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What's Happening in Space Policy August 31 - September 11, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Aug-2015 (Updated: 30-Aug-2015 03:51 PM)

Summer is coming to an end and this will be the last of our "summer vacation" multi-week lists of upcoming space policy events.  This edition covers two weeks, August 31-September 11.  The House and Senate return to work on September 8.

During the Week

This week begins with AIAA's Space 2015 conference in Pasadena, CA tomorrow (Monday) through Wednesday.   If you can't be there in person, AIAA is providing a livestream of at least some of the sessions (the event's website does not indicate which ones).  Four plenary sessions may be of particular interest and hopefully are among those that will be webcast:

  • Monday, August 31, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), Executive Vision Discussion (with Jim Albaugh, Robert Lightfoot, Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, Wanda Sigur, and Gwynne Shotwell)
  • Tuesday, September 1, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), The Business of Space--How is the Space Business Evolving to Meet Future Needs?
  • Wednesday, September 2, 8:00-9:30 am PDT (11:00-12:30 EDT), Pioneering Space
  • Wednesday, September 2, 1:15-2:00 pm PDT (4:15-5:00 EDT), Future Explorations: Our Solar System's Origins, Water and Life

Another event of special interest is the launch of Soyuz TMA-18M very early Wednesday morning (12:37 am Eastern Daylight Time--EDT).  This mission is a bit of an anomaly in recent years where two of the three crew will remain on board the International Space Station (ISS) for just one week instead of several months.   ESA's Andreas Mogensen and Kazakhstan's Aidyn Aimbetov will return to Earth on September 11 EDT (September 12 local time at the landing site) along with Russia's Gennady Padalka, who has been on ISS since March.  Padalka launched with NASA's Scott Kelly and Russia's Mikhail Kornienko and those two are staying aboard for a one-year mission, but their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft can only remain on orbit for six months so it and Padalka -- along with Mogensen and Aimbetov -- will come back to Earth. Russia's Sergei Volkov will command Soyuz TMA-18M and replace Padalka.

Mogensen and Aimbetov's time aboard ISS will be even shorter than expected because last week the decision was made to use the two-day rendezvous trajectory to get there instead of the new six-hour direct ascent route introduced for crew launches on Soyuz TMA-08M in March 2013.  The two-day trip is necessary because the ISS orbit was raised recently to avoid a piece of space junk, changing the orbital dynamics involved in getting there.  The new orbit also caused a one day slip in the launch date (from September 1).  The Soyuz TMA-18M crew now will arrive on September 4, giving Mogensen and Aimbetov just seven and a half days on ISS.  It may be just as well since the ISS will be a bit crowded -- for the first time since November 2013, there will be nine people aboard.  On the other hand, ESA said that it means significant replanning of Mogensen's research activities and some experiments will have to be left for other astronauts to complete in the future.

Aimbetov, by the way, was a last minute addition to the crew after singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from the mission.  A military pilot, he was selected as a Kazakh cosmonaut in 2002 and trained at Star City.  He became a Russian citizen along the way, but is flying as a Kazakh, not Russian, crew member.  He was assigned to the flight in June and Kazakh officials say they are paying $20 million, so he apparently is filling Brightman's "space tourist" slot, although he has been through the full training regimen.  He will be the third Kazakh cosmonaut (after Toktar Aubakirov and Talgat Musabayev), not counting Soviet cosmonauts from Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Those events and others that we know about as of today (August 30) for the next two weeks are listed below.

