Category: Civil

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 2-7, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 2-7, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 2-7, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week.

During the Week

The week got off to a disappointing start for the Chinese space program today with the failure of its Long March 5 rocket.  This was the second launch for the rocket, China’s largest.  Not only was it intended to place a new type of communications satellite into orbit, it was also a final test before China launches a lunar sample return mission, Chang’e-5, in November. That launch now seems likely to be delayed.  An investigation is underway. We will keep you updated this week as more information becomes available.

Tomorrow (Monday), SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth, ending the SpX-11 cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS).  It was delayed one day because of inclement weather in the Pacific landing zone.   NASA TV will provide coverage of Dragon’s release from ISS at 2:28 am ET, but not of the splashdown.

Tuesday, July 4, is Independence Day in the United States.  The Federal government is closed for the holiday, along with many state and local governments and businesses.

Congress is taking this entire week off after a hectic pace last week.  The July 4 recess is one of those milestones on the congressional calendar by which they hope to get certain things done.  That may not be working out in some areas (like health care), but House appropriators made good progress on FY2018 appropriations bills, including defense (which cleared full committee) and Commerce-Justice-Science (approved at the subcommittee level).  The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is also considered must-pass legislation and both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees approved their versions of the bill.  All that legislation still has a long way to go — especially the appropriations bills since there is no agreement yet on the total amount of money Congress will make available for defense and non-defense activities — but it’s a start.  We’ll see what happens when they return next week.  FY2018 begins on October 1.  There is little, if any, expectation that the appropriations process will be done by then.

The big space policy event this week will be Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on Thursday.  President Trump signed the Executive Order reestablishing the White House National Space Council, with Pence as its chairman, on Friday.  Expectations are high that Pence will have something significant to say about the direction of the U.S. space program while he’s at KSC and perhaps announce who will be the Council’s Executive Director.  NASA TV will provide live coverage of the visit.

Rumors about who will be NASA Administrator and when the announcement will be made have gone quiet.  Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) is an oft-mentioned contender, so it was a bit of a surprise that he was not at the White House signing ceremony on Friday, but neither was Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.  Speculation is rampant about who was on the invitation list but couldn’t make it on a Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend when many people and their families were already beginning their July 4 vacations, versus those who weren’t on the list at all, and how to read those tea leaves.

Overall, it’s a light week for space policy aficionados. A much needed break.

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.

Monday, July 3

Wednesday, July 5

Thursday, July 6

Trump Reestablishes National Space Council

Trump Reestablishes National Space Council

President Trump signed an Executive Order today reestablishing the White House National Space Council.  Created by law in 1988 and operational under the George H.W. Bush Administration, the Council has not been funded or staffed since the end of his administration in January 1993.  It was chaired during his Administration by Vice President Dan Quayle,  Now it will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence and Trump spoke at the White House during a signing ceremony for the Executive Order (EO) that sets out the Space Council’s membership and purpose.  It also creates a Users’ Advisory Group to obtain input from the private sector and other non-government interests.

The EO establishes the membership as follows (in the order listed in the document):

  • Vice President, who shall be Chairman
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Secretary of Commerce
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget
  • Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Director of National Intelligence
  • Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
  • Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • heads of other executive departments and agencies and other senior officials within the Executive Office of the President as determined by the Chairman

The Space Council’s purpose is to advise and assist the President on national space policy and strategy including to review U.S. government space policy and develop a strategy for national space activities; develop recommendations for the president on space policy and space-related issues; and monitor and coordinate implementation of the President’s national space policy.

President Trump signs Executive Order reestablishing National Space Council, White House, June 30, 2017.  Photo credit:  tweet from Mark Knoller, CBS News White House Corresponent.  (Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin is on Trump’s left.)

Pence stated in March during the signing ceremony for the NASA Transition Authorization Act and again in June when NASA announced the new class of astronauts that the Space Council would be reestablished and he would lead it. In that sense. the announcement today was no surprise, but the White House kept the news to itself.  Rumors began circulating earlier this week that the announcement would take place today at 3:00 pm ET, but even this morning it was not listed on the President’s schedule.  The White House press office asserted that it had no knowledge of the event as late as 1:30 pm, although Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders mentioned it at the end of the daily White House press briefing that began at 2:00 pm ET (which was off-camera).

No live coverage was provided by the White House, NASA, or television networks, although a video was later posted on the White House YouTube channel.

President Trump enters the room (far right) during signing ceremony for National Space Council Executive Order, June 30, 2017.  Screengrab from White House YouTube videoVice President Mike Pence is in center, behind podium.

Most members of the House and Senate left Washington last night for the July 4 holiday, but based on the video, six Republican House members stayed in town for the event today:  Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which funds NASA;  Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, which authorizes NASA activities and sets policy; Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chairman of the House SS&T Space Subcommittee; Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS), member of the House CJS subcommittee; and two other members of House SS&T – Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL).

Joining them were NASA astronaut Benjamin Alvin Drew and former astronaut David Wolf (in blue flight suits to Pence’s right), former Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin (to Pence’s left, with white beard), and former space shuttle astronaut Sandy Magnus (first woman to Aldrin’s left).  Magnus currently is Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Others who were present include United Launch Alliance President Tory Bruno; Boeing CEO Dennis Mulinberg; Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson; Orbital ATK Director of Business Development, Launch Vehicle Division, John Steinmeyer; AMRO Fabricating Corporation CEO Mike Riley and President John Hammond; Futuramic Tool & Engineering Company Vice President John Couch; Cain Tubular Products Owner Mike Cain; Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE) President and CEO Mary Lynne Dittmar; former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz; and former Congressman and lobbyist Bob Walker.  (Notable by their absence were representatives of entrepreneurial “New Space” companies.)

