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Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Bill Makes a Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16

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

Tuesday, January 17

Wednesday, January 18

Wednesday-Friday, January 18-20

Friday, January 20

Texas Remains Powerful Space Influence as House Appropriations, Senate Commerce Announce Subcommittee Chairs

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Jan-2017 (Updated: 11-Jan-2017 12:16 AM)

The House Appropriations Committee announced the members who will chair its 12 subcommittees today.   At the same time, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee announced the Republican members and chairs of its six subcommittees.  There is no change for NASA and NOAA, but the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will get a new chairwoman -- Kay Granger of Texas.  She joins fellow Texans in chairing key space-related committees and subcommittees.

Appropriations committees determine how much money federal departments and agencies get and how they must spend it.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each have 12 subcommittees that oversee all of the government's "discretionary spending" -- the funding Congress debates each year, as compared with "mandatory" spending such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the national debt, which is set by other means.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) is the new House Appropriations Committee chairman, replacing Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) who hit a 6-year term limit imposed by House rules and had to relinquish the job.  Rogers had indicated interest in chairing the defense appropriations subcommittee, which oversees about half of all discretionary spending, but that went to Rep. Kay Granger of Texas instead.  She is beginning her 11th term in Congress.  Frelinghuysen chaired the defense subcommittee in the last Congress and Granger was his vice-chairwoman.  She represents a district that includes Fort Worth and is a champion of Lockheed Martin's F-35 program.  F-35s are assembled at a plant in Fort Worth.  President-elect Donald Trump has been critical of the F-35's cost.  Granger's views on national security space programs is unclear.  (Rogers will chair the State-Foreign Operations subcommittee.)

Rep. John Culberson, also of Texas, will continue to chair the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that oversees NASA and NOAA, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). He is a planetary science enthusiast, particularly of a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa because he believes life will be discovered there.  In a November 30, 2016 interview with Science, he expressed skepticism about the value of OSTP or a revived National Space Council, and support for earth science research, though he was coy about whether that should be a NASA responsibility.

The Senate Commerce Committee is an authorization committee that oversees NASA and NOAA.  Authorization committees set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not have any money to spend.  Only appropriators have money, but they are supposed to be guided by the recommendations of authorization committees, which are expected to have more detailed knowledge of an agency's activities.

NASA is overseen by the Science, Space and Competitiveness Subcommittee, which will continue to be chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.  Cruz was busy running for President in the last Congress and held few hearings on space, but in those that he did, he expressed support for space exploration -- with earth science to be reassigned to other agencies -- and commercial space.   Other Republican members of the subcommittee are from Utah (Mike Lee), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Kansas (Jerry Moran), Alaska (Dan Sullivan), Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), and West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito). 

NOAA is the responsibility of the subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.  It will be chaired by Dan Sullivan of Alaska. Other members are from Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), Mississippi (Roger Wicker), Oklahoma (Jim Inhofe), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Utah (Mike Lee), and Indiana (Todd Young). 

In the House, Rep. Lamar Smith, another Texan, will continue to chair the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.  It oversees NASA, NOAA, the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and NOAA and its Office of Space Commerce. The top Democrat on the committee, Eddie Bernie Johnson, also is from Texas, as is the Republican chairman of the Space Subcommittee, Brian Babin. 

Updated with clarification that Rep. Rogers will chair the House Appropriations State-Foreign Ops subcommittee.  Also, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida will continue to chair the Transportation-HUD subcommittee, which funds the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and Rep. Ken Calvert of California will continue to chair the Interior-Environment subcommittee, which funds the U.S. Geological Survey (which operates the Landsat satellites).

What's Happening in Space Policy January 8-14, 2017 - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 08-Jan-2017 (Updated: 09-Jan-2017 09:52 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 8-14, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

The BIG space event this week will be the return to flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.   Recently postponed from tomorrow (Monday) to Saturday, it will place 10 Iridium NEXT communications satellites into orbit.  The FAA approved the launch license on Friday, but Monday's launch slipped to Saturday because of inclement weather forecast at the launch site -- Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.   SpaceX is recovering from a September 1, 2016 incident that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and the AMOS-6 communications satellite during preparations for a static fire test two days before the scheduled launch. The static fire test for this launch was successfully accomplished on Thursday.

