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Commercial Space Dominates IAC2014 Day Two

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Sep-2014 (Updated: 01-Oct-2014 12:06 AM)

Day 2 of the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) kicked off with a plenary session on commercial space followed by a technical session on the same topic.  Both played to packed houses, a change from the past where commercial space sessions were often among the most lightly attended.   Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) was particularly in the limelight, with technical papers and press events highlighting Dream Chaser’s versatility and a range of partnerships including a new “Global Project” to globalize Dream Chaser’s business base.

SNC is protesting its loss of NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts and NASA and SNC officials are fervently avoiding answering any questions about CCtCAP.  (NASA officials would not even answer a generic question about whether the 2-6 operational flights in the contracts assume that International Space Station operations will be extended to 2024.)

However, SNC is also participating in the current Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCAP) phase.  Following SNC’s Global Project press conference, John Olson, SNC Vice President of Space Systems, said that the company is “marching forward” to meet its two remaining CCiCAP milestones and Dream Chaser’s first launch (without a crew) aboard an Atlas V remains on schedule for November 2016.   However, the company is awaiting “further dialogue and discourse” with NASA to see if the agency has additional guidance it wants to provide on CCiCAP.

Global Project is an “opportunity to change the world,” enthused SNC’s Cassie Lee by offering Dream Chaser as a “turnkey” system to countries around the world for crewed or uncrewed customized flights.   Dream Chaser is “launch vehicle agnostic” she stressed and while the company has been working with Atlas V for many years, it can be launched from other rockets and land in other places in the world.   She provided no details on cost – it is “not a price per seat or price per pound” she said – or what other launch vehicles are capable of launching it, but Olson explained later that it could be launched by Delta IV, Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy in the United States, or by SNC’s European or Japanese partners using Ariane V (ES or ME), possibly Ariane 6, or H-IIB.   Dream Chaser can also land in other countries, Lee said, and is easy to return to a launch site via flatbed truck or cargo aircraft since Dream Chaser is only 30 feet long and the wings and rudder are removable.

Later in the day SNC announced another new initiative with Stratolaunch that involves a “scaled version” of Dream Chaser integrated with a Stratolaunch air launch system.  More details will be announced here at IAC2014 tomorrow.

Meanwhile, although visa problems prevented China and Russia from participating in yesterday’s Heads of Agencies panels, there is some representation from both countries here.   China’s space agency has a substantial presence in the exhibit hall (by contrast, NASA does not have an exhibit there at all) and at least one Russian, Alexander Derechin, presented his paper on Russia’s space tourism activities. He noted that Sarah Brightman will begin training for her mission next year.  When asked if any wealthy Russians are on the list of future space tourists, he said he had approached four individuals, but there were no takers yet.

The IAC is a dizzying array of parallel sessions throughout each day on technical, policy and legal space issues.  Many papers with Russian and Chinese authors are listed in the program and it is not possible to be in every session to keep score of who actually came to Toronto, but it can be said that Russia and China were not completely excluded from the conference.

Among today’s other tidbits are the following:

  • Frank Culbertson of Orbital Sciences Corporation talked about the ability of Orbital’s Cygnus spacecraft, now used for cargo flights to the ISS, to accommodate four people for 60 days when berthed to Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft, and the possibility of Cygnus serving as a “destination” for Orion in cis-lunar space.  He also said, in response to a question, that the financial investment in Cygnus was two-thirds Orbital and one-third government.
  • SNC and Lockheed Martin gave a joint presentation about how exploration and commercial crew are “natural partners” and how the two companies are teaming together.
  • The session on Humans to Mars (the only other Standing Room Only event we encountered) included a paper from MIT on its simulation of a one-way Mars trip based on the Mars One concept that concluded “crew fatality” after 68 days due to suffocation from low levels of oxygen.
  • SpaceX said that the 20 “moustronauts” delivered to ISS on SpaceX CRS-4 are alive and well.

 

What's Happening in Space Policy September 29-October 10, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 28-Sep-2014 (Updated: 28-Sep-2014 05:26 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks and any insight we can offer about them.   Congress returns on November 12.

