter down to the 12 appropriations subcommittees and the individual agencies -- like DOD, NASA and NOAA -- they fund remains to be seen, but the fact that agreement was reached at all is a positive sign. Senate Appropriations Committee chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) lauded the agreement, saying it means "we can meet national security needs while meeting compelling human needs like education, health and housing." Mikulski's House counterpart, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY), similarly praised the deal, saying it took "courage and resolve."
The budget conferees had a December 13 deadline based on the agreement that reopened government in October. Few expected they would meet that deadline, much less beat it. The House and Senate still must agree to its recommendations. Then the House and Senate appropriations committees must agree on how to allocate those funds and get the approval of their respective chambers. That step must happen before January 15, 2014 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.
While the agreement is good news on gridlocked Capitol Hill, it is only for two years rather than 10, does not raise the debt limit (the current agreement on that expires on February 7), and does not reform either entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid or the tax code. If approved by the House and Senate, however, it should avoid another government shutdown and provide a framework for the appropriations committees to make funding decisions for two fiscal years.
The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees announced today that their committees, at least, have reached compromise on the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House passed its version in June, but the Senate version got stuck in partisan debate over amendments when it was brought to the floor for a vote just before Thanksgiving.
Republican House Armed Services Committees (HASC) chairman Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Democratic Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) held a press conference today and released a fact sheet spelling out key aspects of the agreement. While it is only between the committees at this point and does not ensure the bill will clear Congress by the end of this week, it could speed the process along. The House currently plans to adjourn for the rest of the year on Friday.
The annual defense authorization bill is one of the few authorization bills that always clears Congress despite the depth of political gridlock. It enjoys a 51-year record of success because members of both parties on both sides of Capitol Hill consider defense issues to be such a high priority. Nonetheless, with the clock ticking, concern has been growing that this year might be the exception.
The plan apparently is for the House to pass the compromise bill this week before it leaves town and the Senate to pass it next week. However, that would mean no changes could be made in the Senate since the House no longer will be in session to approve a revised version. That could be a risky strategy since many Senators had amendments they wanted to offer to the SASC version of the bill. That was the main obstacle in getting it through the Senate last month. Still, if enough people want a bill, even one that is far from perfect, it could work. Or if there were relatively minor changes, it is conceivable that the House could reconvene to consider an amended version, perhaps hoping to pass it by voice vote so not all members would need to return to town.
In any case, the nine page fact sheet makes several statements about certain national security space issues, but provides little other detail. Under the heading Accountability for Vital Strategic Programs and Assets, it says:
Although the fact sheet does not provide details, the third bullet probably refers to the debate over whether monitor stations for Russia's GLONASS navigation satellite system should be placed in the United States as proposed by the State Department but opposed by DOD and CIA.
The bill would fund DOD at $552.1 billion for FY2014, plus another $80.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (e.g. the war in Afghanistan).
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate both are in session.
During the Week
The House is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday; the Senate plans to be here one more week after that. If those schedules hold, this is the last week in 2013 that they both will be in session and thus able to get legislation passed and to the White House. Many Senators say that of all the pending legislation, they really want to get the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed, but they didn't make much progress before the Thanksgiving break because of partisan disputes over amendments. The House passed its version in June. This is the one authorization bill that always gets through no matter how tough the political times -- a 51-year record. Will this year be the exception?
Friday, December 13, is not only the last scheduled day for the House to meet this year, but is also the deadline for the budget conference committee to reach agreement on federal funding for FY2014, at least. The conference committee was created as part of the deal to reopen the government in October and even at the time few were optimistic it would meet that deadline. Nothing has changed.
Lots of interesting events this week, including a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on "weather readiness" that includes Tom Young reporting on his Independent Review Team that is watching over NOAA's weather satellite programs. That's on Thursday at 10:30 am. Note that It's not in the committee's regular hearing room in the Russell Building, but in G-50 Dirksen. The previous day, a House subcommittee will hold a hearing on "A Factual Look at the Relationship Between Climate and Weather." The witnesses have not been announced yet, so it's not clear how much if any of that deals with satellite issues.