Here in Washington, the Senate will begin confirmation hearings for individuals President-elect Trump plans to nominate for Cabinet-level positions once he is President (on January 20).  Three have space responsibilities:  Secretary of Defense nominee-designate Gen. James Mattis (Ret.), Secretary of Commerce nominee-designate Wilbur J. Ross, Jr., and Secretary of Transportation nominee-designate Elaine Chao.  NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.  The FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation are part of the Department of Transportation (DOT).   Senate Democrats are objecting to some of the hearings because the non-partisan Office of Government Ethics has not had time to vet all of the nominees-designate for conflicts of interest yet.  Accusations are flying back and forth between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, all of which may be fascinating politically, but not really relevant to the space program, so we will leave it at that.  The Chao hearing is on Wednesday; the Mattis and Ross hearings are on Thursday.

Elsewhere in the country, AIAA will hold its annual SciTech forum, including the Aerospace Sciences meeting, in Grapevine, TX.  The AIAA website does not indicate which, if any, sessions will be livestreamed, but AIAA does webcast plenary and other special sessions at some of its conferences.  If we learn about a link to watch, we will add it to our calendar entry for this event.  There certainly are a lot of very interesting sessions on the agenda. UPDATE:  AIAA is livestreaming here.

The Earth Science Subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council's (NAC's) Science Committee will meet at Kennedy Space Center, FL on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Many earth scientists are nervous about the future of NASA's earth science program in a Trump Administration.  That's because former Congressman Bob Walker, who was a space adviser to Trump during the campaign and continues to play an advisory role on the transition team, believes NASA's "earth-centric" programs should be transferred to other government agencies so NASA can focus on exploration. It is a view shared by key congressional Republicans who oversee NASA.  With Republicans in charge of the House, Senate and White House, and the retirement of Sen. Barbara Mikulski who effectively defended NASA's program, the likelihood has increased.  It would be surprising if the NAC subcommittee has any better inkling of what the incoming Trump Administration plans to do, but anyone can listen in to the meeting to find out.  NASA Earth Science Division Director Mike Freilich is on the agenda Tuesday morning.  (Note that the remote participation option is audio only.)

NASA's Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) also meets this week. That one is in Arizona from Wednesday-Friday.  Presumably they will be cheering NASA's announcement last week of the selection of two asteroid missions (Psyche and Lucy) as the next two Discovery missions, while ruing the non-selection of a third -- NEOCam (though it will get another year of funding).  They also may discuss last week's release of the White House's National NEO Preparedness Strategy.  The White House said a companion "action plan" would soon follow.  Perhaps there will be some news on that.  The meeting will be available remotely through Adobe Connect.  Note that all times on the agenda are in Mountain Standard Time. NASA Planetary Division Director Jim Green will speak on Wednesday at 9:10 am Mountain Time (11:10 am Eastern).  Michele Gates and Dan Mazanek will provide an update on the Asteroid Redirect Mission at 4:10 pm MT (6:10 pm Eastern) on Wednesday.

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

Sunday-Thursday, January 8-12

Monday-Friday, January 9-13

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 10-11

Wednesday, January 11

Wednesday-Friday, January 11-13

Thursday, January 12

Friday, January 13

Saturday, January 14

What's Happening in Space Policy January 1-6, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 01-Jan-2017 (Updated: 01-Jan-2017 01:33 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 1-6, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2017 and, on Tuesday, to the 115th Congress.  Under the Constitution, a new session of Congress begins on January 3 of each year.  The second session of the 114th Congress officially will end and the first session of the 115th Congress will begin at 12:00 pm ET that day.

