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Mikulski Announces Retirement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Mar-2015 (Updated: 02-Mar-2015 06:19 PM)

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) announced today that this will be her last term in the Senate.   One of NASA and NOAA's strongest supporters, her departure in 2016 will mark the end of an era.

Mikulski is currently the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and on its Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.  In the last Congress, when Democrats controlled the Senate, she chaired both the full committee and the subcommittee, the first woman to hold the Appropriations gavel at the full committee level on either side of Capitol Hill.

There is little doubt that her strong support of the civil space program is founded on the location of major space companies and government agencies in her home state of Maryland.   NOAA headquarters is in Silver Spring, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is in Greenbelt, and Lockheed Martin is headquartered in Bethesda to name a few.   NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is in neighboring Virginia on the DelMarVa (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula, but many of its workers live in Maryland and Wallops is managed by Goddard Space Flight Center.  Mikulski herself jokes that when someone comes to her asking for funding she asks three questions: "What does this do for the Nation?," "What does this do for Maryland?," and "What did you say again this does for Maryland"?

Her support is not unconditional, however.  She has been one of NOAA's harshest critics over the years on its management of weather satellite programs after the NPOESS overruns that led to its cancellation and early indications that the successor JPSS program was headed in the same direction.  Just last week she sternly told Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker at a hearing on the FY2016 NOAA budget request that she would be closely watching the Department's management of JPSS and the Polar Follow On program NOAA is requesting this year.  She also called NASA to task for the skyrocketing overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) several years ago and demanded an independent review (the Casani report), which led to a development cost cap of $8 billion set by law.  The agreement seems to have sealed her support and last year she enthusiastically told an audience at Goddard Space Flight Center (where JWST is managed) that "I saved you from the Tea Party."

This is her fifth term in the Senate, which followed a decade in the House of Representatives representing Baltimore, MD.  She was the first Democratic woman Senator elected to the Senate in her own right and one of only two women in the Senate when she took office there in 1987.  Today, there are 20.  She is the longest serving woman in the U.S. Congress.   In announcing her retirement among her constituents in East Baltimore today, she said she had thought long and hard about how she wanted to spend the next two years "fighting to keep my job or fighting for your job,"  "raising money or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs,"  "focusing on my election or the next generation."  She said she chose "to give you 120 percent of my time with all of my energy focused on you and your future."

Although her passion is serving her constituents, she also seems to be genuinely interested in NASA's science programs in particular.  For the past several years she has been paired with Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) on the CJS subcommittee, an advocate of human spaceflight, giving NASA a strong foundation of support across its portfolio on that crucially important panel.   Her departure two years from now will leave quite a void,

What's Happening in Space Policy March 2-6, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Mar-2015 (Updated: 01-Mar-2015 02:11 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of March 2-6, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session.

During the Week

A passel of congressional hearings are on tap this week on the FY2016 budget requests for NASA, DOD, the Department of Commerce (including NOAA) and the Department of Transportation (including FAA).   Most congressional hearings are webcast on the respective committee's website.  The exceptions are hearings held in the Capitol where, unfortunately, the House Appropriations CJS subcommittee holds many of its hearings.   Its hearings this week on the Department of Commerce budget request and on NASA's budget request are a case in point.   One must be physically present in the tiny room (H-309 Capitol) to hear the discussion.  All the other hearings this week should be webcast, however.

For those already weary of Washington politics or just looking for something uplifting, tomorrow's (Monday's) briefing on Dawn's impending arrival at Ceres should be fun.  The intrepid spacecraft, which already sent back fascinating data about the asteroid Vesta, will arrive at Ceres on March 6.  The briefing is at JPL and will be webcast on JPL's Ustream channel and NASA TV.  We haven't seen an announcement about coverage on March 6 itself, but will post whatever information comes our way later this week.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Monday, March 2

Tuesday, March 3

Wednesday, March 4

Thursday, March 5

AF Secretary James Not Sure 2019 is Doable for RD-180 Replacement

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Feb-2015 (Updated: 25-Feb-2015 10:49 PM)

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James added a dose of reality today to projections about when an American-made rocket engine could replace Russia's RD-180s for the Atlas V rocket.  During testimony, she said that meeting the congressional mandate to have a new engine by 2019 may not be doable.  Her experts tell her it will take 6-8 years to get a new engine and another 1-2 years to integrate it into a launch vehicle.  