Separately, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee may resume its markup of the bill that affects how NASA handles termination liability for its major human spaceflight programs (SLS, Orion and ISS). The committee approved three bills on Thursday, but when it came to this one, chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said more time was needed for Republicans and Democrats to work out their differences so the bill has bipartisan support. He tentatively set Tuesday at 2:00 pm EST to resume the markup, but it is not definite. At stake is how $507 million in the hands of contractors will be spent -- to execute the programs or held in reserve in case the government terminates the contracts.
Across the country in San Francisco all week, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) annual meeting is certain to be chock full of fascinating scientific findings. Many press conferences are scheduled and will be livestreamed. We created a list of those that are probably most interesting to the space community, but the full list is on the AGU website, so you can pick your own. That website has a tab labeled "Webstreaming." Click on that to listen in.
Meanwhile, the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and several of its committees are meeting down in Florida, at Kennedy Space Center. NASA is restructuring NAC, getting rid of three committees and merging a fourth (Commercial Space) into one of the remaining committees. The way NASA and NAC chairman Steve Squyres describe the situation it's a done deal, but there might be some discussion of why the decision was made and its implications. NAC itself meets on Wednesday and Thursday. The NAC meeting and most NAC committee meetings are available via WebEx and telecom. See our calendar entries for instructions on how to tune in. NASA has not posted an agenda for the NAC meeting yet. Hopefully it will before the meeting takes place. If so, it should be posted on the NAC website.
Those and many more meetings of interest are in the list below. These are the ones we know of as of Sunday morning. We're posting this a bit early today because there's a nasty ice storm coming this afternoon and there's a chance of losing power, so we wanted to get this up on the website before anything bad happens.
Monday, December 9
Monday-Tuesday, December 9-10
Monday-Friday, December 9-13
Tuesday, December 10
Tuesday-Wednesday, December 10-11
Wednesday, December 11
Wednesday-Thursday, December 11-12
Thursday, December 12
Friday, December 13
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has decided to significantly restructure the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), which provides independent external advice to the agency. Three of the NAC's eight committees will be eliminated, including the Education and Public Outreach Committee, and the activities of a fourth -- the Commercial Space Committee -- will be merged with another.
NASA just renewed the NAC charter in October, making only minor changes to the number of times a year it meets (three instead of four) and reducing its level of funding. That renewal kept the same committees NAC has had since Bolden became Administrator: Aeronautics; Audit, Finance, and Analysis; Commercial Space; Education and Public Outreach; Human Exploration and Operations; Information Technology Infrastructure; Science; and Technology and Innovation.
A blog post by NAC Chairman Steve Squyres posted on NASA's website reveals a decision to eliminate three committees: Audit, Finance, and Analysis; Education and Public Outreach; and IT Infrastructure. Squyres distinguishes between the elimination of those three committees and the fate of the Commercial Space Committee, which he describes as being "merged" with the Human Exploration and Operations Committee.
The new committee lineup will be:
NAC will also set up two task forces -- one on STEM Education and another Big Data. They will have "a focused task and limited duration."
NAC reports to the NASA Administrator and every iteration of the NAC structure and membership reflects each Administrator's personal preferences on how he obtains advice. During Bolden's tenure, the membership of NAC has been the NAC chairman plus the chairs of the eight NAC committees he created. (The chairs of the National Research Council's Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are ex officio members of NAC as well.)
Now, with only five committees, several 'at-large' members will be added. They are to provide "strategic insight and expert advice across the work of the entire Agency" according to Squyres.
Squyres says the decision was made after "a recent internal review" by Bolden. "The restructuring process ... will begin immediately and will be fully realized over the next several months. As Chairman of NAC, I'm looking forward to putting this new structure in place."
NAC's next meeting is at Kennedy Space Center, FL on December 11-12. A detailed agenda has not yet been posted, but an overall agenda posted in the Federal Register shows that it will discuss topics in each of the areas of the original eight committees except for commercial space.
This article has been corrected since its original publication. See note at end.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House is in session. The Senate is in recess, scheduled to return next week.
During the Week
Tomorrow (Monday), the House is scheduled to vote on the bill (H.R. 3547) to extend third party liability indemnification for one year. It is the first of three bills to be considered under suspension of the rules. The House meets at 2:00 pm ET, but votes are postponed until 6:00 pm.
