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

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 30-Apr-2017 (Updated: 30-Apr-2017 02:15 PM)

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

During the Week

SpaceX scrubbed its launch of a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite (NROL-76) at the last minute this morning.  They will try again tomorrow (Monday) morning at 7:00 am ET at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A.  Today's problem was a "sensor issue" apparently in the first stage.  This is SpaceX's first launch for NRO.  The nature of the satellite is classified, of course.  SpaceX provided a webcast today, so probably will tomorrow as well.

In Washington, it is STILL Groundhog Day.  Congress did not complete action on FY2017 appropriations last week.  Instead, it passed another extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that has been funding the government since October 1.  This is just a one-week extension, to this Friday, May 5.  They appeared to be fairly close to agreement at the end of last week after the White House backed away from its insistence that funding be included in the FY2017 bill for the border wall with Mexico, but Democrats continue to worry about "poison pill" provisions the Republicans may be planning.  No bill has been introduced yet, so the actual text is not available for perusal.  The House plans to be in recess on Friday (and all of the following week), so they have four days to work everything out -- or pass another extension.  The President plans to send his complete FY2018 budget request to Congress on May 15 (he sent over a "blueprint" in March, but with few details), so it would be nice if they could finish FY2017 before then.

We still don't know very much about what the President's plans are for space.  In the meantime, the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) and the Space Studies Board (SSB) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are holding a symposium on Tuesday to offer their views.  In 2009, ASEB and SSB published the report America's Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs to provide advice to that new President, Barack Obama.  The study committee that wrote the report was chaired by Gen. Lester Lyles (Ret.) who went on to become chair of ASEB and now chairs the NASA Advisory Council.   He will recap the key points of his 2009 study as a lead in to Tuesday's discussion on "America's Future in Civil Space."   Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, other NASA officials, and distinguished members of the space science, engineering and policy communities will be there.  Registration for in-person attendance has closed because all the seats are taken, but the event will be webcast. 

ASEB itself is meeting tomorrow (Monday) and, among other things, will celebrate its 50th anniversary.  Happy Birthday, ASEB!  SSB will meet Wednesday and Thursday.  SSB's committee performing the mid-term review of the planetary science Decadal Survey is meeting Thursday and Friday.   Some sessions of all of those meetings are closed, but many are open.

An interesting symposium will be held in one of the Senate meeting rooms tomorrow (Monday) morning on Ultra Low Cost Access to Space (ULCATS), a topic on which Air University recently published a report.   It features an impressive list of speakers, including Newt Gingrich and Bob Walker, representatives from Blue Origin, SpaceX, Stratolaunch, and United Launch Alliance, plus high ranking defense department officials and some of the authors of the report.  We've inquired as to whether there will be a livestream or archived audio- or video-cast and will add that information to our calendar item once we get an answer.

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

Monday, May 1

Tuesday, May 2

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 2-3

Wednesday, May 3

Wednesday-Thursday, May 3-4

Thursday-Friday, May 4-5

Friday-Saturday, May 5-6

What's Happening in Space Policy April 23-28, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 23-Apr-2017 (Updated: 23-Apr-2017 12:17 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 23-28, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

President Trump and his daughter Ivanka will make a 20-minute phone call to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tomorrow (Monday) morning at 10:00 am ET.  It will be broadcast on a number of NASA media assets including NASA TV, Facebook, Ustream and YouTube. The Trumps are phoning Whitson to congratulate her on breaking the record for U.S. cumulative time in space -- 534 days (currently held by Jeff Williams).  Whitson is in command of the ISS right now. This is her third trip to the ISS. She was the first woman to command ISS during her second visit in 2008 and now is the first woman to command it twice. She also has set a record for the most spacewalks by a woman (8 so far).  Her duration record is for CUMULATIVE time in space, acquired over three spaceflights.  Scott Kelly holds the U.S. record for CONTINUOUS time in space on a single mission (340 days).

We have no advance knowledge of what the conversation will be about, but might he provide a hint on his plans for human spaceflight?  His proposed FY2018 budget for NASA's human spaceflight program is status quo.  NASA Acting Chief Scientist Gale Allen said last week that the agency is expecting flat budgets, not even adjusted for inflation, for the next 5 years, so it seems unlikely that the President has any big changes in mind for the government-funded program.  Since the Trump Administration supports public private partnerships for space activities, might an announcement of a COTS-like "commercial station" program be in the works to kickstart a new low Earth orbit (LEO) space station to succeed ISS?  NASA has made clear the U.S. government will not be building another LEO space station and is looking to the commercial sector to build LEO facilities for which NASA could be one, but only one, user.  Separately, Allen also said that NASA's study of whether to put a crew on the first SLS/Orion mission is completed and the agency is awaiting a "go forward" plan.  Maybe he'll say something about that.  Or perhaps it will just be a friendly phone call.

Apart from that, it's Groundhog Day in Washington.  Once again Congress must pass an appropriations bill by Friday or the government will shut down. (Which is to say that agencies that get their money from the discretionary part of the budget -- DOD, NASA, NOAA etc. -- will shut down unless they are exempt for reasons of public safety or meet other criteria). The 114th Congress bumped FY2017 funding decisions over into the 115th Congress with a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on Friday, April 28.  Under the CR, agencies are funded at their prior year (FY2016) levels.  FY2017 is more than half over already, but something needs to be done about the remaining 5 months (through September 30).