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • AIAA Space 2015, Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA (some events will be livestreamed; note that times listed on the conference's agenda are in local time)

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

Friday, September 4

Tuesday, September 8

  • Congress returns: House meets at 2:00 pm EDT for legislative business; Senate meets at 2:00 pm EDT

Tuesday-Thursday, September 8-10

Wednesday, September 9

Thursday, September 10

Friday, September 11

NASA Assures Congress Orb-3 and SpX-7 Investigations Are Similar

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Aug-2015 (Updated: 27-Aug-2015 10:04 AM)

NASA told Congress this week that it is not giving SpaceX special treatment in the investigation of the Orb-3 and SpX-7 launch failures, but that the investigations are quite similar.  It said the perception that NASA's role in studying the SpaceX failure is less intense is the result of a misunderstanding.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) wrote to NASA earlier this month asking a series of questions about NASA's role in finding the causes of the two failures:  the October 28, 2014 failure of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket with a Cygnus capsule loaded with supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) and the June 28, 2015 failure of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule also full of supplies for the ISS.  Both launches were under the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract between NASA and the two companies.  The Antares/Cygnus launch was Orbital's third CRS launch, Orb-3.   SpaceX's launch was its seventh under the CRS contract -- SpaceX CRS-7 or SpX-7.

As commercial launches, they were licensed by the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) and the accident investigations conducted pursuant to AST regulations.  Accordingly, the companies themselves are in charge of the investigations, not the FAA or NASA.

Smith basically wanted to know why NASA set up an Independent Review Team (IRT) in the wake of the Orb-3 accident, but did not for SpX-7 and whether that implied that SpaceX was being given preferential treatment.

NASA's August 24 response, signed by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, was that although it may not seem so on the surface, NASA's handling of both launch failures is similar.   The major difference is that Orbital Sciences (now Orbital ATK following a merger with ATK earlier this year) is only providing Antares launch services to NASA under the CRS contract while SpaceX's Falcon 9 may also be used for other NASA launches, such as the upcoming launch of the Jason-3 ocean altimetry satellite, under a different NASA contract, NASA Launch Services II (NLS II).  Furthermore, Falcon 9 will be used for SpaceX's launches of crew to the ISS under the commercial crew program.  Antares will not.

Bolden's argument is that NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP), which administers the NLS II contract, and commercial crew program have sufficient insight into SpaceX's activities to satisfy the function of an IRT.

NASA chose to establish an IRT for the Orb-3 failure and "[w]hile it may not have been as visible, we chose to do a similar thing for the SpaceX failure, conducting an independent review, but using existing mechanisms that were already in place," Bolden wrote.  Because of this "misunderstanding," many of the questions posed by Smith were "written under an incorrect premise...."

The five page letter, plus enclosures, goes on to respond to the "spirit of those questions," concluding that NASA is, in fact, conducting independent reviews of both failures and of the Orbital ATK and SpaceX "approaches to return to flight."  One of the enclosures is an August 3 memorandum for the record from NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, stating that "I have been closely observing the inclusion of NASA in the [Falcon 9 failure] investigation and have determined that NASA LSP should serve the function of an independent review team for NASA for this investigation."

Orbital ATK determined that a malfunction of the NK33/AJ-26 Russian rocket engines on Antares caused the Orb-3 failure, although the official report has not been released yet.  It will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket for its next Cygnus cargo launch (OA-4) to ISS in December.  Antares is expected to return to flight, outfitted with different Russian rocket engines, in March 2016. 

SpaceX made a preliminary finding that the SpX-7 failure was due to a bad strut in the rocket's upper stage, but the investigation is ongoing and the company has not announced when the Falcon 9 will return to flight or what it will launch.   SpaceX has a long list of customers, both commercial and government, for Falcon 9 launches. 

The next Falcon 9 NASA launch is Jason-3, which was supposed to go in July after several earlier satellite-related delays.   During a media telecon today on NASA's studies of sea level rise, JPL's Josh Willis said the launch could take place later this year or early next, depending on when the Falcon 9 resumes service.  He said the launch would take place as soon as possible, but only when it can be done safely.  Jason-3 is a cooperative program between NOAA and Europe's EUMETSAT, with participation by NASA and its French counterpart, CNES.  NASA and CNES built the first two in the series and a predecessor, Topex-Poseidon.

What's Happening in Space Policy August 24-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Aug-2015 (Updated: 23-Aug-2015 03:33 PM)

Summer will be over before we know it, but for now, our list of upcoming space policy events still spans the next couple of weeks while "business" is slow.   Congress returns on September 8, the day after Labor Day.