Also tomorrow, SpaceX may try again to launch the SES-8 communications satellite. Three attempts on Monday, November 25, and two on Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) didn't succeed for various reasons. The company has not officially announced a new launch date and time, saying only that Monday is the earliest it will go. The launch window is open from 5:41 - 7:07 pm ET if they are, indeed, ready to try again. A lot is riding on the success of this launch.
Also during the week, hopefully members of the budget conference committee will be trying to find a solution to the nation's deficit situation so the FY2014 budget, at least, can be finalized even if they cannot reach agreement on a long term solution. Whatever hope there was -- and it wasn't much -- is fading, however, as the committee's December 13 deadline nears. December 13 is also the last day the House is scheduled to be in session for this year. Since the Senate does not return until December 9, there is little time for anything to happen. The current Continuing Resolution expires on January 15, 2014, the day that another round of sequester cuts takes effect if Congress does not act to stop it. The story hasn't changed -- no one likes the sequester, but no agreement appears achievable on an alternative because Democrats want to reduce the deficit through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases while Republicans want only spending cuts.
Many House committees are holding hearings on Obamacare this week, but the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will have one on a more uplifting subject -- astrobiology -- on Wednesday.
Those and other events we know of as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday, December 2
Tuesday, December 3
Tuesday-Wednesday, December 3-4
Wednesday, December 4
Wednesday-Thursday, December 4-5
Thursday, December 5
Friday, December 6
CORRECTION: In an earlier version, we mistakenly listed the WSBR luncheon with Stephane Israel for December 4. Instead it was December 3. Our apologies.
The Obama White House released today the long awaited update of the National Space Transportation Policy.
The President produced a National Space Policy in 2010, just 17 months after taking office, but updates of other national space policies promulgated by previous administrations have languished. Rumors were rampant just about one year ago that this policy was about to be released. The reasons for the delay until now are unclear and may be as simple as a lack of priority and/or interest at the White House.
In any case, the updated policy is now out, along with a fact sheet, on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's website. NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden called it a "bold vision for space" on his blog.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
NASA's launch of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission on Monday at 1:28 pm ET should start the week off on a high note. Weather permitting, that is. The forecast is for a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions. The odds get worse on Tuesday and all fingers are crossed that the Atlas V will lift off sometime during the 2-hour launch window tomorrow (until 3:28 pm ET) and MAVEN will start the 10-month journey to Mars on time. NASA TV begins launch coverage at 11:00 am ET. A post-launch press conference is scheduled for approximately 2.5 hours after launch.
Also on Monday, the Senate is scheduled to try to begin debate on its version of the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill, S. 1197, was approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on June 14.
The American Astronautical Society is hosting a panel discussion on international cooperation in space featuring officials from NASA and the Japanese, Canadian and European space agencies. The meeting is on Tuesday in 2325 Rayburn from 11:30 am - 1:30 pm.
The next day and just down the hall in 2318 Rayburn, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on commercial space, with witnesses from the Satellite Industry Association and the Mojave Air and Space Port, but the appearances of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Dennis Tito, often called the first space tourist and now the man behind the Inspiration Mars concept of sending two people on a slingshot trajectory to Mars in 2018, are likely to draw the most attention. McCarthy's district includes Mojave.
Also on Wednesday, NASA is set to resume the Asteroid Initiative workshop that was interrupted on September 30 because of the government shut-down. It is scheduled for Wednesday-Friday back at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
Here's the full list of events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, November 17.
Monday, November 18
Monday-Wednesday, November 18-20
Monday-Friday, November 18-22
Tuesday, November 19
Tuesday-Wednesday, November 19-20
Tuesday-Thursday, November 19-21
Wednesday, November 20
Wednesday-Friday, November 20-22
The New York Times (NYT) carries an interesting story today about an ongoing debate within U.S. policy circles about whether to allow Russia to install monitor stations for its GLONASS navigation satellite system on U.S. soil to improve its accuracy. The debate pits the State Department, which reportedly wants to say yes, against the U.S. defense and intelligence communities, which object to the idea. A government advisory board on U.S. and foreign navigation satellite systems was briefed on this topic in May and no questions appear to have been raised.