When President Obama was in office, it was ultra conservative Republicans that threatened (and in one case succeeded) in shutting down the government.  With Republicans now in control of the House, Senate and White House, it is largely Democrats who are making the threats.  Among their issues is that Republicans want to significantly increase defense spending at the expense of non-defense programs.  As an example, Trump submitted a supplemental request for FY2017 last month that would add $30 billion for defense plus another $3 billion to build the border wall with Mexico, all to be partially offset by $18 billion in cuts to non-defense programs (including $50 million from NASA's space science program and $90 million from NOAA's satellite programs).   Many Democrats and some Republicans also object to the funding for the border wall.  Before the two-week recess that is just ending there were indications that congressional Republicans were agreeing not to fight the border wall battle now so they can finish the FY2017 appropriations process, but the Trump White House reportedly is pushing hard for its inclusion.

It's high stakes politics once again with an uncertain outcome.  Rumors are that they might pass another short term (one week) CR to provide more time to reach agreement.  It is usually true that such decisions are made only when there is an ominous deadline looming, so it's not clear why adding another week would make much of a difference.

Bear in mind that this is all about FY2017, the current fiscal year.  They haven't begun work on funding for FY2018, which starts on October 1.  Trump sent a "budget blueprint" or "skinny budget" outlining the contours of his FY2018 spending plan last month.  That's the request that indicates a status quo budget for NASA ($19.100 billion in FY2018 compared to $19.285 billion for FY2016), with some cuts to Earth science and the elimination of NASA's Office of Education among the more contentious issues.  Some of NOAA's satellite programs are in for cuts, but the blueprint doesn't specify where. The detailed FY2018 budget request is expected to be sent to Congress on May 15.

Also on Capitol Hill this week, the Senate Commerce Committee's space subcommittee and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will each hold hearings on Wednesday at exactly the same time (10:00 am ET).  The Senate hearing is on the regulatory environment for commercial space and features the leaders of four prominent commercial space companies (Bigelow Aerospace, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Made in Space).  The House hearing is on advances in the search for life with representatives from NASA (Thomas Zurbuchen, head of the Science Mission Directorate), the SETI Institute (Seth Shostak) and academia (Adam Burgasser from UC San Diego and James Kasting from Pennsylvania State University).

The House hearing takes place as the astrobiology community gathers in Mesa, AZ all week for the 2017 Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon).  Some sessions and two public lectures (Tuesday and Thursday nights) will be webcast.  A "town hall" meeting today (Sunday) will discuss the results of the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander. The Trump Administration's FY2018 budget blueprint specifically does not include funding for a Europa lander (only for the Jupiter orbiter/Europa flyby "Europa Clipper" mission), but discussions about a lander are continuing since it has strong support by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.  It is Congress, not the President, that decides how government money is spent.  Culberson is convinced life (microbial, not intelligent) exists in Europa's subsurface ocean and is adamant that a NASA probe find it in the next decade.  Today's town hall meeting will be available by WebEx/telecon.  Remember that although Arizona is in the Mountain Time zone, it does not observe Daylight Saving Time, so the offset from your time zone is like Pacific Daylight Time (e.g., add three hours, not two, to get Eastern Daylight Time).

The first meeting of the newly chartered NASA Astrophysics Advisory Committee is Monday and Tuesday.  NASA has restructured its advisory apparatus that is subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  This group used to be a subcommittee of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC), so any findings or recommendations had to go from the subcommittee up to the full committee up to NAC up to the NASA Administrator and then down to the Associate Administrator for Science and then, at last, down to the Astrophysics Division Director.  A long route where advice could be changed or eliminated.  Now the group -- and others that also used to be subcommittees -- can report directly to division directors.  Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz will brief the committee tomorrow morning (9:45-11:45 am ET) and later in the meeting program officials will provide updates on the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST), among other topics. The meeting is at NASA HQ in Washington, DC and is available remotely via WebEx and telecon.

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

Sunday, April 23

Monday, April 24

Monday-Tuesday, April 24-25

Monday-Friday, April 24-28

Tuesday, April 25

Tuesday-Thursday, April 25-27

  • Space 2.0, Crowne Plaza San Jose-Silicon Valley, Milpitas, CA
  • AIAA Defense Forum (SECRET/US ONLY), JHU Applied Physics Lab, Laurel, MD

Wednesday, April 26

Thursday, April 27

China Takes Another Step Towards Permanent Space Station - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 20-Apr-2017 (Updated: 22-Apr-2017 01:19 PM)

China successfully launched its Tianzhou-1 space station cargo resupply spacecraft today.  If all goes according to plan, it will rendezvous and dock with the Tiangong-2 space station three times and demonstrate in-orbit refueling.  With such a capability, China could maintain a space station in Earth orbit for many years like the International Space Station (ISS). [UPDATE, April 22:  Tianzhou-1 successfully docked to Tiangong-2 at 12:23 am EDT (04:23 GMT] today as planned per Xinhua.]

The Soviet Union was the first country to demonstrate cargo resupply and in-orbit refueling in 1978 with the Progress spacecraft and Salyut 6 space station. Progress spacecraft are still used today to refuel the ISS station-keeping engines and take other cargo to the facility.  Three other cargo spacecraft resupply ISS (Japan's HTV and the U.S. Dragon and Cygnus), but they do not refuel it.