During the Week

This week starts off with the docking of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) HTV5 (Kounotori5) cargo spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS).   The spacecraft was successfully launched on Wednesday and has been catching up with ISS ever since.   JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui is aboard ISS and will be at the controls of Canada's robotic Canadarn2 tomorrow morning (Monday) to capture it.   That event is expected about 6:55 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV coverage begins at 5:15 am EDT.  JAXA's coverage begins at 6:05 am EDT.  Installation of HTV5 onto the Harmony node will follow at about 9:45 am EDT.  The crew surely will be happy to get those 9,500 pounds of supplies, equipment and science experiments following the three cargo mission failures (one U.S. Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus, one Russian Soyuz/Progress, and one U.S. SpaceX Falcon/Dragon) since last October.   It should be noted, of course, that there also have been five successful cargo missions (three Russian Progresses and two U.S. SpaceX Dragons) during that time, which, if anything, demonstrates just how much resupply from Earth is needed to sustain the crew and their work.

Tomorrow also is the first day of the three-day Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meeting at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.  These "AGs" -- assessment groups or analysis groups but NOT "advisory" groups -- apparently no longer are officially part of NASA's advisory process, but are still an opportunity for members of the relevant science community to get together and interact with each other and NASA officials.   The meeting is available virtually via WebEx and telecon.  Among the many interesting sessions, Bob Pappalardo will talk about plans for the Europa mission on Monday at 3:15 pm ET and Alan Stern is scheduled to talk about the New Horizons Pluto mission on Tuesday at 1:30 pm ET.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) is scheduled to speak at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) luncheon on Tuesday.  (The event is listed on MSBR's website, but the link to the flyer is inactive.  We assume that's a glitch and the event is going on as planned, but you might want to check with MSBR to be sure).  Edwards is the top Democrat ("ranking member") on the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and a strong NASA supporter, especially of projects at Goddard Space Flight Center near her district.  Her interest in space goes much further, though.  Never mind just trying to convince her colleagues to fund NASA's "Journey to Mars," she has said publicly that she wants to go there herself.   Right now, though, she is focused on her current job representing Maryland's 4th congressional district and running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

On Friday, the Earth Science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council will meet telephonically.  An agenda is not yet posted on the subcommittee's website, but the Federal Register notice says it is an annual performance review of the Earth Science program as required under the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act.  The public is welcome to listen in.

Those events and others coming up the first week of September that we know about as of today, August 23, are listed below.

Monday, August 24

  • HTV5 arrival at ISS, grapple 6:55 am ET, installation 9:45 am ET (times are approximate)   Watch on NASA TV (5:15 am ET) and JAXA's YouTube site (6:05 am ET)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

  • OPAG, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD (available via WebEx and telecon)

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday, September 2

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4


What's Happening in Space Policy August 17-September 4, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Aug-2015 (Updated: 16-Aug-2015 06:38 PM)

Here is our list of upcoming space policy related events.  This edition covers the next three weeks, through Labor Day Weekend when "summer" unofficially ends for those of us in the United States.  Labor Day is the first Monday in September. This year it is September 7.  Congress and the regular routine of business return on September 8.

During the Week

This coming week leaves lots of time for summer fun, with just one event on our calendar at the moment -- the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) launch of the HTV5 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  The launch has been delayed twice already because of weather and JAXA cautions that more weather delays are possible. For now the launch is scheduled for Wednesday, August 19, at 7:50 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  NASA TV will provide coverage beginning at 7:00 am EDT.  The cargo capsule is named Kounotori (white stork) so this is sometimes referred to as Kounotori-5.

This is the fifth Japanese cargo mission to ISS and a Japanese astronaut is aboard ISS to welcome it.  Kimiya Yui arrived on July 22 with his Soyuz TMA-17M crew mates Kjell Lindgren (NASA) and Oleg Kononenko (Roscosmos). The other three ISS crew members are Gennady Padalka (Roscosmos), Mikhail Kornienko (Roscosmos), and Scott Kelly (NASA).  Kelly and Kornienko are not quite mid-way through their "year in space."  Yesterday was day 141 according to Kelly, who regularly tweets (@StationCDRKelly) about his experiences.  Whenever it launches, HTV5 should arrive at the ISS five days later.