The House will meet at 11:00 am on Tuesday for legislative business to end the 114th Congress (to adjourn "sine die" -- without a day for that Congress to reconvene) and then will meet at noon to convene the 115th Congress.  They will begin with a recorded quorum call followed by the election of the Speaker of the House (Rep. Paul Ryan is expected to win that vote) and swearing in of the other members.  The House will be composed of 241 Republicans (a net loss of six seats) and 194 Democrats (a net gain of six seats).  Several pieces of legislation are scheduled for floor action this coming week, but none related to the space program judging by their titles. They can't be officially introduced and assigned bill numbers until the 115th Congress convenes, but the House Majority Leader's website lists their titles. 

The Senate will meet on Tuesday in pro forma session at 11:55 am ET to close the 114th Congress.  The Senate website doesn't say so, but presumably it also will convene for the 115th Congress at noon and swear in its members.  The Senate will be composed of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who remained an Independent throughout his run for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Angus King of Maine). That is a net loss of two seats for Republicans and a net gain of two seats for Democrats. The two Independents caucus with the Democrats so it is essentially a 52-48 split.

The only hearing on either side of the Hill that we've seen posted is on foreign cyber threats to the United States.  That's before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday at 9:30 am ET.  Not really space-related, but certainly of broad interest.  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre III, and Commander of U.S. Cyber Command/Director, National Security Agency/Chief, Central Security Services Adm. Michael Rogers are the witnesses.

On Friday, the House and Senate will meet in joint session at 1:00 pm ET to count the Electoral College votes officially, bringing the 2016 presidential election to an end.  On December 19, the electors cast their votes.  Donald Trump received 306, Hillary Clinton 232, making Trump the winner.  Clinton won the popular vote by about 2.9 million, but in the U.S. system, it is the Electoral College vote that determines the outcome.  Trump will be sworn in at noon ET on January 20.  Barack Obama remains President until then.

Outside the Beltway, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will hold its winter meeting in Grapevine, TX.   This is where the world's astronomers and astrophysicists get together and discuss recent discoveries and future plans.  Always fascinating, but usually one has to be there to learn about it in real time. The sessions and press conferences are not publicly webcast.  Only a few are webcast for the media (a special password is required; instructions for obtaining it are on the conference's website).  However, some archived webcasts are made available later.

NASA will hold a press conference at Johnson Space Center on Wednesday to discuss two upcoming spacewalks -- the first is on Friday -- to upgrade the International Space Station's electrical power system.  NASA TV will cover the press conference and the spacewalk.

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

Tuesday, January 3

  • 115th Congress convenes

Tuesday-Saturday, January 3-7

Wednesday, January 4

Friday, January 6

State Department Legal Advisor: The Outer Space Treaty -- 50 Years On

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2016 (Updated: 14-Dec-2016 11:23 PM)

The foundational document that sets international law for conducting space activities -- the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) -- is about to turn 50.  State Department Legal Advisor Brian Egan discussed the relevance of the Treaty today and its future at the 11th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law last week.  The annual symposium is held under the aegis of the International Institute of Space Law (IISL).

Officially named the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the OST was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 19, 1966, opened for signature on January 27, 1967 and entered into force on October 10, 1967.

Article VI, which requires that governments authorize and continually supervise the activities of their non-governmental entities, like companies, puts it at the center of today's debate over commercial space activities.  Specifically the question is how to ensure that proposed U.S. entrepreneurial ventures like private space stations, satellite servicing, habitats on the Moon, and asteroid mining comply with those obligations.   Experts at the December 7 Galloway space law symposium debated many of those issues.  Egan focused his comments on the relevance of the OST today and the outlook for the next 50 years.  

He noted that the Commercial Space Launch and Competitiveness Act (CSLCA, also called the Space Resource Exploitation and Utilization Act) enacted last year generated confusion internationally.  Some countries concluded that the United States was abrogating its obligations under the OST by granting property rights to space resources obtained by U.S. companies.  "In fact it is just the opposite," he stressed, because CSLCA clearly states that such rights must be consistent with U.S. international obligations and are subject to authorization and continuing supervision by the U.S. government as required by Article VI.