China's human spaceflight program is proceeding at a measured pace.  After four uncrewed test flights from 1999-2002, China launched its first astronaut (sometimes called a taikonaut in the West) in 2003 on Shenzhou-5.  The next crewed flight, with two astronauts, flew in 2005 (Shenzhou-6) and three astronauts were launched on Shenzhou-7 in 2008. In 2011, China launched its first small space station, Tiangong-1, to which three spacecraft were sent:  an uncrewed Shenzhou-8 as a test flight, then Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 in 2012 and 2013 respectively, each with three astronauts (two men and one woman).  Tiangong-2 was launched in 2016 and one two-person crew (Shenzhou-11) spent 30 days onboard last fall, the longest Chinese spaceflight to date (a total of 33 days including the trip to and from Tiangong-2). 

By comparison, Russian cosmonaut Valeriy Polyakov holds the record for the longest continuous spaceflight -- 438 days (14 months) in 1994-1995.  Scott Kelly holds the record for the longest continuous spaceflight by a U.S. astronaut -- 340 days in 2015-2016.  (On Monday, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will break the U.S. record for cumulative time in space -- 534 days -- but that was acquired over three spaceflights, not a continuous mission.  She is currently in command of the ISS. President Trump will phone her on Monday to congratulate her on her record-breaking mission.)

Chinese officials describe the launch of Tianzhou-1 as the last step of the second phase of its human spaceflight program. The first phase was the initial launches of astronauts.  The second phase includes demonstration of extravehicular activity (EVA, also know as a spacewalk), which was accomplished on Shenzhou-7, and the initial space station flights.  If Tianzhou-1 is successful in its refueling task, that will complete phase 2 and phase 3 -- launch and operation of a multi-modular space station for 10 years -- will be next.  China plans to launch the new space station's core module in 2018 and complete construction of the three-module, 60 metric ton (MT) facility by 2022.   By comparison, ISS has a mass of about 400 MT.  It has been continuously occupied by international crews rotating typically on 4-6 month shifts since November 2000.

No one is aboard Tiangong-2 or Tianzhou-1; the refueling tests are all automated.


Launch of Tianzhou-1 space station cargo resupply spacecraft on Long March 7 from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, China, April 20, 2017.  Photo credit:  CGTN.com

Tianzhou-1 is the heaviest spacecraft ever launched by China -- 13 MT.  It can carry 6.5 MT of cargo, slightly more than Japan's HTV (Kounotori) cargo ship that resupplies ISS.  HTV can transport 6 MT of cargo and is the largest of the ISS resupply ships.

The new Long March 7 rocket boosted Tianzhou-1 into orbit from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island, which became operational last year.  Long March 7 is one of several new rockets China is introducing to replace its older models (Long March 2, 3 and 4).  The new rockets use more environmentally friendly fuel - liquid oxygen and kerosene.  The largest is the Long March 5, which can place 25 MT into low Earth orbit (LEO), slightly less than the largest U.S. rocket, Delta IV Heavy, which can lift 28 MT to LEO.   Long March 5 had its first, and to date only, launch from Wenchang last year, but China has plans to use it for many missions, including launching the three 20-MT space station modules and robotic lunar and planetary exploration spacecraft.  Between now and 2020, China plans to send a sample return mission to the Moon, a probe to land on the far side of the Moon, and an orbiter/lander/rover to Mars.

The ISS partners -- the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 European countries working through the European Space Agency -- have agreed to continue operating ISS until at least 2024.  NASA officials often speak of extending it to 2028, 30 years after the first modules were launched, but there is no agreement on that timeline.  China has picked up on the 2024 date and routinely points out that with the ISS "set to retire" in 2024, it will have the only space station in Earth orbit thereafter. 

NASA is hoping that the U.S. private sector will pick up the gauntlet and build their own space stations to follow-on from ISS that NASA and other customers could use instead of the government building future Earth orbiting facilities.  Section 303 of the recently enacted NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 requires NASA to submit a report to Congress by December 1, 2017 and biennially thereafter until 2023 to show how to transition from the current NASA-reliant regime to one where NASA is only one of many customers of a non-governmental LEO human space flight enterprise.  The goal is for NASA itself to focus on sending astronauts beyond LEO to the distance of the Moon and Mars.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 17-22, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 16-Apr-2017 (Updated: 16-Apr-2017 01:32 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 17-22, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

Topic A this week is the International Space Station (ISS) and not just logistics, but the microgravity science research being conducted there.

Logistically, the next cargo launch is on Tuesday -- Orbital ATK's OA-7 mission -- and two new crew members will launch and dock on Thursday on Soyuz MS-04.  Pre-launch briefings are scheduled for tomorrow (Monday). The OA-7 launch is on Tuesday at 11:11 am ET from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.  The launch has a 30 minute window and the weather is 90 percent favorable as of today. 

This will be the first-ever launch to be broadcast with a 360-degree view according to NASA.  Coverage on NASA's regular TV outlets begins at 10:00 am ET.  The 360-degree view begins on NASA's YouTube channel 10 minutes before launch.  NASA, Orbital ATK and ULA are all working together on the 360-degree view, so the two companies' websites may also carry it.  A post-launch press conference is scheduled for 2:00 pm ET.  Two days later, Soyuz MS-04 will take NASA's Jack Fischer and Roscosmos's Fyodor Yurchikhin to ISS.  As we explained last week, Russia is reducing its ISS crew complement from three to two, so there's an empty seat on this launch, which will be filled by Peggy Whitson on the return.