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

Wednesday, August 19

  • JAXA launch of HTV5, Tanegashima, Japan, 7:50 am EDT (NASA TV coverage begins at 7:00 am EDT)

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

Tuesday, September 1

Wednesday-Friday, September 2-4

What's Happening in Space Policy August 9-31, 2015

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Aug-2015 (Updated: 09-Aug-2015 01:10 PM)

With the relatively lazy days of summer upon us, the August weekly editions of "What's Happening" will cover multiple weeks.  The Senate has joined the House in recessing through Labor Day.  They return September 8.

During the Month

Some notable events have come to our attention since last week's edition.  John Sloan from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) is the featured guest at the ISU-DC Space Cafe this Tuesday, August 11.  His topic is AST's international outreach, interesting in and of itself, but questions about AST's progress in responding to the NTSB's report on the SpaceShipTwo accident may also come up (though the answer may simply be that we all have to wait for the official response, which is due 90 days from when the report was received).

Another event that may be especially interesting is Thursday night's debate between Bas Lansdorp, President of Mars One, and two MIT graduate students (Sydney Do and Andrew Owens) who did a technical feasibility analysis of the plan that concluded it would have a "bleak outcome" as we wrote last fall.   The debate is part of the Mars Society's annual convention, which will be held at Catholic University in Washington, DC from August 13-16.  The Lansdorp/MIT debate is August 13 from 8:00-9:30 pm ET and is open to the public.

Coming up a week from Sunday is Japan's launch of HTV5, the next cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  We don't list routine cargo missions to ISS unless there is something non-routine going on and considering the recent failures of ISS cargo missions, HTV5 definitely qualifies.  NASA officials told the NASA Advisory Council at the end of July that some ISS supplies will be down to a 45-day margin by the time HTV5 launches on August 16.  NASA likes to maintain a 6-month margin.  The situation will be much improved once HTV5 arrives.  Launch is at 9:01 am Eastern Daylight Time (10:01 pm local time at the launch site in Tanegashima, Japan).

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, August 9, are listed below.

Saturday - Thursday, August 8-13

Monday, August 10

Tuesday, August 11

Thursday-Sunday, August 13-16

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

Senate Passes Commercial Space Bill, Extends ISS to 2024

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 04-Aug-2015 (Updated: 05-Aug-2015 01:09 AM)

The Senate passed the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, S. 1297, today (August 4) by unanimous consent.  The broadly cast bill not only deals with several issues directly related to commercial space launch, but also extends operation of the International Space Station (ISS) to 2024.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who chairs the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, was approved by the committee on May 20 and formally reported from committee on July 22.  Cosponsors include Republican Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Democrats Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).  

Cruz said the bill carries forward "President Reagan's torch" by making a commitment to continued support of the commercial space sector.   The original Commercial Space Launch Act was enacted in 1984 during Reagan's presidency.   It also extends the U.S. commitment to ISS operations through 2024.   President Reagan initiated the space station program in his 1984 State of the Union Address.  Cruz also tied the legislation to Texas interests, noting that it "recognizes that Texas has a major stake in space exploration" and the ISS commitment signifies that Johnson Space Center employees "will continue to play a vital role in the future" of human spaceflight.

Nelson, the top Democrat on the full committee, said the bill will "help clear the way for the commercial space companies to grow and thrive on Florida's Space Coast and across the nation" and help "with our push to explore Mars."

In addition to the extension of ISS to 2024, the bill --

  • extends to 2020 the "learning period" for commercial human spaceflight whereby the FAA cannot promulgate new regulations except under certain circumstances (sometimes called a "moratorium," it currently expires on September 30, 2015);
  • extends FAA's authority to indemnify commercial space launch companies from third party liability claims for certain amounts of money until 2020 (current authority expires on December 31, 2016);
  • establishes a new "Government Astronaut" category of passenger on commercial spaceflights separate from crew and spaceflight participants;
  • asks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with NASA and other government agencies, to assess and recommend approaches for the oversight of commercial space activities; and
  • asks for a report on how to streamline the process for obtaining licenses and permits for innovative launch vehicles, such as hybrids that use both aircraft and rockets.