During the Week

We are here in Toronto to cover the annual International Astronautical Congress, the joint meetings of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and International Institute of Space Law (IISL).  As always, it promises to be fascinating ... and overwhelming.  So many sessions, so little time.  It'll be quite a challenge to choose the "best" sessions to cover, but we'll do what we can.

If you're not here and are back in Washington, DC, be sure not to miss Adam Steltzner's lecture at the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday afternoon.  He is the winner of the first Yvonne C. Brilll Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering.  The lecture was created by AIAA and the National Academy of Engineering in honor of Brill, a distinguished aerospace engineer who passed way last year.

Lots more going on.  Our list of what we know about as of Sunday afternoon follows. 

Monday, September 29

Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3

Tuesday, September 30

Saturday-Friday, October 4-10, 2014

Tuesday, October 7

Tuesday-Thursday, October 7-9

Tuesday-Friday, October 7-10

Thursday, October 9

 

What's Happening in Space Policy September 21-October 3, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Sep-2014 (Updated: 21-Sep-2014 02:04 PM)

Here is our list of events for the next TWO weeks, September 21-October 3, 2014, starting with MAVEN's arrival at Mars tonight (Sunday).   Congress is in recess until November 12.

During the Weeks

Mars will get two new visitors this week.  NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is due to enter orbit around Mars tonight, September 21, at 9:37 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).   Signal travel time between Mars and Earth means that NASA won't know certain that everything went smoothly until 9:50 pm EDT.   NASA TV coverage begins at 9:30 pm EDT.  

On Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning local time in India), India's first mission to Mars, Mars Orbiting Mission (MOM), will join MAVEN and three other U.S. and European spacecraft orbiting Mars.   MOM is scheduled to fire its engine to enter orbit at 07:17 Indian Standard Time on Wednesday (9:47 pm Tuesday EDT).  The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has not announced its plans for live coverage. Check the ISRO website for up to date information.

Back here in Earth orbit, SpaceX's CRS-4 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), with its cargo of mice, fruit flies, spacesuit batteries, a 3D printer and many other supplies and scientific experiments, will arrive at the ISS on Tuesday morning at 7:04 am ET.  Two days later three new ISS crew members will launch to and dock with the ISS on Soyuz TMA-14M.

Meanwhile, here on terra firma, there are many interesting events on the schedule.  John Logsdon will provide an update on his research for his upcoming book Richard Nixon and the American Space Program at 4:00 pm EDT on Monday at the National Air and Space Museum.  The event is free, but you MUST register in advance in order to access the museum's office area.  Later on Monday (8:00 pm EDT), the Secure World Foundation and The Space Show will host a webinar on Satellites and Disaster Management.  The NASA Advisory Council's heliophysics subcommittee meets on Tuesday and Wednesday at NASA Headquarters, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose will talk to the AIAA National Capital Section in Arlington, VA on Thursday.

Quite a full week, as many in the space community also get ready to head to Toronto for the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) next week.  It officially runs from September 29-October 3, but there are a number of associated meetings in the days preceding the conference beginning on September 25.

For those not traveling to Toronto, there are two very interesting events in the Washington, DC area that week.  On Monday, September 29, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) will talk to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable in Greenbelt, MD.

On Tuesday afternoon (September 30), the inaugural Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering will be presented at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington (the one on the Mall, not on 5th Street).  This first Brill Lectureship, created in honor of the distinguished aerospace engineer Yvonne Brill, was awarded to Adam Steltzner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Steltzer led the entry, descent and landing team for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover.  Steltzer's lecture will be on "Engineering and the Mars Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) System."

Here is the list of the events we know about as of Sunday afternoon, September 21, for the two-week period through October 3, 2014.

Sunday, September 21

Monday, September 22

Tuesday, September 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 23-24

Thursday, September 25

Thursday-Sunday, September 25-28

Monday-Friday, September 29-October 3

Monday, September 29

Tuesday, September 30

Senate Passes FY2015 CR

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Sep-2014 (Updated: 18-Sep-2014 07:20 PM)

The Senate just passed the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the government through December 11, 2014 and avoiding a government shutdown.