James spoke before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee (SAC-D) on the Air Force FY2016 budget request along with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III.  The two are scheduled to testify to the House counterpart subcommittee (HAC-D) on Friday. 

The issue really is about developing a new propulsion system, of which an engine is a part, but "engine" is commonly used as shorthand.

The deterioration in U.S.-Russian relationships beginning last year because of Russia's action in Ukraine highlighted how dependent the United States is on Russian technology to launch U.S. national security satellites.   The United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V and Delta IV rockets -- referred to as Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs ) -- launch almost all of them, and the Atlas V is powered by Russia's RD-180 engine.   The issue figured prominently in a number of hearings last year and Air Force officials, including Gen. William Shelton, then head of Air Force Space Command, rued the prospect of losing those engines.  Still, Shelton and others eventually accepted that the time had come for the United States to develop its own comparable liquid rocket engine.

The FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 113-291) and its accompanying explanatory statement direct DOD to develop a new U.S. propulsion system by 2019 "using full and open competition." The law authorizes $220 million and notes it "is not an authorization of funds for development of a new launch vehicle."  Section 608 of the law prohibits the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) from "awarding or renewing a contract for the procurement of property or services" under the EELV program if the contract involves "rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation."  The only exceptions are the EELV contract awarded to ULA on December 18, 2013 or unless the SecDef certifies that the offeror can demonstrate that it fully paid for or entered into a legally binding contract for such engines prior to February 1, 2014.

The FY2015 Defense Appropriations Act (Division C of P.L. 113-235) followed suit, appropriating the same $220 million as was authorized "to accelerate rocket propulsion system development with a target demonstration date of fiscal year 2019."  It directs the Air Force, in consultation with NASA, "to develop an affordable, innovative, and competitive strategy ... that includes an assessment of the potential benefits and challenges of using public-private partnerships, innovative teaming arrangements, and small business considerations."

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and James engaged in two exchanges about the RD-180 today.  Shelby noted that the President's FY2016 request is only for $84 million.  "It's also my understanding that developing an RD-180 replacement engine and the associated launch vehicle and launch pad can cost anywhere from $1 billion to more than $3 billion and take perhaps 7 to 10 years to develop," Shelby said.  James replied that technical experts have advised her that "It's 6 to 8 years ... for a newly designed engine and then an additional 1 to 2 years on top of that to be able to integrate the engine into the launch vehicle."  As for cost, "I've seen $2 billion," James said.

James asked that Congress clarify what it wants, because the 2019 deadline is "pretty aggressive" and "I'm not sure 2019 is doable."  She also stressed that they want "at least two" domestic engines "because we want competition of course."

Shelby also revealed that DOD's General Counsel "may" interpret the Section 608 language contrary to congressional intent resulting in a "capability gap for certain launches" and eliminating "real competition."  James explained that the General Counsel is trying to interpret several different provisions of law that may or may not have had the same intent, but said the point she wanted to stress is that "virtually everybody" agrees that the United States should be less reliant on Russia.  The question is how to accomplish that:  "We don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face."

The two also discussed certification of "new entrants." a reference to SpaceX, which has been attempting to obtain certification from the Air Force so it can compete against ULA for these types of national security launches.

ULA manufactures the Atlas V and Delta IV in Decatur, Alabama, Shelby's home state.  Shelby talked about the virtues of competition, but, without mentioning SpaceX by name, said "some of these so-called companies that are planning to compete, and we'd like for them to compete, they have had several mishaps" compared to ULA.  James replied that every developmental program has mishaps and "I'm quite sure they're going to get there from here."

ULA is jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.  At yesterday's hearing before the Space, Science and Competitiveness subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee, Boeing's John Elbon also urged a "thoughtful" approach to the transition from the RD-180 to a U.S. engine and keeping the pipeline of engines open as long as possible rather setting a hard cut-off date.

Meanwhile, ULA announced last fall that it is partnering with Blue Origin to develop the BE-4 rocket engine as an RD-180 replacement.  ULA and Blue Origin said at the time that the project is fully paid for and not in need of government funding.