The House passed a related bill, the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act, H.R. 2622, on May 21.  There are many differences between the House and Senate bills, and the House bill passed against strong Democratic objections, but there also are similarities providing a basis for conference discussions.

President Obama decided last year that the United States would continue operations of ISS to 2024, but current law says only that it will operate "at least through 2020."  That does not preclude operations beyond 2020, but some argue that the later date should also be stated in law.   Canada and Russia have agreed with the proposal to continue operations through 2024; Japan and Europe have not done so yet.

Muted Response from Critics as State Department Prepares for Space Talks with China

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 03-Aug-2015 (Updated: 03-Aug-2015 01:09 AM)

Five weeks ago, the State Department announced agreement on a U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue that will begin in October, a short three months from now.  With all the hyperbole that usually surrounds discussions of U.S.-China space cooperation, a firestorm of outrage from critics and exuberance from advocates might have been expected, but the reaction has been almost nonexistent.

The muted response from critics is all the more surprising since the State Department’s announcement came in the midst of news that China hacked into the Office of Personnel Management’s computer system, stealing data on more than 22 million current and former government employees and their relatives.

Indeed the State Department issued a press release listing a total of 127 “outcomes” – of which the civil space dialogue is only one – from bilateral talks between the two countries held on June 22-24.  Underscoring the complexities of diplomacy, the United States is castigating China on the cybersecurity front while agreeing to engage on many other fronts.

The State Department is preparing for the first civil space dialogue meeting at the end of October in China.   Kia Henry, a State Department spokesperson, said that all discussions will comply with U.S. laws and regulations.  The State Department will chair the discussions with “support from NASA, the FAA, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey and DoD.”  Henry said they will consider environmental and scientific satellite data exchanges and spaceflight safety issues such as satellite collision avoidance.

NASA is prohibited by law from engaging in bilateral activities with China unless authorized by Congress or 30 days advance certification is provided to Congress that such engagement poses “no risk of resulting in the transfer of technology, data, or other information with national security or economic security implications” and does not involve known violators of human rights.

Kia said that it is NASA’s responsibility to submit the required certification.

Former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), a strong critic of China for many reasons, including human rights, was largely responsible for creating that prohibition several years ago and continuing it in subsequent appropriations act.  He chaired the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and is now retired, but his successor, Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) holds similar views and continued the prohibition in the FY2016 CJS bill that passed the House in June.

SpacePolicyOnline’s attempts over the past two weeks to obtain a reaction to the State Department's announcement from Culberson, however, were unsuccessful.

Outside of Congress, the most outspoken critics of potential U.S.-China space cooperation do not appear to have publicly commented either (’s repeated attempts to contact one of them also yielded no results.)  Eric Sterner, a Fellow at the Marshall Institute, however, offered his views in a July 27 op-ed published by Space News.  While agreeing that a dialogue could be valuable in areas such as collision avoidance, debris mitigation and science, he sees “little compelling reason for those discussions to evolve into civil space cooperation.”  He disagreed with those who argue that cooperating in space leads to better geopolitical relationships on Earth, noting that Russia’s participation in the International Space Station did not dissuade its leaders from invading Ukraine.

A leading advocate of cooperation praised the decision.  Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College who has written books about the Chinese space program, told that the congressional ban “largely serves domestic political goals” and the State Department’s announcement seems to be a ‘recognition that in geopolitics, dialogue is always better than no dialogue.”  She added that working with China on a space science project, for example, would allow the United States “to learn more about their decision making processes” and standard operating procedures, a “not inconsequential benefit.”

A key point will come in September when the House returns from its August recess and NASA submits the 30-day advance certification.  Congress will be busy on other issues, like trying to pass a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating, and perhaps the topics planned for this first civil space dialogue are sufficiently non-controversial that the certification will be accepted perfunctorily.   Still, for all the rancor that the issue has engendered in the past, and the timing of the announcement amid accusations of Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. government databases, the subdued reaction is remarkable.