GLONASS is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. GPS system. The use of GPS is pervasive not only in the United States, but around the world and other countries are building their own systems. GPS and GLONASS are formally called positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellites. When fully operational, each system consists of a constellation of 24 satellites that provide three-dimensional (latitude, longitude, altitude) data anywhere on Earth as well as very precise timing signals. The term Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) is used to refer to these systems generically. In addition to the U.S. GPS and Russia's GLONASS, two other GNSS systems are under development -- China's Beidou and Europe's Galileo. Japan and India are developing regional systems (QZSS and IRNSS, respectively).
The gist of the debate reported by the NYT is that the accuracy of GNSS systems depends on reference stations around the globe that detect even slight changes in each satellite's orbit so data can be corrected and measurements kept extremely accurate. Russia wants to emplace some of these reference, or monitor, stations on U.S. territory. The NYT story says the State Department wants to permit Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, to build monitor stations here to "help mend the Obama administration's relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir" after Russia gave asylum to Edward Snowden. The story continues that the CIA and the Defense Department "are waging a campaign" to stop it for fear it will give Russia "a foothold on American territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow's satellite-steered weapons" and "give the Russians an opening to snoop on the United States within its borders." It quotes the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), as wondering "why the United States would be interested in enabling a GPS competitor, like Russian Glonass [sic], when the world's reliance on GPS is a clear advantage to the United States on multiple levels."
The NYT says Russian and American negotiators last met on April 25.
A SpacePolicyOnline.com review of the minutes of the most recent (May 7-8, 2013) meeting of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Advisory Board, which provides independent advice to the government about GPS/GNSS issues, found many discussions of GLONASS in a variety of contexts. Among them was a briefing by Dave Turner, Deputy Director of the State Department's Office of Space and Advanced Technology. One of his slides clearly states that U.S. objectives in working with other countries' systems is to "ensure compatibility," "achieve interoperability," and "promote fair competition in the global marketplace." Those objectives will be pursued through "bilateral and multilateral cooperation." According to the minutes, he told the Board that discussions with Russia on those topics "began in 1996 and currently involve the potential of hosting of GLONASS ground monitoring and laser tracking stations on U.S. territory." The minutes, which appear to be quite detailed, indicate no questions from or comments by Board members on that point.
The Board is chaired by James Schlesinger, who has held many high-level government jobs including Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA and is now chairman of the MITRE Corporation. The Board's Vice Chair is Stanford's Brad Parkinson, who is considered the "father" of GPS. Its next meeting is scheduled for December 4-5, 2013 in Washington, DC.
On the same day NASA and its commercial cargo partners gave themselves a pat on the back for completing the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) development program, NASA's Inspector General issued a report warning about obstacles ahead for COTS's cousin, the commercial crew program.
During a press conference yesterday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden presented awards to the leaders of the NASA, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation teams that successfully implemented the development of SpaceX's Falcon 9/Dragon and Orbital's Antares/Cygnus cargo space transportation systems through the COTS program. The COTS program has now ended and NASA is purchasing services from the two companies using those systems under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. NASA's Alan Lindenmoyer and Phil McAlister, SpaceX's Gwynne Shotwell and Orbital's Frank Culbertson lauded the public-private partnership that created that success while the Aerospace Industries Association's Frank Slazer highlighted the importance of the effort to the U.S. space industrial base and utilization of the International Space Station (ISS).
As Bolden mentioned, COTS -- usually called commercial cargo -- dates back to the George W. Bush Administration and he credited the leadership of both the Bush and Obama administrations in seeing COTS through to its successful conclusion. The question is whether the commercial crew program will see similar success.
The Bush Administration's decision to terminate the space shuttle after construction of the ISS was completed meant that alternatives were needed to take cargo and crews to and from ISS. In 2006, then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin initiated the COTS program to solve the cargo problem. The idea was that NASA would provide some, but not all, of the funding for two companies in competition to develop their own space transportation systems to deliver cargo to the ISS. NASA would serve as one market for those services with the expectation that the companies would find other markets as well. Thus the government and the private sector would be partners in developing these capabilities.
Using the same approach to develop systems to take crews to and from ISS -- "commercial crew" -- was considered at the time, but not pursued vigorously. The Bush Administration was committed to operating ISS only until 2015 or 2016, and NASA planned to use the Ares 1 rocket and Orion spacecraft it was developing under the Constellation program to fulfill those needs. When the Obama Administration canceled Constellation in 2010, it put all its eggs into the commercial crew basket. Three companies -- SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada -- are now working on commercial crew systems. NASA hopes that two of them will succeed so there is competition and redundancy in providing those services beginning in 2017.