Egan noted that Article IX is also important in the context of innovative commercial space activities.  It requires that signatories to the Treaty avoid "harmful contamination" of the Moon and other celestial bodies and adopt "appropriate measures for that purpose."  The U.S. government recently approved an application by Moon Express to land a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon after it voluntarily agreed to comply with international planetary protection guidelines established by the international Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).  He stressed that the approval was specific to this one short-duration mission and the State Department's ability to authorize more extensive missions in the future requires "a more robust authorization framework ... to enable conditional approval where necessary."

Importantly, as the next 50 years of the OST unfold, the approach to avoiding harmful contamination of celestial bodies may evolve, Egan said.  The "open-textured" nature of the OST "accommodates such developments" by avoiding precise definitions of terms like harmful contamination that may change over time.

"Eilene Galloway was prescient about this need for flexibility in anticipation of the unforeseen -- and unforeseeable -- developments.  In a paper she delivered in the Hague in 1958, she cautioned that unless we study legal problems 'in conjunction with the developing facts of science and technology ... our interplanetary thinking will be earthbound by tradition and precedent at a time when creative predictions should enable us to keep international law in pace with scientific achievement.'"

Egan concluded that the Treaty "does not attempt to answer every legal question directly, or speak to any activity specifically" but is a "framework" to address "new capabilities and activities ... and the legal questions such activities inevitably generate.  If the preparations for future space activities underway in the United States and other nations are any indication, the Treaty will serve this function well into its second half century and beyond."

Dennis Burnett, IISL Treasurer and the lead organizer of the Galloway Symposium, pointed out that this was the first official statement on the OST by a State Department Legal Advisor in more than 30 years.

Galloway Symposium Tees Up Space Issues for the 115th Congress

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 14-Dec-2016 (Updated: 14-Dec-2016 11:23 PM)

The Galloway Space Law Symposium last week focused on two topics likely to be at the top of the list of civil and commercial space issues in the 115th Congress – what the incoming Trump Administration has in mind for NASA and how to ensure that new types of commercial space activities comply with U.S. obligations under the Outer Space Treaty.

The 11th Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law, sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), took place at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. on December 7.  

Trump and NASA.  Trump’s position on NASA and the space program overall is largely unknown, but the opening keynote speaker, former Congressman Bob Walker, has written and spoken about what it might be.  He is not officially a member of the Trump transition team, but is an adviser to it and a respected voice in Republican space circles.

Walker originally was working for the presidential campaign of Ohio Governor John Kasich, but after Kasich withdrew he was tapped with little notice to write up the broad outlines of a Trump space policy just before the election.  He and Peter Navarro co-authored two op-eds, on civil and national security space respectively, in Space News.  Walker also spoke to a meeting of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) in October.

At the Galloway Symposium, he reiterated what he had said in those other forums while stressing that he was not officially speaking for the Trump transition team.  He is proposing a space policy that is –

  • Visionary:  NASA should not focus on a single deep space human destination like Mars, but on human exploration of the entire solar system by the end of the century in order to drive technology development.
  • Disruptive:  move Earth-centric research to other government agencies; turn the ISS over to a quasi-public company and use it as a public research facility with refurbishment done with commercial and international assets. 
  • Coordinating:  reinstate the White House National Space Council to better coordinate U.S. space activities to take advantage not only of U.S. government resources, but those available from commercial and international partners.
  • Resilient:  make national security space assets more resilient by having larger constellations of satellites that are serviced robotically; increase investments in hypersonics.

Based on his interactions with the Trump campaign and transition teams, he said he anticipates a Trump Administration where Vice President Mike Pence essentially serves as Prime Minister while Trump is a “national figure” doing what he believes is necessary to move the country forward.

Just prior to the symposium Trump called for cancellation of Boeing’s contract to build a replacement Air Force One aircraft because it is too expensive.  Asked what that may forebode for another Boeing program, NASA’s Space Launch System, Walker said he viewed Trump’s comments as part of a negotiation – setting the parameters of a new deal to reduce costs.  He urged the audience to remember that Trump is not a politician, but a real estate deal-maker whose premise is that the government needs to do a better job of interacting with the private sector to get what it needs at the best price.