A key point of having ISS in the first place is to perform scientific research in microgravity.  In Washington, DC, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine will hold a day-long public symposium on Wednesday where scientists will discuss that research.  The next day (Thursday), a panel discussion will take place on Capitol Hill to highlight some of it.  

The Academies symposium is in conjunction with a meeting of a committee that is performing a mid-term review of the 2011 Decadal Survey on life and physical sciences research in space to evaluate how NASA is implementing those recommendations.   Decadal Surveys cover 10 years (a decade, hence "decadal").  Congress requires NASA to contract with the Academies for Decadal Surveys in each of the science disciplines as well as for mid-term reviews of each study half way though the relevant decade.  The mid-term review committee cannot change the priorities in the original report, but assesses how things are going.  The mid-term review committee is meeting Tuesday-Thursday, but most of Tuesday and all of Thursday are in closed session.  Wednesday's public colloquium will be webcast.  The Academies requests that everyone pre-register whether planning to attend in person or watch the webcast.

On Thursday morning, the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR), the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and Rep. Brian Babin (chair of the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee) will hold a panel discussion on Capitol Hill with four scientists who will discuss their own ISS research on water engineering, the movement of fluids, tissue healing, and plant research.  The event is free, but pre-registration is required.

On another topic, Saturday, April 22, is Earth Day and "March for Science" rallies will take place around the globe.  One will be on the National Mall in Washington, DC (near the Washington Monument).  Organizers are requesting that people who plan to attend let them know through the RSVP link on their website, where you can also find the locations of other rallies that might be closer to you if you can't get to DC.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below. Check for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.

Monday, April 17

Tuesday, April 18

  • Orbital ATK 7 (OA-7) Launch, Cape Canaveral, FL, 11:11 am ET (30 minute launch window).  Regular NASA TV coverage begins 10:00 am ET; first-ever 360-degree launch view coverage begins 10 minutes before launch on NASA's YouTube channel.   Post-launch press conference 2:00 pm ET.

Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20

Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21

Wednesday, April 19

Thursday, April 20

Thursday-Friday, April 20-21

Friday, April 21

Saturday, April 22

G-7 Foreign Ministers Call for Safe, Secure, Sustainable Space Environment

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 12-Apr-2017 (Updated: 12-Apr-2017 10:13 PM)

The foreign ministers of the G-7 countries issued a joint communique yesterday in which they recognized the importance of space activities and called for a safe, secure, sustainable and stable space environment, increased transparency, and strengthened norms of responsible behavior.  At the same time, the G-7 Nonproliferation Directors Group issued a statement on non-proliferation and disarmament that includes four paragraphs about space that goes further, urging, for example, that countries refrain from destruction of space objects -- intentionally or unintentionally.

The G-7 is an informal group of industrialized countries -- Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- that meets annually  Their foreign ministers met April 10-11 in Lucca, Italy in preparation for the upcoming heads-of-government summit next month.  Their 30-page joint communique following the meeting includes one paragraph about space:

Outer space activities have immense potential. We recognize the rapid development of the modern space environment and the importance of outer space activities both in the day to day lives of our citizens and for the social, economic, scientific and technological development of all states. We are committed to enhancing the long-term safety, security, sustainability, and stability of the space environment, to increasing transparency in space activities, and to strengthening norms of responsible behaviour for all outer space activities.

The G-7 Nonproliferation Directors Group went further. Their 13-page statement similarly reiterates a commitment to a safe, secure and sustainable space environment, but also calls on countries to "refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests, and from any other action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects."  They also "strongly encourage" countries to "cooperate in good faith to avoid harmful interference with outer space activities, in a manner consistent with international law" and to prevent the creation and diffusion of space debris.   The full text of the space section is as follows:

OUTER SPACE

60. Outer space activities play a significant and increasing role in the social, economic, scientific and technological development of States, as well as in maintaining international peace and security. In this context, we reiterate our commitment to preserve a safe, secure, and sustainable outer space environment and the need to evolve and implement principles of responsible behavior for all outer space activities in a prompt and pragmatic manner, ensuring the peaceful exploration and use of outer space on the basis of equality and in accordance with international law.

61. We call on all States to refrain from irresponsible intentional destruction of space objects, including by anti-satellite tests, and from any other action which brings about, directly or indirectly, damage or destruction of space objects. We strongly encourage all States to take appropriate measures to cooperate in good faith to avoid harmful interference with outer space activities, in a manner consistent with international law, as well as to cooperate to prevent the creation and diffusion of long-lived orbital debris.

62. We reaffirm our commitment, and call on all States, to review and implement, to the extent practicable, the proposed transparency and confidence-building measures contained in the recommendations of the UN Group of Governmental Experts Report (A/68/189, 29 July 2013) such as information exchange on space policies and strategies, information exchange and notifications related to outer space activities in a timely manner and an effective consultation mechanism.

63. We strongly support efforts to rapidly complete clear, practicable and proven Guidelines for Long-Term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) by 2018. We encourage all Member States of the Committee to play a constructive role to this end, building on the significant results recently achieved, both during the 59th session of the UN-COPUOS and the 54th session of the Committee’s Scientific and Technical Subcommittees.