First Cruz Space Hearing Inquisitive, Not Confrontational

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 25-Feb-2015 (Updated: 25-Feb-2015 12:30 PM)

Sen. Ted Cruz’s first hearing as chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees NASA and commercial space activities was politely inquisitive and not confrontational as some expected.  Cruz (R-TX), a leading Tea Party activist, is a relative unknown quantity on space issues.  The hearing exhibited that he is an advocate of U.S. leadership in space, ending U.S. reliance on Russia, and supporter of commercial space.

As is typical, few Senators attended yesterday’s hearing before the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.  Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the top Democrat (Ranking Member) on the subcommittee, and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), were there only briefly because they also serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where Secretary of State John Kerry was testifying at the same time.  (Ironically, Gardner unseated Udall’s cousin, Mark Udall, for that Colorado Senate seat in last year’s election.)

Cruz chaired the hearing for the full duration and was joined for most of it by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was the chairman of this subcommittee in the last Congress when Democrats controlled the Senate.  Nelson is now Ranking Member of the full committee.  Cruz was the Ranking Member on the subcommittee in the last Congress, so the two have worked together on these topics in the past as well as on other committees and rarely see eye to eye.   In this case, however, Cruz’s opening statement was a pep talk about the space program full of familiar themes about the need for U.S. leadership in space and ending U.S. dependence on Russia.  Nelson noted the similarities in their views on those subjects, at least, and the two bantered about how the fact that they agreed on something could be used against them in future political campaigns.

The hearing broke little new ground, but sparked interesting dialogue.  One panel of former astronauts offered the usual hopes of human trips to Mars coupled with familiar warnings that NASA’s budget needs to grow to accomplish such a goal.  A second panel of industry and academic experts offered perspectives on commercial space, U.S. leadership, future human spaceflight destinations, and preferences in reauthorizing the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA).

The first panel was comprised of three former astronauts:  Apollo 7’s Walter Cunningham, Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin (the second man to walk on the Moon), and space shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino.   The second panel was Boeing’s John Elbon, George Washington University’s Scott Pace, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation’s Eric Stallmer.

Cruz is a vocal climate change skeptic and concerns were widely expressed in the space community when he became chairman of this subcommittee that he would use his position to try to restrict funding for NASA’s earth science research.  Cunningham is also a climate change skeptic and his inclusion on the panel fueled expectations that the hearing would focus on that topic.  In fact, however, climate change barely arose and only in response to a question from Udall to Massimino about whether he agreed that NASA should remain a multi-mission agency including funding programs for earth observation.   Massimino discoursed about how the International Space Station is a great “perch” for viewing Earth and his belief that if NASA can help with any of the problems facing the country and the world, it should.

Except for his opening statement, Cruz kept his own views to himself and asked thought provoking questions that allowed the witnesses an opportunity to share their perspectives.

Cruz’s key messages in that statement were:  NASA needs to get back to its “core priorities” of exploring space; the United States should be the leader in space; SLS and Orion are critical to exploring space “whether it is Moon, Mars or beyond” (omitting mention of asteroids); U.S. dependence on Russia for access to ISS is “unacceptable” and it is “imperative” that we be able to get to the ISS without the Russians; the commercial crew program is “critical” to ending U.S. dependence on Russia; and the United States should be able to launch national security satellites without Russian engines.  He said he is encouraged by progress on commercial cargo and crew, but “maximum efficiency and expedition” are needed, and he will be an “enthusiastic advocate of competition and the enabling of the private sector to compete and innovate.”   He ended by saying “There is no limit to human imagination or desire for exploration …. America has always led the way in space exploration and we need to reclaim that leadership.”