Walker did not speculate on who might be the next NASA Administrator, but firmly asserted that he is not interested in the job.  (He is a very successful lobbyist with the Wexler|Walker firm.)

Commercial Space and the Outer Space Treaty.   The issue that dominated the day was how to ensure U.S. compliance with its obligations under the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, especially Article VI that requires governments to authorize and continually supervise the activities of non-government entities, like companies.

It is a deeply complex set of arguments that turn as much on domestic law and politics (the relative roles of the Executive and Legislative Branches, and how minimal a minimal set of regulations can be yet still be effective) as on international space law (whether or not the treaty is self-executing, or the definition of “activities”).

The goal of the Obama Administration, Congress and industry is to find a solution that empowers U.S. companies to engage in new types of commercial activities that range from building private space stations to satellite servicing to placing habitats on the Moon to mining asteroids.  That means creating a legal and regulatory environment where the State Department – guardian of U.S. treaty obligations – can say “yes” or “yes, with the following conditions,” rather than “no” to a proposed commercial activity.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has been a leader in Congress on these issues.   He chairs the Environment Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.  In a morning keynote, he recapped his proposed solution – legislation and a minimal set of regulations to provide the certainty companies say they need in order to attract investors.  Later in the day, a panel of three space lawyers debated the issues:   Diane Howard, Assistant Professor, Commercial Space Operations, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; Laura Montgomery, recently retired as Manager of the FAA’s Space Law Office and now in private practice; and Matthew Schafer, Director of Space Cyber & Telecom at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Law School.

Other panels of speakers also addressed aspects of the debate, which is too complex to summarize here (we will post a separate story later).   In a nutshell, earlier this year it appeared that consensus was developing between government and industry to designate FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) as the government entity to authorize and continually supervise commercial in-space activities.  That would be an expansion of its current role in granting permits and licenses for launches and reentries.

This fall, however, Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of the Space Subcommittee of House SS&T, called for a total regulatory rethink and said he planned to hold hearings next year.  About the same time, Montgomery, an attorney who spent more than 20 years at the FAA working commercial space issues, also came forward with a different interpretation of what is required to comply with the treaty.

All of these ideas were debated at the Galloway Symposium.  There was no resolution and Babin’s hearings, whenever they take place, likely will elucidate where the various parties stand. Some commercial activities, like space mining, may be decades away.  Others, like private space stations or satellite servicing, loom larger, arguing for a near-term decision at least on what government office should be designated as the responsible entity for whatever laws or regulations are to come.

As an example of the gulf between the various points of view, Montgomery said “as a former regulator, I can say that the only thing worse than ambiguity is clarity” because while “you’d think … [with] clarity, you’re going to know exactly what to do, until you find out you don’t want to do the thing they make you do.”   Responding to that comment, Chris Hearsey, Director of Legislative Affairs for Bigelow Aerospace, which wants to build space stations and habitats, said on the next panel that businesses “don’t want ambiguity.”  “I can’t tell Mr. Bigelow how he can plan his missions, I can’t tell him what to tell customers unless we know what the boundaries are for us.”

What's Happening in Space Policy December 11-31, 2016

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 11-Dec-2016 (Updated: 11-Dec-2016 12:22 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for December 11-31, 2016 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess for the rest of the year.

During the Weeks

Congress has completed its legislative business for the year.  Officially the 114th Congress ends at noon on January 3, 2017 when the 115th Congress begins, but no more legislative activity is scheduled between now and then.

With the holidays looming, few other space policy events are scheduled for the rest of the year, so this edition of “What’s Happening” covers through the end of 2016.

This coming week still has a few important events, most notably, perhaps, the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in San Francisco.   It begins on Monday, but today (Sunday), an associated public lecture is scheduled (it will be livestreamed) about how Mars landing sites are selected.  In this case, it is the Mars 2020 landing site.  The lecture is at noon Pacific Time (3:00 pm ET) and features a NASA astrobiologist (Michael Meyer), a CalTech geologist (Bethany Ehlmann), and a high school student (Alex Longo).