These communiques will feed into the 43rd G-7 summit to be held May 26-27 in Taormina, Italy (on the island of Sicily).  Italy is currently president of the G-7. Russia became a member of the group in 1998 and it was then known as the G-8.  Russia was suspended in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea, however, so it is now once again the G-7.

What's Happening in Space Policy April 10-22, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Apr-2017 (Updated: 10-Apr-2017 05:50 AM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, April 10-22, 2017, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess for two weeks.

During the Weeks

At last!  We're getting a bit of a break.  With Congress in recess until April 24 and most of the big U.S. space conferences over for the first half of the year, the list of events is shorter than it's been recently.  We've decided to combine the next two weeks, taking us through April 22 -- Earth Day and the March for Science.

During this period, three crew members will return from the International Space Station (ISS) and two -- yes, just two -- will launch to the ISS.  Russia is cutting back on how many of its cosmonauts are aboard ISS to reduce requirements to resupply them using Progress cargo spacecraft.  It's a cost cutting move that presents opportunities for NASA astronauts.  First among them is Peggy Whitson who will get to remain aboard ISS for an extra three months. 

The do-si-do of ISS crews is difficult to follow sometimes, but under normal circumstances in the post-shuttle era there are six crew members aboard -- three from Russia and three from the other partners (at least one from NASA and others from ESA, JAXA, and CSA).  The limit is based on how many can get off the ISS in an emergency, which is dictated by how many Soyuz spacecraft are attached since they not only routinely take people back and forth, but serve as lifeboats while there.  Each Soyuz can accommodate three people, so with the usual two Soyuzes docked, six people are OK.   With Russia cutting its crew from three to two, that means there's an extra Soyuz seat for an emergency or a routine return to Earth.

An American (Shane Kimbrough) and two Russians (Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko) will return on April 10 in their Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft, leaving three people on board (NASA's Whitson, ESA's Thomas Pesquet and Russia's Oleg Novitskiy) along with their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.  On April 20, an American (Jack Fischer) and a Russian (Fyodor Yurchikhin) will launch on Soyuz MS-04, with an empty seat.  Whitson was supposed to return on Soyuz MS-03 with Pesquet and Novitsky, but now will remain and come back with Fischer and Yurchikhin.  Whitson is setting records for most cumulative time in space for an American (on April 24 she will break Jeff Williams' 534-day record) and the most spacewalks for an American woman (8).  This morning a change of command ceremony took place as the Soyuz MS-02 crew prepares to depart.  She will be the new commander.  This is her second assignment as ISS commander.  She was the first woman commander of ISS on her last trip there in 2008.  (This is her third long duration ISS mission. Her first was in 2002.)

A U.S. cargo mission to the ISS also is coming up during this period.  Orbital ATK-7 (OA-7) is launching on United Launch Alliance's (ULA's) Atlas V rocket this time instead of Orbital ATK's Antares.  The launch therefore is from Cape Canaveral and has been delayed several times in recent weeks because of one technical problem or another.  It is currently scheduled for April 18, though we haven't seen a time posted by ULA or NASA yet.

Staying with the human spaceflight theme, it also is worth noting that April 12 is the 56th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man to orbit the Earth, and the 36th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle launch.  We haven't heard of any commemorative events, however,

Other events of particular note include: meetings of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory Council (April 12-13), NOAA's Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES, April 12), and the National Academies committee performing a mid-term review of the Decadal Survey of physical and biological sciences in space (April 18-20); a European Conference on Space Debris (April 18-21); and a WSBR panel discussion on defense space priorities for the Trump Administration (April 20).

And on Saturday, April 22, a March for Science rally will take place. Actually, there several hundred taking place around the world according to the Earth Day Network website, which says it is the lead organizer.  Washington, D.C. will be the site of a "rally and teach-in" on the National Mall (north side of the Washington Monument, South of Constitution Ave NW, between 15th and 17th Street, NW) beginning at 9:00 am ET.  No tickets are needed, but organizers hope people will register to attend any of the rallies.  Earth Day itself has been held every year since 1970 to focus attention on the fragility of Earth's environment.  (The iconic Earthrise photo taken by the Apollo 8 crew -- the first crew to orbit the Moon - in 1968 is often cited as a catalyst for the environmental movement and Earth Day.  The Blue Marble photograph taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972 has been widely adopted as an emblem for Earth Day.)

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

Monday, April 10

Wednesday, April 12

Wednesday-Thursday, April 12-13

Friday, April 14

  • Space Capabilities (Mitchell Institute), Capitol Hill Club, Washington, DC, 8:00 am ET (pre-registration required)

Tuesday, April 18

Tuesday-Thursday, April 18-20

Tuesday-Friday, April 18-21

Thursday, April 20

Thursday-Friday, April 20-21

Friday, April 21

Saturday, April 22

What's Happening in Space Policy April 3-7, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 02-Apr-2017 (Updated: 02-Apr-2017 02:21 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 3-7, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week (then will be in recess for the subsequent two weeks).