Interesting tidbits from the hearing include the following:

  • Gardner, the freshman Senator from Colorado, wrote to NASA when he was 9 (in 1983) because he wanted to be an astronaut.  He brought along with him to the hearing the letter that NASA wrote in response encouraging him to study hard and so forth.  He noted that since then he has lived through the space shuttle program and, seeing it end, wondered if NASA is still capturing the imagination of today’s youth. 
  • The first panel was asked for their thoughts about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).  Massimino said that an incremental approach to future human spaceflight is needed and, whatever it is, the key is to be consistent, keep options open, and keep momentum going.   Cunningham said that whatever we do will be expensive and unless Congress decides to increase NASA’s budget “this is just talk.”  Aldrin said “you can fly it the way it is, you can cancel it, or you can do something smart in between” and offered an alternative where a robotic probe as well as a crew would travel to an asteroid in its native orbit.  The crew, including scientists and asteroid mining and robotic experts, would spend 60 days there (as part of a one-year trip). 
  • Aldrin explained in great detail his plan for human exploration of Mars using “cyclers” (described in his written statement).  He and students at Purdue are studying some of the details and he expects the report to be completed in April.  He proposes that “most” crews remain on Mars building a permanent settlement, with only some returning to Earth.
  • Aldrin offered his view that the United States and China should cooperate in space and noted that this summer is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) and just as the United States and Soviet Union found a way to cooperate on that mission during the Cold War, we should be able to find a way to work with China today.
  • There was disagreement on whether the United States should send astronauts back to the lunar surface.  Aldrin thinks other countries should do that, not the United States because we already have and we should not get “bogged down” there.  Instead the United States should focus on Mars.  Cunningham said he used to believe there was no need to return to the lunar surface, but has changed his mind and now thinks lunar surface missions are needed as an intermediate step to Mars.  When the second panel had its turn, Pace made it clear that he still believes a return to the lunar surface is needed (he was a top NASA official during the George W. Bush Administration when the Constellation program was underway).  Pace wants Congress to direct NASA to develop concepts for returning to the lunar surface with commercial partners.  He also stressed the need to align U.S. plans with international interests, and potential international partners want to land on the Moon.  However, he emphasized, international cooperation “is a means, not an end.” His overall argument is that “rules on a frontier are made by the people who show up, not the ones who stay behind” so the United States needs to be there.
  • Stallmer argued for extension of third party liability indemnification and of the “learning period” for commercial human spaceflight (where the FAA cannot impose new regulations for a certain period of time) when reauthorizing CSLA. 
  • Cruz asked about impediments to expansion of commercial space.   Stallmer cited regulatory uncertainty and that any disruption of the commercial crew schedule would be a significant setback.  Elbon and Pace both said that extending the life of ISS is important for the commercial cargo and commercial crew markets.  Pace stressed the need for a predictable environment for investment and the need to plan for what will come after ISS – “if you’re not planning today what you’re going to do next, you’re planning to go out of business.”  He foresees commercial cargo and crew expanding to serve lunar surface missions.
  • Cruz asked how quickly we could end our reliance on Russia for crew access to the ISS and the RD-180 rocket engine used on the Atlas V.  Elbon said that Boeing’s CST-100 commercial crew spacecraft is on schedule to be ready by 2017 and is paced by internal work, not dollars – “we need to apply the level of money we proposed in our contract.”   The implication is that more money would not accelerate the program.  Elbon praised the RD-180 and argued for a “thoughtful” process in shifting to a new U.S.-built engine to replace it.  Pressed by Cruz to define a thoughtful approach, Elbon said the “pipeline” of RD-180s should be kept open as long as possible rather than setting a hard date for ending the contract (as is done in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act).  Boeing and Lockheed Martin jointly own the United Launch Alliance, which builds and launches Atlas V, and Boeing plans to use Atlas V to launch CST-100.

The written statements of the witnesses and an archived webcast are available on the committee’s website.

What's Happening in Space Policy February 23-27, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Feb-2015 (Updated: 22-Feb-2015 10:50 PM)

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of February 23-27, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This is one of those weeks when so much is going on that it's difficult to choose just a couple of events to highlight.  Please peruse the list below to find your own favorites. 

There are seven congressional hearings of interest to the space policy community, though one suspects two are of particular note to readers of this website:  Tuesday's Senate hearing  on the U.S. human spaceflight program and commercial space competitiveness (with three former astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin), and Friday's House hearing on NASA's commercial crew program.  