AGU will livestream 75 of its more than 1800 scientific sessions during the week-long meeting and NASA TV will broadcast several press conferences and other events in which the agency is engaged.  Unfortunately, Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting on the status of the National Academies’ Decadal Survey on Earth Science and Applications from Space (ESAS) isn’t on either list.

Speaking of Earth science, on Monday morning, weather permitting (and the forecast isn’t very good), NASA will launch a constellation of eight microsatellites using Orbital ATK’s air-launched Pegasus rocket.  The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) will measure ocean surface winds in and near the eyes of hurricanes to improve hurricane intensity forecasts.  NASA TV will cover the launch.

The Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will meet Tuesday-Wednesday at the Academies’ Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  Sessions on the first day are closed, but almost all day on Wednesday is open and will be available by WebEx.

On a completely different topic, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance will hold a briefing on Capitol Hill on developing a space-based sensor layer for missile defense on Wednesday. Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, Director of Space Programs for the Air Force Acquisitions Office, and Richard Matlock, Program Executive for Advanced Technology at the Missile Defense Agency, are the speakers.

After that, the calendar is empty till the New Year begins.  Unless some new events emerge, we will not publish a “What’s Happening” article until January 1.  We wish all of you a happy and restful holiday season.  (And we’ll still be here posting news stories as needed.)

The events we know about through December 31 are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for additional meetings we learn about later and post to our Events of Interest list.

Sunday, December 11

Monday, December 12

Monday-Friday, December 12-16

  • AGU Fall Meeting, Moscone Center, San Francisco (some sessions and press conferences will be livestreamed by AGU or NASA)

Tuesday, December 13

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 13-14

Wednesday, December 14

Senate Passes NASA Authorization at Last Minute, Too Late for House Action This Year

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 10-Dec-2016 (Updated: 10-Dec-2016 02:37 PM)

The Senate completed its legislative business for the 114th Congress in the early hours this morning.   In its last legislative day, it passed dozens of bills by unanimous consent, including the NASA Transition Authorization Act.  The House already has left, so it is too late for the bill to be finalized this year, but it could serve as the basis for a new bill in the next Congress.  A link to the text of the bill as passed is available below.

The most recent NASA authorization act was enacted in 2010.  It recommended funding levels only through FY2013, but the policy provisions remain in force until or unless changed by future legislation.  The House passed a bill in 2014, but the Senate did not take it up.  In February 2015, the House passed another bill (H.R. 810), very similar to the one passed in 2014.  In April 2015, the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee approved a new bill, H.R. 2039, for FY2016-2017, but on a strictly party-line vote primarily because it included deep cuts to NASA's Earth science program.  The bill never advanced out of committee.

In September 2016, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved its own bill, S. 3346.  Since that time, the House and Senate have been negotiating a final bill that blends the Senate committee's bill, H.R. 810, and H.R. 2039.

The fruit of that negotiation is the version of S. 3346 that passed the Senate overnight.

The House and Senate have gone home for the year. In the past, Congress would adjourn "sine die" -- "without a day" for returning. That signaled the end of a Congress (which lasts two years, divided into two sessions) and everyone would go home.  However, under the Constitution, the President may appoint people to government positions that require Senate confirmation without such action if the Senate is in recess for three days or more ("recess appointments").  To avoid that, in recent years the Senate (and often the House) has scheduled "pro forma" sessions at three-day intervals whenever it takes a break where one Senator arrives at the chamber and gavels it in and out of session so it is not in recess for more than 3 days. Under the Constitution (Amendment XX), Congress must meet at noon on January 3 each year.  Strictly speaking the 114th Congress, 2nd session ends at 11:59 am ET on January 3 and the 115th Congress, 1st session, begins at 12:00 pm ET on January 3.  The Senate has pro forma sessions scheduled between now and January 3 so recess appointments are not possible, but no legislative business takes place during such sessions.  

Legislation that does not pass in a Congress dies and the effort must begin again in the next Congress.  Bills like this may serve as the basis for new legislation, however, so although there will be no further action in the 114th Congress, its text may remain relevant. 