During the Week

THE BIG SPACE EVENT this week is, of course, the Space Foundation's annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.  Between all the conference sessions and side events, the entire breadth of space activities -- domestic and international -- is covered.  There is far too much going on to summarize in this brief article, and the majority of activities require people to be on site, but one event that has been announced by the United Launch Alliance will be webcast and might pique some interest.  On Tuesday at 10:30 am Mountain Time (12:30 pm Eastern), ULA will have a panel discussion on its "vision of a self-sustained space economy within the confines of CisLunar space."  ULA CEO Tory Bruno will be there along with representatives of AIAA, Made in Space, Offworld, and the Air Force Academy.   Other companies are likely to make big announcements at the Space Symposium, too, so stay tuned throughout the week!

Also in the western part of the United States and also on Tuesday, NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) will hold a press conference on the beginning of the end for the much-loved Cassini spacecraft that has been studying Saturn, its rings and its moons since 2004.  Cassini is running out of fuel and to ensure that it does not crash into and contaminate any of those moons -- especially Titan or Enceladus where some scientists believe the conditions for life exist -- JPL is commanding Cassini to "crash" into Saturn itself instead.  Saturn is a gaseous planet so "crash" isn't the right word, but atmospheric forces should destroy it.  To get as much science as possible, Cassini will make 20 deep dives into the Saturnian atmosphere over the next several months collecting data on the unexplored gap between the planet and its rings.  The first is scheduled for April 26; the last on September 15.  The press conference will be webcast.

Meanwhile, back here in Washington, the House is scheduled to take up the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 353) again, this time to approve amendments added by the Senate before it passed that chamber last week.  The bill was largely written in the 114th Congress and the House made quick work of reintroducing it in the 115th Congress and passing it on January 9.  This latest iteration omits a controversial watershed study that held up passage last year and makes a few changes to the House-passed version. The provisions regarding NOAA's weather satellite programs remain the same. The bill currently is on the House suspension calendar for Tuesday.  Bills on that calendar are expected to pass easily.

Behind the scenes, work will continue to determine the path forward for FY2017 appropriations.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) keeping the government open at the moment expires on April 28.  Since the House and Senate will be on spring break for the middle two weeks of the month, they have this week and the last week in April to decide what they're going to do.  Although there is a Republican president in the White House now instead of a Democrat, budget politics have not changed very much -- it's just that now it is some Democrats threatening a shutdown instead of Republicans.  The arguments are the same -- Republicans want to increase defense spending.  Period.  Democrats insist that if defense will get more, then non-defense also should get more and definitely should not be cut the way the Trump Administration has proposed for FY2018.  

The battle right now, however, is over the rest of FY2017, which began on October 1, 2016 so is half over already.  The appropriations committees had pretty much decided what to do with FY2017, but President Trump has submitted a FY2017 supplemental request for an additional $30 billion in defense spending and $3 billion for Homeland Security that would be partially offset by $18 billion in cuts to non-defense programs.  Since only 5 months will remain in FY2017 at the end of April, those cuts would have a dramatic impact since they would have to be absorbed in such a short period of time.  Bottom line?  It's a familiar quandary.  Will they pass another CR through the end of the year or an omnibus bill that combines 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills?  (One, and only one, FY2017 appropriations bill passed already -- Military Construction/Veterans Administration.  It was incorporated into the first CR passed last fall.)  Or will they pass nothing and much of the government will come to a halt?  With the level of discord within the Republican Party not to mention between Republicans and Democrats, we're not making any prognostications.

Funding the government through CRs is harshly criticized by everyone, which may come as a surprise considering how often it is done (because they can't reach agreement on anything else).   The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) wants to emphasize just how bad another CR would be for DOD and is holding a hearing specifically on that topic Wednesday morning: "Damage to the Military from a Continuing Resolution."  Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miley, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson are the witnesses.  A high-powered panel to be sure. 

The House passed a revised FY2017 defense appropriations bill in March, actually, and it is conceivable that bill alone could pass with the other 10 wrapped into an omnibus or extended by a CR.  Congress has a number of options to work with, the key is getting sufficient votes to pass one of them.  At the moment, the Senate still needs 60 votes to pass an appropriations bill (meaning at least 8 Democrat/Independent aye votes).  In the House, the Freedom Caucus objects to the total level of government spending, so the House Republican leadership may well need Democratic votes to get anything passed.  Which has been true for some time. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for any we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.   [For those of you wondering what's happening with the postponed OA-7 launch we mentioned last week, a NASA official said at a NASA Advisory Council meeting that it will not launch before mid-April.  A specific launch date and associated dates for pre-launch briefings have not been announced.]

Monday-Thursday, April 3-6

Monday-Friday, April 3-7

Tuesday, April 4

Wednesday, April 5

Thursday, April 6

 

What's Happening in Space Policy March 27-31, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 26-Mar-2017 (Updated: 26-Mar-2017 12:57 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 27-31, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.   The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

Before we get started on what's coming up, in case you missed it, yesterday President Trump used his Weekly Address to talk about NASA.  He signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act into law earlier in the week and the roughly 5 minute video continues the theme of expressing his admiration for NASA while sharing no information on his plans for the agency.  Apollo, Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are featured. JWST is, in fact, the only future program mentioned even though the President says "the future belongs to us."  He is speaking generically at that point, though, not about the space program specifically.  Nothing about the International Station Station even though there's footage from the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.  A space shuttle launch is shown, but nothing about SLS or any other launch vehicles.  The only science other than astrophysics that makes it into the video requires the viewer to be sufficiently in-the-know to recognize the JPL jubilation at Curiosity's successful landing on Mars.  Still, Presidents don't often talk about the space program in their Weekly Addresses or anywhere else, so it's worth a look. This was done the day after the Republican Obamacare repeal effort failed, so perhaps he was looking for some good news to convey.  He says at the end that "if Americans can achieve these things, there is no problem we cannot solve."