The House and Senate are still in session at this hour (September 18, 7:00 pm EDT), but are expected to adjourn later today and not return until after the November elections.

The vote on the CR, which also includes a limited authorization for President Obama to take military actions related to defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was 78-22.  The bill passed the House yesterday and now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it.

The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion.  Government agencies including NASA, NOAA and DOD are funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0544 percent across-the-board reduction to pay for new activities included in the bill that are primarily related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  Two space-related provisions allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extend the authorization for the Export-Import Bank until June 30, 2015.

Senate Expected to Pass CR Tomorrow; Could Consider NASA Authorization

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Sep-2014 (Updated: 17-Sep-2014 10:42 PM)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to bring up the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) for a vote tomorrow (Thursday, September 18).  The House passed the CR today.  The Senate could consider other legislation, including a NASA authorization bill, as it strives to adjourn by the end of the week until after the November elections.

The Hill newspaper reports that Senate debate on the CR will commence at 1:00 pm ET.   The CR funds the government through December 11, 2014 at the same level as FY2014, although it includes an across-the-board 0.0544 percent cut to fund new activities mostly related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  The House included an authorization for President Obama to engage in certain military activities related to Syria and the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), but that authorization also will expire on December 11.  A more intense debate on that topic is anticipated in the lame-duck session after the elections.

The Senate may also consider a new NASA authorization bill before it leaves town.  The House passed its version in June and sent it to the Senate, where there has been no action since then. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill last year on a party-line vote and Senate sources have been saying for some time that a revised version is in the works.  The committee held a markup session today, but a revised NASA authorization bill was not considered.   Nonetheless, a revised version could be brought up on the Senate floor as an amendment to the House version.  Whether that happens or not depends on many factors and even if the Senate did pass a bill, it would have to go back to the House, which is also expected to adjourn by the end of the week.  Final resolution, therefore, will not come in the near term.

House Approves CR Funding Government Through December 11, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 17-Sep-2014 (Updated: 17-Sep-2014 05:49 PM)

The House approved a FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) this afternoon (September 17) that will fund the government through December 11, 2014.  An amendment allowing President Obama limited authority to spend funds on military actions in Syria was adopted.  The next step is the Senate.

The House was poised to pass a CR last week, but a White House request to add the Syria authorization complicated that plan.  The authority adopted by the House today is limited and it is expected that a more intense debate on U.S. actions in fighting the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) may come in the lame-duck session after the elections.

As far as funding the government is concerned, however, the House action is good news.  The bill passed by a vote of 319-108.  None of the FY2015 regular appropriations bills has cleared Congress yet, so if Congress does not pass a CR by midnight September 30, there will be another government shutdown like last year.  The Senate is also hoping to complete its legislative work this week so hopefully it will deal with the CR swiftly (but should not be taken for granted).

The CR funds the government at its FY2014 level of $1.012 trillion.  Government agencies, including NASA, NOAA and DOD, would be funded at their FY2014 levels minus a 0.0554 percent across-the-board cut to pay for new activities in the bill that are mostly related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  Two space-related provisions would allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs, and an extension of the authorization for the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015.

What's Happening in Space Policy September 15-20, 2014

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Sep-2014 (Updated: 14-Sep-2014 05:19 PM)

Here is our list of space policy-related events coming up during the week of September 15-20, 2014 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This may be the last week Congress is in session prior to the November elections if they can complete action on a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for the initial part of FY2015, which begins on October 1.   None of the 12 regular appropriations bills has cleared Congress yet, so some action must be taken to avoid a government shutdown. 

The White House also is hoping Congress will authorize it to take certain military actions in Syria.  Whether that authorization will be attached to the CR or not is an open question.  The White House plan was to add the Syria authorization to the CR knowing that is the one piece of legislation that Congress must pass imminently, but the issue is highly controversial and could derail the CR.  House Republican leaders were poised to pass a CR last week before the Syria authorization issue arose, but are now debating whether to deal with the Syria authorization and FY2015 government appropriations issues separately or in a combined bill.  Stay tuned.