Just as there was a lot of skepticism about commercial cargo (and to some extent there still is in terms of whether the business case will close), there are many critics of commercial crew. NASA has been unable to convince Congress to provide the level of funding the agency needs to help ensure that two companies will make it through the development phase. Some in Congress are pressuring the agency to choose just one company to support, but NASA insists that competition and redundancy are highly desirable. For FY2014, NASA is requesting $821 million. The House Appropriations Committee recommended $500 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $700 million.
The report from NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) pointed to the funding uncertainty as one of several obstacles confronting the commercial crew program. The report gives credit to the three commercial crew companies for "successfully executing their spaceflight development efforts," but concluded NASA faces four "significant challenges":
The OIG did not make any recommendations on the issue of unstable funding, but noted that for FY2011-2013, NASA received only 38 percent of its requested funding for the program, resulting in a delay from FY2015 to FY2017 of the first expected commercial crew flight. "The combination of a future flat-funded profile and lower-than-expected levels of funding over the past 3 years may delay the first crewed flight beyond 2017 and closer to 2020, the current expected end of the operational life of the ISS." The report includes the following table showing NASA's successive 5-year budget projections for the commercial crew program beginning in FY2009.
Table 3: Commercial Crew Program Budget Requests by FY (Dollars in millions)
At the COTS press briefing, Bolden said "the completion of COTS is simply a passing of the torch of innovation to our partners in the commercial crew program" and called on Congress to provide the needed funding so flights could begin in 2017.
As for the other challenges, the OIG report recommended that -
The report says that NASA and the Associate Administrator agreed with the recommendations.
The following events may be of interest in the week ahead. Once again we are defining the "week" to last through next Sunday since there are MAVEN-related activities that day before our next edition of this series is out. The House and Senate are in session beginning Tuesday (Monday is a federal holiday--Veterans Day).
During the Week
The list of events this week is so long and chock full of interesting activities that it's tough to choose just one or two to highlight.
Our top picks include Tuesday's "Beyond Earth: Removing Barriers to Deep Space Exploration" panel of officials from NASA and its major contractors, coupled with Friday's "Space Exploration: How and Why?" with a panel of former NASA and "New Space" folks. The Friday panel includes former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver (now General Manager of the Air Line Pilots Association), former NASA Comptroller and former NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Steve Isakowtiz (now President of Virgin Galactic), another former NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Laurie Leshin (now Dean of Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria (now President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation). Should be interesting to compare the different perspectives. Both panels are being held in Washington, DC. Tuesday's is at the Newseum; Friday's at the National Press Club. Click on the links below for more details.
Another interesting event is Wednesday evening's Earth from Space at the U.S. Naval Memorial in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Astronautical Society. Former astronaut Piers Sellers, now at Goddard Space Flight Center, will introduce a condensed version of NOVA's film Earth from Space. After the film, Sellers and other experts in earth observation from space will participate in a panel discussion. Unlike many evening business events in D.C., this time the reception is AFTER the film and panel discussion. The film starts at 6:00 pm ET and doors open at 5:30 so you can be in your seats on time!
The National Research Council is kicking off a NASA-sponsored study this week on "A Framework for Analyzing the Needs for Continuity of NASA-Sustained Remote Sensing Observations of the Earth from Space." That's quite a mouthful so we just call it "Continuity of Remote Sensing from Space." On Tuesday afternoon, agency reps (NASA, NOAA, USGS) and possibly Peter Collohan from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (listed as "invited") will tell the committee what they want the study to focus on.
Also on the space-based earth observation front, former astronaut Kathy Sullivan's nomination to be Administrator of NOAA is rescheduled for action before the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday. It had been scheduled for October 3, but was postponed because of the government shutdown. Sullivan is currently acting NOAA Administrator.
Lots and lots of other interesting events on tap, though. Pick YOUR favorites!
Monday-Friday, November 11-15
Tuesday, November 12
Tuesday-Wednesday, November 12-13
Tuesday-Thursday, November 12-14
Wednesday, November 13
Wednesday-Thursday, November 13-14
Thursday, November 14
Friday, November 15
Sunday, November 17