Onward.  This coming week is another space policy extravaganza.   Starting with national security space, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on the nomination of former Rep. Heather Wilson to be Secretary of the Air Force.  Trump announced her nomination back in January, but it has taken this long for all the paperwork to get to the committee. None of the service secretaries are in place right now.  The nominees for Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Navy withdrew because they could not disentangle themselves from their business interests.  Wilson's hearing is Thursday morning.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, a HASC subcommittee will hold a joint hearing with a House Homeland Security subcommittee on "Threats to Space Assets and Implications for Homeland Security," certainly an interesting topic.  Witnesses are the former commandant of the Coast Guard (Adm. Thad Allen), the former deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Joseph Nimmich), and the former commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command (Gen. William Shelton).  That's on Wednesday afternoon.  Allen is on the GPS Advisory Board, so that surely will be one of the topics.  GPS -- where would we all be without it?

On the civil space side, this is Space Science Week at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  All five of the standing committees that deal with space meet individually and jointly Tuesday-Thursday and there is a public lecture on Wednesday evening.   At the public lecture, JPL's Kevin Hand will talk about the Search for Life in Oceans Beyond Earth.  The lecture and the other Space Science Week events will take place at the National Academy of Sciences building on Constitution Avenue (not at the Keck Center on 5th Street).

Space law is on the docket this week, too. The Legal Subcommittee of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space begins its annual two-week meeting in Vienna, Austria.  The first day features a space law symposium sponsored by the International Institute of Space Law (IISL) and the European Centre for Space Law (ECSL).  Closer to home, Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) is holding an afternoon symposium on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.   Henry Hetrzfeld (GWU), Steve Mirmina (NASA), Pamela Meredith (American Univ.), Ray Bender (independent arbitrator and mediator), Courtney Bailey (NASA) and Pete Hays (DOD PDSA staff) are the speakers.  SAIS doesn't often weigh in on space law or space policy issues.  Space law does seem to be in vogue these days, spurred by the anniversary and the innovative ideas commercial companies are espousing for space exploration and utilization and associated legal issues.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) meets, more briefly than usual, on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.  Two of its committees meet earlier in the week, including Human Exploration and Operations (HEO).  NAC advises the NASA Administrator and a new Administrator has not yet been nominated.  Robert Lightfoot is Acting Administrator.  Gen. Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.) is the new Chair of NAC, succeeding Ken Bowersox, who served as Acting Chair after Steve Squyres stepped down last April.  Bowersox remains on NAC and resumes his position as chair of the HEO committee.  Lyles was an ex officio member of NAC for many years because he chaired the National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB).  He completed his two terms as ASEB chair last year and now will continue advising NASA in this new capacity.  Public sessions of the NAC meetings are useful for catching up on NASA programs and the issues NASA managers are facing.  Anyone can listen in by telecon and watch via WebEx.  

We'll stop there because this is getting so long, but there are MANY other really interesting meetings on tap this week.

All the events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.  In particular we are awaiting word on when the OA-7 cargo mission to the International Space Station will launch.  The launch, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral, has been delayed three times due to technical problems with one thing or another.  When a new launch date is announced, we'll post it.

Monday, March 27

Monday, March 27 - Friday, April 7

Tuesday, March 28

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 28-29

Tuesday-Thursday, March 28-30

Wednesday, March 29

Wednesday-Friday, March 29-31

Thursday, March 30

Thursday-Friday, March 30-31

Trump Signs NASA Bill, Pence Says Space Council Imminent

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 21-Mar-2017 (Updated: 21-Mar-2017 09:10 PM)

President Donald Trump signed the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act into law today.  During an Oval Office signing ceremony, Vice President Mike Pence said that Trump will soon reactivate a White House National Space Council and has asked him to lead it.

The signing ceremony included about a dozen members of Congress who worked on the bill (S. 442) as well as NASA officials, including Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot and astronauts. Among the members were Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Representatives John Culberson (R-TX), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Brian Babin (R-TX), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), Bill Posey (R-FL), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), and Mo Brooks (R-AL).


President Donald Trump signs the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act into law during an Oval Office ceremony, March 21, 2017.  Snip from White House video posted on NASA YouTube channel.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, chief of the astronaut office, presented the President with an astronaut flight jacket.

In his formal statement, Trump summarized key provisions of the legislation, particularly praising the jobs it will create and its reaffirmation of support for NASA's "core missions" -- "human space exploration, space science, and technology."  He did not mention earth science.  Later he said the United States would remain a leader in aviation.

He invited others to speak after he signed it and Culberson remarked that just as President Eisenhower is remembered as the President who created the interstate highway system, he (Trump) would be remembered as creating the interplanetary highway system. 

Trump replied:  "Well that sounds exciting.  First we want to fix our highways. We have to fix our highways."

That is reminiscent of what he said during the campaign. When asked about his views on space, he said he loves what NASA represents, but "we need to fix the potholes first."

Thus, his comments today did not shed much light on what he plans to do with NASA.  His budget blueprint suggests the status quo, at least for now.  He may be waiting for input from a White House National Space Council that Vice President Pence today said would be established soon.