It is conceivable that there might be Senate action on a NASA authorization bill in the coming week.  The House passed its version in June.  The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has a markup session scheduled for Wednesday for a long list of bills.  At the moment, the NASA authorization is not on the list, but that could change.  Stay tuned on this one, too.

NASA has made no further announcement about when the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) award will be made.   Expectations were high that it would be announced at the end of August, but it wasn't.   Another "stay tuned" situation.

One certainty is that the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft will reach Mars on Sunday, September 21.  Hopefully it will enter orbit as planned.  NASA will hold a pre-arrival news conference on Wednesday at 1:00 pm ET.  It will provide coverage of orbital insertion as well, but that will be included in our next issue of "What's Happening."

The next cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX CRS-4, is also coming up this week.  The launch itself is currently scheduled for early Saturday morning (2:16 am ET) and NASA plans five pre-launch events on Thursday and Friday.  Launch dates are not nearly as reliable as arrival dates, however, so don't set your alarm clock yet.

This entire week, beginning today (Sunday), is National Aerospace Week.  Established by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), its goal is to recognize the contributions that the aerospace industry makes to the U.S economy and global competitiveness.

The full list of events that we know about as of Sunday afternoon is provided below.

Sunday-Saturday, September 14-20

Monday, September 15

Monday-Wednesday, September 15-17

Tuesday, September 16

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 16-17

  • COMSTAC, NTSB Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, DC

Wednesday, September 17

Wednesday-Friday, September 17-19

Thursday, September 18

Thursday-Friday, September 18-19

Saturday, September 20

  • SpaceX CRS-4 launch, Cape Canaveral, FL, 2:16 am ET, with post-launch briefing about 90 minutes after launch

Gabrynowicz Warns ASTEROIDS Act Needs More Work

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Sep-2014 (Updated: 11-Sep-2014 07:11 AM)

Space law expert Joanne Gabrynowicz warned a House subcommittee yesterday (September 10) that a proposed bill to grant property rights to materials mined from asteroids could face legal and political challenges if passed in its current form.

Gabrynowicz, a Director of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and Professor Emerita of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Remote Sensing, Air and Space Law, testified to the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The title of the hearing suggested that the main topic would be issues posed by the ASTEROIDS Act (H.R. 5063) introduced by Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA).  The other four witnesses were space scientists, however, and the hearing was more about the status of NASA’s planetary science program than legal issues of property rights in space.

ASTEROIDS Act

Key points stressed by Gabrynowicz were that --

  • the potential legal impact of the ASTEROIDS Act on treaties is likely to be modest, but the potential political impact is likely to be sizeable;
  • there is no legal clarity on some of the issues addressed in the bill;
  • the bill uses terms of art – e.g. “harmful interference” and “first in time” -- in a novel context and require further elaboration;
  • resource extraction in space is a “volatile and contentious issue at the international level” -- it will take years to reach agreement and political groundwork is needed;
  • in the United States, the issues cut across a number of agencies and a coordinated interagency mechanism is needed to facilitate policy development; and
  • the bill does not appear to be written to advance a new industry – asteroid mining – as a whole, but instead is aimed at the interests of particular companies.

Posey countered that if the United States does not act quickly, other countries, such as Russia and China, will take the lead and may not give the issues “thoughtful consideration.”

In response to questions from Rep. Kilmer, two of the planetary scientists on the witness panel – Jim Bell, a professor at Arizona State University and President of The Planetary Society and Mark Sykes, CEO and Director of the Planetary Science Institute – conveyed their views that asteroid mining is not likely for many years (Bell said decades) and its cost-effectiveness still must be determined.

Posey took issue with the time scale, saying at least one company is ready to do it now.  He cited a letter from Planetary Resources, Inc. that was entered into the record of the hearing, but is not yet posted on the committee’s website or the company’s.