But the others should be of interest, too:  Wednesday's House hearing with the NASA Inspector General (and his counterparts at the Departments of Commerce and Justice) and hearings on the FY2016 budget requests for the Department of Transportation (including the Office of Commercial Space Transportation), Air Force (where many national security space programs reside), and the Department of Commerce (home of NOAA).  Many congressional hearings are webcast (though usually not the ones held in the U.S. Capitol), so you can enjoy them live or later in archived webcasts.  We'll provide summaries of as many of them as we can.

Tuesday, February 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, February 24-25

Wednesday, February 25

Thursday, February 26

Friday, February 27

Johnson-Freese: Why Wolf is Wrong About U.S.-China Space Cooperation

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Feb-2015 (Updated: 18-Feb-2015 06:54 PM)

Joan Johnson-Freese explained to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission today why former Rep. Frank Wolf was wrong to effectively ban all U.S.-China bilateral space cooperation.  Wolf retired at the end of the last Congress, but his successor as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA holds similar views.

Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College and author of "The Chinese Space Program:  A Mystery Within a Maze" and "Heavenly Ambitions: America's Quest to Dominate Space."   She was one of the witnesses at today's hearing on China's space and counterspace programs.

Wolf included language in several Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bills that prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) from engaging in any bilateral activities with China on civil space cooperation unless specifically authorized by Congress or unless NASA or OSTP certifies to Congress 14 days in advance that the activity would not result in the transfer of any technology, data, or other information with national security or economic implications.   His indefatigable opposition to cooperating with China was based largely on its human rights abuses and efforts to obtain U.S. technology.  He was one of the strongest, but certainly not only, congressional critic of China, always stressing that he loved the Chinese people, but not the Chinese government.

Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) is Wolf's successor as chairman of the CJS subcommittee.  In December 2013 when rumors swirled that he would replace Wolf, he was interviewed by a reporter for the Houston Chronicle and when asked whether he agreed with Wolf about China replied: "Yes.  We need to keep them out of our space program, and we need to keep NASA out of China. They are not our friends." 

It remains to be seen whether he will include the same language in this year's CJS bill, but Johnson-Freese spelled out why she thinks it is the wrong approach.

She provides a comprehensive rebuttal to Wolf's reasoning, but in essence her contention is that "the United States must use all tools of national power" to achieve its space-related goals as stated in U.S. National Space Policy, National Security Strategy, and National Security Space Strategy.  Wolf's restrictions on space cooperation simply constrain U.S. options, she argues:  "Limiting U.S. options has never been in U.S. national interest and isn't on this issue either."    She disagrees with Wolf's assumption that the United States has nothing to gain from working with China:  "On the contrary, the United States could learn about how they work -- their decision-making processes, institutional policies and standard operating procedures.  This is valuable information in accurately deciphering the intended use of dual-use space technology, long a weakness and so a vulnerability in U.S. analysis."

For some issues, there really is no choice, she continues.  China must be involved in international efforts towards Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) and space sustainability, especially with regard to space debris, a topic given urgency by China's 2007 antisatellite (ASAT) test that created more than 3,000 pieces of debris in low Earth orbit.   She notes that since that test and the resulting international condemnation,  "China has done nothing further in space that can be considered irresponsible or outside the norms set the United States."

Not that China has refrained from tests related to negating other countries' satellites, however.  She and other witnesses detailed China's recent activities in that regard.   Kevin Pollpeter of the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation joined her at the witness table.  They reported on "missile defense tests" in 2010, 2013 and 2014 that are widely considered in the West to be de facto ASAT tests, along with a  2013 "high altitude science mission" and co-orbital satellite tests in 2010 and 2013, as potentially related to ASAT development.  These tests were non-destructive, however, and did not generate space debris.

Former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Missouri), who co-chaired today's hearing, said that the Commission will publish a report by Pollpeter's institute on China's counterspace activities "in the coming days."   The Commission was created by Congress in 2000 and submits an annual report on national security implications of the U.S.-China trade and economic relationship.

What's Happening in Space Policy February 16-20, 2015 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 15-Feb-2015 (Updated: 18-Feb-2015 12:39 PM)

UPDATE, February 18:  Friday's WSBR luncheon has been postponed.

Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of February 16-20, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.   Congress is in recess this week in observance of Presidents' Day (which commemorates Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and George Washington's on February 22).