At the end of the ceremony, Pence said that "in very short order the President will be taking action to relaunch the National Space Council.  He's asked me to chair that as Vice Presidents have done in the past and we're going to be bringing together the best and the brightest in NASA and also in the private sector.  We have elected a builder for President and as he said America once again needs to start building and leading to the stars."

This is the first NASA authorization bill since 2010.  It sets policy and recommends funding levels for FY2017, which is already underway.  It does not provide any funding to NASA, however; only appropriations bills do that.  Congress is still considering the FY2017 appropriations bills.  NASA and other government agencies are funded right now by a Continuing Resolution basically at their FY2016 levels until April 28.  Congress must pass some other appropriations measure(s) by then to keep the government operating.

A National Aeronautics and Space Council was created in the 1958 NASA Act, but President Richard Nixon abolished it in 1973.  Congress reestablished a National Space Council (without the aeronautics component) in the FY1989 NASA Authorization Act and President George H.W. Bush implemented it by Executive Order in 1989.  It was chaired by Vice President Dan Quayle.  The National Space Council (usually abbreviated NSpC to distinguish its initials from the National Security Council) still exists in law, but has not been funded or staffed since the end of that Administration.   Space policy has been overseen in the White House by the National Security Council (national security) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (civil and commercial) since then.

What's Happening in Space Policy March 19-24, 2017

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 19-Mar-2017 (Updated: 19-Mar-2017 03:41 PM)

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of March 19-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It's another one of those super-busy weeks, especially Wednesday.  Lots of action is in store inside Washington, outside Washington, and in Earth orbit.

Two are happening today (Sunday).  First is a Town Hall meeting at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LSPC) near Houston that is discussing the Science Definition Team report on a Europa lander, a topic expected to be of congressional interest during debate on the FY2018 budget request. President Trump's budget blueprint specifically says it does NOT fund the lander, only the orbiter/flyby Europa Clipper. Second is the return to Earth of SpaceX's CRS-10 Dragon spacecraft.  It took about 5,500 pounds of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) last month and is returning 5,400 pounds of results from scientific experiments and other items needed back on Earth.  Dragon is the only one of the four cargo spacecraft that service ISS that was designed to survive reentry (since SpaceX designed it from the beginning to support crews).

Dragon's return is just one part of a busy time on the ISS.  Another cargo mission, Orbital ATK's OA-7, is scheduled for launch on either Thursday or Friday (the exact date is TBD depending on availability of the Eastern Test Range from which the launch will take place aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V).  At the same time, astronauts on the U.S. segment of the ISS are gearing up for a series of three spacewalks.  The first is on Friday.  NASA will hold a news conference on Wednesday at Johnson Space Center to explain what they will be doing.  NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will all take part in the spacewalks.  The other two are on April 2 and April 7.

The Europa lander Town Hall mentioned above is just the start of the week-long LPSC conference at The Woodlands, just outside Houston.  LPSC is the premier conference where planetary scientists gather to present the results of their research and talk about upcoming missions.  Unfortunately, it looks like there are no webcasts, so one must be there in person to hear about all the new findings and discoveries.  [There is a notice on the conference's website warning that no live streaming of presentations is permitted.]  NASA headquarters representatives will hold their own Town Hall meeting on Monday and NASA's Venus Exploration Analysis Group's (VEXAG's) Town Hall is on Thursday.

Back in Washington, brevity requires picking just two events to highlight, both among those taking place on Wednesday.  First, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) will hold a day-long symposium on "Space Security:  Issues for the New Administration."  It has a terrific lineup of speakers from CSIS, PSSI, the U.S. military, Congress, academia (U.S. and Japan), the Japanese and French governments, the European Space Agency, industry, non-profits and FFRDCs. The four main topics are space crisis dynamics, cooperation in space and missile defense, future of space launch, and space situational awareness and space traffic management.   Luckily, this event WILL be livestreamed so people everywhere can benefit. 

Second, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis gets his first chance in his new position to publicly brief the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on the state of U.S. military readiness and DOD's budget requirements.   Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC) will also testify.  Not sure how much, if any, of the discussion will be about space activities, but it's a great way to get the lay of the land from their perspectives. The committee typically webcasts its hearings on its website.

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

Sunday, March 19

Monday, March 20

Monday-Friday, March 20-24

Tuesday, March 21

Wednesday, March 22

Thursday, March 23

  • VEXAG Town Hall meeting at LPSC, The Woodlands, TX, "lunchtime"
  • Two OA-7 Pre-Launch Briefings, Kennedy Space Center, FL, 1:00 pm ET (What's on Board) and 4:00 pm ET (Mission Status), broadcast on NASA TV (could take place a day earlier if the launch date moves up a day)
  • [The OA-7 launch could take place today, but is currently scheduled for tomorrow]

Friday, March 24

  • ISS Spacewalk (1st of 3, Kimbrough and Pesquet), Earth orbit, 7:00 am ET (NASA TV coverage begins 6:30 am ET)
  • Launch of Orbital ATK OA-7 Cargo Mission to ISS, Cape Canaveral, FL, 9:00 pm ET (launch could move forward one day to March 23)  NASA TV launch coverage begins 8:00 pm ET, post-launch coverage begins at 10:30 pm ET