Bell and Sykes said that water is the most likely substance to be mined since it is needed to support human space exploration.  The two disagreed on the ease of reaching asteroids of interest in the mining context, with Sykes enthusiastically explaining the abundance of asteroids and their closeness to Earth, but Bell cautioning that those with water might be further away, perhaps in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Sykes stressed the need for a survey to locate and characterize more asteroids.  (Congress has played a critical role in directing NASA to conduct surveys to find asteroids and comets – collectively called Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) – that could threaten Earth.  NASA is currently under congressional direction to detect, track, catalogue and characterize 90 percent of NEOs equal to or greater than 140 meters in diameter by 2020.  NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group recently issued a finding that the agency has no plan to achieve that goal and a space-based NEO survey telescope is needed.)

NASA’s Planetary Science Program

Much of the hearing focused on the state of NASA’s planetary science program.  The discussion covered familiar ground, with NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green and other witnesses reviewing NASA’s ongoing and planned missions followed by complaints from non-NASA witnesses and subcommittee members about recent cutbacks in the planetary science budget and some Republican subcommittee members adding their objections over how much NASA spends on earth science instead.

Philip Christensen, Regents Professor at Arizona State University (ASU) and co-chair of the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science, stressed three themes: 

  • excellent opportunities for continuing robotic solar system exploration exist and are laid out in the NRC’s most recent Decadal Survey for planetary science;
  • significant reductions in funding for planetary science compared to the previous decade have significantly slowed the pace of new missions; and
  • a lack of year-to-year stability makes long range planning difficult.  

Bell pointed out that while the planetary science program seems healthy today, that is only because of investments made in the last decade and the pace will not be maintained at today’s funding level.

Since FY2013, NASA has been requesting about $1.3 billion per year for planetary science compared to $1.5 billion in the past.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who represents the district that includes Marshall Space Flight Center where the Space Launch System (SLS) is being built, asked Green about the potential of using SLS for robotic planetary science missions.  SLS’s primary purpose is for sending humans beyond low Earth orbit, but SLS advocates are seeking other uses for the Saturn V-class rocket.   Congress has been adding money to NASA’s budget to send a probe to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, and using SLS for that mission is an oft discussed possibility.  Green replied that SLS could provide a “great capability” for missions to the outer planets and “could fit well” with the Europa mission.  He explained that SLS could reduce trip times to the outer planets by half.

Rohrabacher, a critic of SLS, countered that he did not find that a compelling justification for SLS considering its cost of about $1 billion per year while planetary science funding is being cut.

The availability of plutonium-238 (Pu-238) needed to power spacecraft that cannot rely on solar power because they travel too far from the Sun or land on planetary bodies with day/night cycles was another topic discussed.  Green assured the subcommittee that NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are working well together on reestablishing Pu-238 production and there is a sufficient supply for the next mission that will require it – the Mars 2020 mission.  It is not so much an issue of Pu-238 itself, he said, but the ability to produce the pellets that are needed.

Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM)

Subcommittee chairman Steve Palazzo (R-MS) stressed at the outset of the hearing that planetary science efforts to find and characterize asteroids should not be confused with the Obama Administration’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).  He does not support the latter.

The White House announced the ARM program last year.  The concept is to send a robotic probe to an asteroid and use it to change the asteroid’s orbit, redirect it into lunar orbit where it would be visited by astronauts who would return a sample to Earth.  ARM has gained little support in Congress or the space community.  Asteroids are “small bodies” in planetary science parlance, and NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) recently issued a finding that ARM’s “benefits for advancing the knowledge of asteroids and furthering planetary defense strategies are limited and not compelling.”

Sykes called ARM a “poorly conceived and designed” mission that does not advance human exploration, science, planetary defense, or In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) of asteroids.  He said NASA’s $1.25 billion cost estimate for ARM “strains credulity” considering that the robotic OSIRIS-REx mission, which will be launched in 2016 to return a small sample of an asteroid to Earth, cost $1.05 billion itself.   Rohrabacher thanked Sykes for his frank assessment.