Congress also did not pass the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bills that fund NASA.  They were approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but were not passed by either chamber.  NASA is operating under a Continuing Resolution that passed the Senate just before midnight that lasts through April 28, 2017. 

Most of the key congressional players for NASA will still be in their positions when the 115th Congress convenes on January 3.  Three exceptions are Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland), the top Democrat on the House SS&T's Space Subcommittee, who ran for Senate and lost; Rep. Mike  Honda (D-California), top Democrat on the House CJS appropriations subcommittee, who lost his reelection bid; and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), top Democrat on the full Senate Appropriations Committee as well as its CJS subcommittee, who retired.

The hope was to get a new NASA authorization bill passed before a new President took office to codify congressional direction before any changes were made.   Theoretically, that could still happen.  Donald Trump will not become President until January 20, and the House and Senate will be back in session for legislative business beginning January 3.  The text of this bill could be introduced as new legislation and passed in the first weeks of the new Congress.  Anything can happen.  Thus, it is summarized below even though officially it is dead now.

In brief, the 139-page Senate-passed bill does the following:

  • Funding: authorizes $19.508 billion for NASA for FY2017 (future years are not addressed).  That is the same amount as approved by the House Appropriations Committee in the FY2017 CJS bill, and $202 million more than what the Senate Appropriations Committee approved ($19.306 billion).  Authorization bills do not actually provide any money. Only appropriations bills do that, although authorization bills provide guidance to appropriators on how the committees that oversee an agency, like NASA, think the money should be spent.  In this case, the authorization bill allocates the money differently than either appropriations bill.
  • International Space Station (ISS):  offers a sense of Congress that ISS should continue at least until 2024, with an evaluation of extending it to 2028. Amends the 2010 NASA authorization act to direct that NASA may not acquire human spaceflight transportation services to and from ISS from a foreign entity unless certain conditions exist. Requires that commercial crew systems meet NASA human rating requirements. States that it is U.S. policy for NASA to procure commercial cargo services through fair and open competition in compliance with Federal Acquisition Regulations. Offers a sense of Congress that an orderly transition is needed to a future where NASA no longer is the primary supplier and consumer of low Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight capabilities and requires biennial reports from NASA on how to achieve that transition.
  • Space Communications: requires a plan on how to meet NASA's LEO and deep space communications and navigation needs for the next 20 years.
  • Indemnification of NASA Launch and Reentry Services:  states that the United States will indemnify launch and reentry service providers from third-party claims, with conditions, for launches that are unusually hazardous or nuclear in nature.
  • Human Deep Space Exploration: amends the 2010 NASA authorization act to state, among other things, that a key objective is to achieve human exploration of "Mars and beyond" through a steppingstone approach. Directs the NASA Administrator to manage programs, including the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion, to enable humans to explore "Mars and other destinations" by defining "a series of sustainable steps and conducting planning, research, and technology development on a timetable that is technically and fiscally possible" and the sustainable steps may include intermediate destinations such as the "surface of the Moon, cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Lagrangian points, and Martian moons." Directs the NASA Administrator to engage with international, academic and industry partners to maximize cost-effectiveness. States that the President may invite ISS partners "and other nations, as appropriate" to participate in a human mission to the surface of Mars "under the leadership of the United States."
  • SLS/Orion:  reaffirms congressional support for these programs and directs the NASA Administrator to develop an SLS upper stage to enable human exploration of deep space.  Directs NASA to conduct the uncrewed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) launch by 2018 and crewed EM-2 by 2021 "subject to applicable human rating processes and requirements"; to conduct future missions at a rate to ensure safety and operational readiness (and assess other uses for SLS); and to develop a habitat as a key element of the deep space human exploration program.
  • Human Exploration Roadmap:  requires NASA to submit a human exploration roadmap, with extensive language about what it must include, beginning December 1, 2017 with biennial updates.
  • Advanced Space Suits:  requires the NASA Administrator to submit a plan for achieving a new space suit capability for future deep space missions that might also be used on ISS.
  • Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM): requires an evaluation of alternatives to ARRM for demonstrating technologies and capabilities needed for the Journey to Mars.
  • Mars 2033:  requires a study by an independent, non-governmental systems engineering and technical assistance organization to study a human mission to Mars to be launched in 2033 (it does not specify whether it is to orbit or land).
  • Health Care for Former Astronauts:  incorporates the TREAT Act (H.R. 6076), which passed the House (amended) on Wednesday.  The current language is similar to what was in the Senate Commerce Committee version of the bill allowing NASA to provide health care to former astronauts and government payload specialists for conditions resulting from their spaceflights.
  • Science: reaffirms congressional intent that NASA have a balanced and adequately funded science portfolio including small, medium and large space missions, suborbital missions, research and analysis grants, and technology development, with science priorities guided by Decadal Surveys from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  Expresses support specifically for planetary science, especially the Mars 2020 rover and a mission to Europa; the James Webb Space Telescope; and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.  Amends the list of U.S. objectives for aeronautical and space activities (51 U.S.C. 20102(d)) to add a 10th item -- "the search for life's origins, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe."  Directs the NASA Administrator to contract with the National Academies to develop a science strategy for the study and exploration of exoplanets, to develop a science strategy for astrobiology, and make an assessment of the architecture of the robotic Mars exploration program.  Requires the Administrator to submit reports on how to utilize public private partnerships to study astrobiology and Near Earth Objects (NEOs). Requires the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the NASA Administrator to submit reports on carrying out a NEO survey program, an analysis of options to divert an object on a collision course with Earth, and a description of efforts to coordinate and cooperate with other countries on discovering and mitigating hazardous asteroids and comets.  Allows NASA to conduct its senior reviews of science mission extensions on a triennial (rather than biennial) basis.  Prohibits NASA from terminating the SOFIA program. Directs OSTP to conduct an analysis of needs for radioisotope power system material for solar system exploration missions.  (The bill does not mention Earth science.)
  • Aeronautics:  expresses support for a robust aeronautics program.  Requires the NASA Administrator to submit roadmaps for research and development of hypersonic and supersonic aircraft and rotorcraft and other runway-independent air vehicles.
  • Space Technology:  establishes as policy that NASA shall develop technologies to support NASA's core missions.  Sets as a goal development of propulsion technologies to shorten the human travel time to Mars.  Requires a report from NASA comparing the agency's space technology investments to the high priority areas identified by the National Academies report on NASA's Space Technology Roadmaps.