What's Happening In Space Policy August 3-31, 2015

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

It's summer vacation time so our list of upcoming space policy related events is rather sparse.  Therefore we are listing everything we know about for the entire month of August rather than just one week.  The Senate will be in session this week before it heads out on its summer recess; the House left town last week.  Both will return on September 8. 

During the Month

The Senate still has one more week to go before it recesses for its summer break.  It plans to focus on efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, which is not a space policy issue per se, but there is worry that it could derail the Continuing Resolution (CR) that Congress will need to pass before October 1 to  keep the government operating.  There is no expectation that any of the 12 regular appropriations bills will clear Congress by then, so either a CR must be enacted or there will be a government shutdown.  You can check your favorite news sources to get up to date on the Planned Parenthood controversy, but the bottom line for the space program is that Republicans have seized on the issue to prevent any government funds from going to the non-profit organization.  Democrats have said they will try to block any such effort and the White House said the President would veto any legislation to defund it.  If the CR includes such language, and the President vetoes it ... well, that means no funding for DOD, NASA, or NOAA either.  It's a high stakes game and impossible to guess the outcome.

Apart from that, there is an outside chance the Senate could pass S. 1297, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act.  It was reported from the Senate Commerce Committee on July 22. The bill is thought to be non-controversial, but its lead sponsor is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) who recently took to the floor of the Senate in front of the C-SPAN cameras to castigate the Senate Majority Leader, calling him a liar.  The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), controls what bills are brought up so he might not be inclined to bring up one sponsored by Cruz, but then again, it is always difficult to predict what will happen in Congress. (Even fellow Republicans felt Cruz went too far, especially since there's a Senate rule that one Senator will not impugn the integrity of another Senator on the Senate floor.  They showed their displeasure this week, denying Cruz a routine request for a "sufficient second" for a roll call vote on a procedural matter.  Some also disputed Cruz's account of what McConnell had said. These sorts of intra-party disputes are usually kept private.)

For those who are curious, by the way, the House and Senate may meet in "pro forma" sessions during August (or anytime), but no legislative activity takes place at those times.  The idea is to prevent the President from making "recess appointments," which he is allowed to do when Congress is in recess for more than three days.  So the House and Senate schedule pro forma sessions where only one Member or Senator must walk into the chamber and gavel it into and out of session so it is not legally in recess for an extended period.

Not on our list of events because space policy is unlikely to arise as an issue, but perhaps of interest anyway, is Thursday's Fox News Republican presidential debate.  If you've lost count, there are 17 Republicans running for President.  Those that rank in the top 10 based on an average of 5 national polls on Tuesday (Fox has not said which national polls it will use) will be on stage together at 9:00 pm ET.  The others will have a separate opportunity earlier in the evening (5:00 pm ET). Check your local TV listings for what channel it will be on in your area.

The rest of month is relatively quiet.  The events we know about as of Sunday (August 2) morning are listed below.

Monday-Tuesday, August 3-4

Wednesday-Thursday, August 5-6

Thursday, August 6

Sunday, August 16

Monday-Wednesday, August 24-26

Tuesday, August 25

Friday, August 28

Monday-Wednesday, August 31-September 2

  • Space 2015 (AIAA), Pasadena Convention Center, Pasadena, CA

Export-Import Bank Will Have to Wait - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Jul-2015 (Updated: 30-Jul-2015 03:56 PM)

UPDATE, July 30, 3:50 pm EDT:  This afternoon the Senate passed the House's short-term (three-month) extension of the highway bill, that has no Export-Import Bank reauthorization, sending it to the President for signature.  The Senate also passed its own long-term highway bill, that includes the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization adopted by amendment earlier this week; it will be waiting for House action when the House returns in September.

ORIGINAL POST, July 30, 8:19 am EDT:  The House began its summer recess last night without passing legislation to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, leaving it in limbo at least until September.  Instead it passed a short-term extension to the highway bill without an Ex-Im Bank provision and sent it to the Senate before turning out the lights.  The House will meet in pro forma sessions, but no legislative business is scheduled until September 8.