During the Week

Members of Congress will be working in their State or District offices this week instead of Washington, D.C., hearing directly from their constituents about whatever is on their minds. 

Lots of non-congressional events are on tap, though, including what could be a very interesting investors conference call with the leadership of the brand new OrbitalATK on Thursday.   This is the first such call for the merged company, which melds Orbital Sciences Corporation and Alliant TechSystems' (ATK's) aerospace business (it spun off its sporting division as part of the merger). Only financial folks get to ask questions, but anyone can listen and the company is actually making this available via webcast.  Orbital's David Thompson is President and CEO of the merged company, and Garrett Pierce is CFO, the same positions they held at Orbital.  Blake Larson, who headed ATK's Aerospace Group, is COO of the merged company.

The Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Chris Scolese, will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) on Tuesday.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.

Editor's Note:  Some of you may have heard about the Pioneering Space National Summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday.  That event is by invitation only, so we do not list it.   On a personal note, I wish them luck.  I've been involved in too many of these exercises over the decades and declined their kind invitation to participate in yet another one.   Perhaps this will be the one that makes a difference, but I admit to being skeptical.

Tuesday, February 17

Wednesday, February 18

Thursday, February 19

Thursday-Friday, February 19-20

Friday, February 20

What's Happening in Space Policy February 9-13, 2015 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2015 (Updated: 09-Feb-2015 08:33 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of February 9-13, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week. (Updated to show new launch date for DSCOVR)

During the Week

The launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) (formerly Triana) was scrubbed on Sunday due to a problem with a radar on the Eastern Test Range needed to track the rocket.  The launch was TENTATIVELY rescheduled for Monday, BUT ON MONDAY MORNING NOAA ANNOUNCED THAT THE LAUNCH DATE WILL BE TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, AT 6:05 PM ET BECAUSE THE WEATHER TODAY IS UNFAVORABLE.  Wednesday at 6:03 PM ET is a backup launch opportunity.  If it doesn't go by then, DSCOVR will have to wait until February 20.

The House is poised to pass a new NASA authorization bill.  The bill has not yet been introduced, but the bipartisan leadership of the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee announced agreement on Friday.  They said the bill would be introduced this coming week and not only is that still expected, but the bill is skipping over committee action entirely and going directly to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday under suspension of the rules.  From the information released by the committee so far, the bill is very similar to last year's bill, which passed the House 401-2.  It was never considered by the Senate, however, and died at the end of the 113th Congress. 

That committee also will hold the first hearing of the 114th Congress dedicated to a space topic -- weather satellites -- on Thursday.  No space-specific hearings are scheduled in the Senate, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) tentatively plans to vote on the nomination of Ash Carter to be Secretary of Defense on Tuesday.

Three non-legislative events of particular interest this week are: (1) on Tuesday, the monthly ISU-DC Space Cafe will feature a panel of representatives of several European countries discussing the recent ESA ministerial meeting; (2) on Wednesday, the National Research Council's Space Technology Industry, Government, University Roundtable will hold its second meeting, and (3), on Friday, GWU's Space Policy Institute will hold a symposium on U.S.-Japan Relations and Space Cooperation in the Asia Pacific Region

NASA's Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel also is meeting this week, but their public meetings are usually pretty pro forma even though they have some very interesting observations that appear in their public reports, like this year's recently released annual report.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday evening are listed below.


Tuesday, February 10

Wednesday, February 11

Thursday, February 12

Friday, February 13

House Will Vote on New NASA Authorization Bill on Tuesday - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Feb-2015 (Updated: 09-Feb-2015 10:40 PM)

UPDATE, February 9:  The bill number was assigned today: H.R. 810.

ORIGINAL STORY,  February 8, 2015:  Skipping several steps in the usual legislative process, the House is scheduled to vote on a 2015 NASA Authorization Act on Tuesday, February 10.   Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee announced their bipartisan agreement on the bill on Friday.

Usually a bill is introduced, hearings are held, a subcommittee marks up the bill and reports it to the full committee, the full committee holds its own mark up session and reports the bill to the House.   Some bills then go through the House Rules Committee where decisions are made, for example, on what amendments will be considered and how much time is allowed for debate while the bill is on the floor.  Others are sufficiently non-controversial that they do not need a rule and are considered under "suspension of the rules" and placed on the suspension calendar.   Bills considered under suspension must be approved by at least two-thirds of the House.