The bill also has extensive language on "maximizing efficiency" at NASA that includes a host of issues too numerous to summarize here.  Among them are direction regarding NASA's information technology and cybersecurity activities and the leveraging of commercial satellite servicing capabilities across mission directorates, and requirements for an OSTP report on issues relating to protecting the Apollo landing sites on the Moon, a National Academy of Public Administration review of the effectiveness of the NASA Advisory Council, and a NASA report on concepts and options for removing orbital debris.  The bill also extends by one year NASA's Extended Use Leasing (EUL) authority (51 U.S.C. 20145(g)), which currently sunsets on December 31, 2017.

 

 

 

Senate Passes CR, No Government Shutdown

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Dec-2016 (Updated: 09-Dec-2016 11:35 PM)

The Senate just passed the second FY2017 continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through April 28, 2017.  Thus there will be no government shutdown.

The House passed the CR yesterday, but the Senate vote was up in the air because two Democratic Senators wanted a longer-term guarantee of health care benefits for retired coal miners.

After intense negotiations, enough votes were secured to move forward with a vote on the measure, which ultimately passed 63-36.

DOD, NASA and NOAA will be funded at their current FY2016 levels during this period, although there are a number of exceptions ("anomalies') for each of those agencies.  NASA and NOAA, for example, are able to spend money to ensure that the launch dates for NASA's Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) and NOAA's first Joint Polar Satellite System weather satellite (JPSS-1) are not delayed.

The Senate is now turning to another bill, the Water Resources Development Act, which is highly contentious because of a provision added in the House, but once a vote is taken, the Senate is expected to end its business for the year, and for this Congress.