(ARM is a much more complicated mission that involves not only sending a robotic spacecraft to an asteroid, but developing the technologies to move the asteroid into a different orbit and then sending astronauts to obtain a sample.  NASA does use $1.25 billion as its current, informal cost estimate for ARM, but it does not include costs for activities NASA was pursuing anyway, such as the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft needed for the astronaut portion of the mission, or launch costs for the robotic portion of the mission.   A formal cost estimate will not be made until the program is further along.)

Vote on CR Delayed Due To Syria Issues

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Sep-2014 (Updated: 10-Sep-2014 05:26 PM)

The House leadership has decided to postpone a vote on the FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR) while deciding how to handle a White House request to add authorization for the President to provide arms to Syrian rebels. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced the CR yesterday and a vote was planned for tomorrow.   However, President Obama now wants Congress to include language authorizing his plan to arm Syrian rebels as part of a strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  The President will speak to the nation tonight at 9:00 pm about that strategy.

Officially, appropriations bills are only supposed to provide funding, not authorizations.  Some members of the House reportedly are objecting to including the Syria authority on that basis, but others point out the CR already contains two authorization measures (reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank and an Internet tax matter) so adding another should not be a problem.   It is theoretically possible to pass the Syria authorization as a separate bill, but with Congress anxious to complete legislative business in the next two weeks, and the CR the only "must pass" bill on its docket, the White House and its congressional supporters want everything included in one bill to ensure swift action.

House Republican leaders reportedly will wait until after tonight's speech to decide how to proceed.  If the House does not include the language in its version of the CR, the Senate could add it and send the bill back to the House, but with every exchange, the possibility grows of other issues arising and setting back agreement.  As noted yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz wants to add language to block executive action on immigration, so the fate of the CR remains up in the air.  

Congress must pass an appropriations bill to fund all or part of FY2015 by midnight on September 30 or there will be another government shutdown like last year.  As introduced, the CR would fund the government at its current level through December 11, 2014.

Bill Introduced in House to Fund Government Past Mid-Term Elections

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Sep-2014 (Updated: 09-Sep-2014 10:47 PM)

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced a stop-gap Continuing Resolution (CR) today (September 9) to fund the government through December 11, 2014.  The bill could be voted on in the House as early as Thursday.

The CR (H. J. Res. 124) generally continues funding for the government at current levels and does not include "highly controversial provisions" according to the committee's press release.  Rogers called it a "temporary, imperfect measure" and said what is really needed is passage of the 12 regular appropriations bills.  The House has passed seven of them, but none has passed the Senate. 

The bill keeps total government spending at its current level of $1.012 trillion, but some changes are made within that total to fund new activities.  Most are related to national security, veterans affairs, customs and immigration, and responding to the Ebola crisis.  The amounts appropriated in the FY2014 appropriations bills (including for NASA, NOAA and DOD) are reduced by 0.0554 percent presumably to pay for those new activities. 

Two space-related provisions would allow funding flexibility for weather satellite programs and extension of the authorization for the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank through June 30, 2015.  Despite the press release's assertion that the CR does not contain highly controversial provisions, reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank is a topic of strong debate.  The bank helps finance U.S. exports of manufactured goods and services.   From a space policy standpoint, organizations like the Aerospace Industries Association argue that Ex-Im bank financing is critical to support exports of satellites, for example, and reauthorization is needed.  Opponents argue that it distorts the free market by the government picking winners and losers.  The bank's current authorization expires on September 30.

The House and Senate are both hoping to complete must-pass legislative business by the end of next week or shortly thereafter so members can return to the campaign trail.  That does not necessarily mean smooth sailing for the CR.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), for one, has said that he wants to include language to block President Obama from taking action on immigration using executive action.  Cruz is widely criticized or praised, depending on one's point of view, for last year's 16-day government shutdown. Whether he would attempt that again in an election year is an open question.  He has been quoted in recent days as saying he does not want another shutdown, but that was before his comments today that "we should use any and all means necessary to prevent the president from illegally granting amnesty."