The Bank's charter, originally enacted in 1934, must be periodically renewed.  It expired on June 30 when a previous reauthorization attempt failed.  The issue splits the Republican and Democratic parties with some members of each insisting that the bank is essential to U.S. exports and therefore to U.S. jobs, while others assert it is corporate welfare for a few big companies.  Boeing is often mentioned in the latter regard.  Advocates claim that small and medium size businesses also benefit not only because of their own projects, but because many are suppliers to the big companies.

The Bank helps provide financing for U.S. exports, including communications satellites, for example.  The Aerospace Industries Associate and the Satellite Industry Association are among its supporters.  

Reauthorization of the Bank is the source of bitter contention in the Senate, but earlier this week that chamber did agree to a multi-year extension of the bank as an amendment to a must-pass highway bill.  There is no substantive connection between the highway bill and the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization, but attaching one to the other was part of a strategy to get both passed before the summer recess began.  Senate supporters of the Ex-Im Bank hoped that enough House members would be willing to accept reauthorization of the Bank in order to keep money flowing from the Highway Trust Fund for highway, highway safety, and public transportation projects.  The Highway Trust Fund's authorization expires tomorrow (July 31).

The House Republican leadership rejected that strategy, however, and instead passed a separate short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund authorization (until October 29) without any reference to the Ex-Im Bank.  That bill is now pending before the Senate, which is likely to pass it since they do not want highway funding to end and the House has gone home for five weeks so nothing else can pass both chambers until September.

During an appearance at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.. yesterday,  Boeing chairman, W. James McNerney, Jr said that the Boeing is "actively" considering moving some of its operations overseas so it can take advantage of other countries' equivalents of the Ex-Im Bank.  Explaining that the whole point of the Bank is to level the playing field with foreign competitors, McNerney said If there will be no U.S. Ex-Im Bank, "we are actively considering now moving key pieces of our company to other countries and we never would have considered it before this craziness on Ex-Im."   

He called it "the triumph of ideology over any description of private business."   Boeing is the biggest beneficiary by dollars, he agreed, but not by transactions:  "There are more deals for small and medium size companies than big companies," adding that "70 percent of the value added of our airplanes are made up by small companies ... who would never have a chance to export without us."  The congressional situation is a "sign of dysfunctionality" when two-thirds of the House and of the Senate support reauthorization, but legislation cannot pass because of the "extremes" of the two parties.

Rep. Chaka Fattah Indicted, Steps Down as House CJS Subcommittee Ranking Member

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 29-Jul-2015 (Updated: 29-Jul-2015 07:15 PM)

Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), the top Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA, stepped down from that position today after being indicted by the Justice Department for misuse of funds.  Fattah denied the charges.

In a statement, Fattah criticized an "eight year effort by some at the Department of Justice to link my public service career to some form of wrongdoing.  With today's charges, this misguided campaign has now moved from speculation to specific allegations....I have never participated in any illegal activity or misappropriation of taxpayer dollars as an elected official."

Rep. Chaka Fattah.   Photo Credit:  Fattah website.

The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee funds not only NASA and NOAA, but the Department of Justice.

Fattah said he was stepping aside as ranking member of the subcommittee in accordance with House rules and precedent, but will "proudly" continue to serve his constituents.

The Justice Department said he and four associates were charged in a 29-count indictment "involving bribery, concealment of unlawful campaign contributions and theft of charitable and federal funds to advance their own personal interests."  

Fattah has been a reliable space program supporter during his tenure as ranking member of the CJS subcommittee.  The House already has passed its version of the FY2016 CJS appropriations bill, but Fattah ordinarily would have been a key member of conference negotiations with the Senate on a final version of the bill. 

Multiple media outlets report that he will be replaced by the next highest ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), whose district is near NASA's Ames Research Center.   Honda himself is currently under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee for an alleged violation of ethics rules regarding coordination between his official staff and his campaign staff.