This bill, which does not yet have a number, is skipping all the intermediate steps and going directly from being introduced (which has not happened yet) to a vote under suspension.  It is included in the list of legislation on the House Majority Leader's website scheduled for consideration on Tuesday.

The committee leaders announced their agreement on the bill two days ago.  From the summary that was provided, it seems very similar to last year's bill, H.R. 4412, which passed by a vote of 401-2. 

Passing a bill so quickly gives the Senate plenty of time to consider its own legislation or pass this version.

House SS&T Committee Announces Bipartisan 2015 NASA Authorization Act

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 06-Feb-2015 (Updated: 06-Feb-2015 07:12 PM)

Top Republicans and Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) committee today announced details of a new bipartisan NASA Authorization Act that will be introduced next week.  The bill avoids budget issues by authorizing funds only for FY2015, for which funding already has been appropriated.

House SS&T Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Space Subcommittee Chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-MD), and Space Subcommittee Vice-Chairman Mo Brooks (R-AL) issued a joint press release laying out the major provisions of the legislation, which seem to parallel the bill passed the House (but not considered by the Senate) last year.   Whether the text is identical to last year's other than updating the budget figures is not clear, but Smith said "this bill was approved unanimously" by the committee and "passed in the House" in the last Congress, suggesting that it must be very close.  Last year's bill included budget figures only for FY2014, which was already in progress at the time the bill was under consideration.  They have taken the same tack for this bill.

The main theme is that NASA is a multi-mission agency involved in range of aeronautics and space research and development activities.  Key elements include the following:

  • Human Spaceflight
    • states that a human mission to Mars is the goal for NASA's human spaceflight program and calls on NASA to develop a roadmap to achieve that goal
    • continues the commitment to the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, and reiterates the directive in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that Orion serve as a backup to commercial crew if necessary
    • supports building "at least one" commercial crew system
  • Science
    • relies on guidance from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) regarding NASA's earth and space science programs and asks for additional NAS studies on long-term goals of the Mars robotic program and an exoplanets strategy
    • emphasizes the need for a "steady cadence" of science missions, including a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa for launch by 2021
    • stresses the importance of fulfilling previous congressional direction regarding detecting, tracking, cataloging and characterizing Near Earth Objects 140 meters in diameter or more
    • asserts that if earth science responsibilities are transferred to NASA from other agencies that NASA be reimbursed for that cost
    • maintains funding to support launch of the James Webb Space Telescope by 2018
  • Aeronautics
    • authorizes a robust program including efforts to integrate unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace, development of NextGen technology for air traffic management and research on aviation safety
  • Infrastructure
    • directs NASA to develop a plan to better position the agency to have facilities and infrastructure necessary to meet future requirements
    • provides transparency provisions to ensure NASA's property and facilities are managed appropriately
  • Education
    • requires that NASA's educational and outreach activities continue to support STEM curriculum and inspire the next generation of explorers

The bill also provides greater public accountability and transparency, requires enforcement of cost estimating discipline, strengthens the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), and provides for additional tools to protect against waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement.

The phrasing that NASA is a multi-mission agency is important because some argue that NASA only should be involved in human spaceflight.   Science should be done by the National Science Foundation and other government agencies, and aeronautics research should be under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), they argue.  This bill makes clear that NASA should continue to have a range of missions as described in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act that created the agency.

The language about support for "at least one" commercial crew system and that Orion continue to be able to serve as a backup to commercial crew also is important.   Committee Republicans do not necessarily agree that NASA should support two commercial crew companies.  SpaceX and Boeing were selected by NASA last year, which believes that it needs two competitors to keep prices down and provide redundancy in case one of the systems has a failure.  Some in Congress think there should be only one commercial crew company and the redundant capability could be filled by Orion.

Launching a mission to Europa by 2021 is quite different from NASA's FY2016 budget plan, which foresees such a launch in the mid-2020s.

The bipartisan announcement is in contrast to the partisan wrangling at the committee's organizational meeting last month,