The only member of the Council other than Pence who was there was Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot was not present.  NASA said he was out of town and unable to attend.  In a press release issued after the event, Lightfoot called the reestablishment of the Council “another demonstration of the Trump Administration’s deep interest in our work, and a testament to the importance of space exploration to our economy, our nation, and the planet as a whole.”

Pence said he was “honored and frankly enthusiastic” about taking on this role, adding that President Trump was recommitting the nation to “do what Americans have always done — to lead, to push the boundaries of human knowledge, to blaze new trails into the unknown and astonish the world with the courage and leadership of the United States.”

Trump himself said the announcement “sends a clear signal to the world that we are restoring America’s proud legacy of leadership in space,” and “space exploration is not only essential to our character as a nation, but also our economy and our great nation’s security.”

Pence will travel to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 6 to tour facilities and speak to the center’s workforce.  NASA TV will cover the event beginning at 12:00 pm ET. Pence’s speech is scheduled for 12:50 pm ET.

The value of having a National Space Council in the White House has been debated at length over the decades.  Congress created a National Aeronautics and Space Council in the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act that established NASA for civil space activities and assigned military space activities to DOD.  That Council’s task was to coordinate between civil and national security space.  President Richard Nixon abolished the Council in 1973.  A new National Space Council, without the aeronautics component, was created by Congress in the FY1989 NASA Authorization Act and implemented through an Executive Order signed by President George H.W. Bush on April 20, 1989.  Today’s Executive Order supersedes the one from the Bush Administration.

The Bush-era Space Council had a broader task since commercial space activities had emerged by then, adding a third sector.  That period of time (April 1989-January 1993) was marked by sharp disagreements between the Council, chaired by Vice President Quayle with Mark Albrecht serving as Executive Director for most of those years, and NASA Administrator Dick Truly.  Albrecht wrote a memoir about his perception of the relationship between the Space Council and NASA and why President Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative to return astronauts to the Moon and someday go to Mars never materialized, placing most of the blame on Truly. That is only one view of what transpired during those years, but the relevant point is that the clash between the Space Council and NASA created friction that hindered more than it helped.

Many veterans of that era have mixed views about whether a new Space Council will be effective.

Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University and a long-time participant in space policy development and implementation, wrote in a March 14, 2017 op-ed for The Hill that the “White House does not, and never has, needed a space council to supervise NASA, but it does need a way to combine the separate strands of national security space programs, diplomatic engagement, commercial competition and civil space cooperation with a unity of national purpose and effort.”

One key to the success or failure of the Space Council will be the relationships that evolve among its Executive Director and the leaders of the various government agencies, including NASA, and private sector companies involved in space. Pence did not announce who will serve as Executive Director of the Council and no announcement has yet been made as to who will be nominated to serve as NASA Administrator.

Another will be the extent to which the President listens to the Council’s advice and backs it up during almost inevitable battles with other parts of the Executive Office of the President, such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

For now, however, optimism is the watchword.

House SS&T Chairman Smith said in a statement to that the “reinstatement of the Space Council demonstrates the Trump administration’s commitment to unlocking the great economic and scientific potential” of outer space.  He added that he looks forward to working with Pence and the Council “as Congress moves forward on important legislation for civil, commercial and national security space priorities.”

Eric Stallmer, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), told that CSF “looks forward to working with the Space Council to showcase the innovation and value the commercial space marketplace brings to the space community.”

In a press release, CDSE’s Dittmar called reestablishment of the Council “another important step in solidifying our nation’s continued commitment to NASA’s deep space exploration program.”  That press release identified many of the industry representatives who were at the event and are CDSE members, including suppliers like AMRO Fabricating Corp., Futuramic Tool & Engineering Co., and Cain Tubular Products.

AIAA also issued a press release wherein Magnus said the Institute views the Space Council as “an opportunity to create an integrated strategic approach to U.S. space endeavors” and “stands ready to support any and all efforts to facilitate discussions between our community and executive branch officials.”

Correction:  The word “commercial” was inadvertently omitted from Eric Stallmer’s quote and has been corrected.
Update:  Comments from NASA Acting Administrator Lightfoot from a June 30, 2017 NASA press release were added.


NASA FY2018 Funding Bill Advances in Congress

NASA FY2018 Funding Bill Advances in Congress

The House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA approved its FY2018 funding bill today, while its Senate counterpart held a hearing on the request.  These are only the initial steps on a long road to a final budget deal, but there is no question that NASA continues to have strong bipartisan support from its appropriators.

The House Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee approved boosting NASA’s budget to $19.872 billion, $218 million more than FY2017 and $780 million more than President Trump requested.  It adopted the draft bill released yesterday by voice vote without amendment.

That does not mean the bill has universal support.  Overall, the bill provides about one percent less than FY2017 for all the departments and agencies it funds.  If NASA, for example, gets more money, others get less.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee, José Serrano (D-NY), said that he could not support the bill in its current form.  He listed a number of cuts in the bill to non-NASA activities as objectionable, such as to the Legal Services Corporation, to the Census Bureau as it prepares for the 2020 census, and a 19 percent cut to climate science at NOAA.  As for NASA, he revealed that the subcommittee is cutting an additional $50 million from NASA’s earth science budget compared to the request, which is already a reduction of $167 million from FY2017.  (Such details are not in the bill itself, but are in an accompanying explanatory report that will be released 24 hours before the bill is marked up by the full committee.)

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the top Democrat on the full committee, made a broader complaint about the bill — that the House has not yet adopted a Budget Resolution setting the total amount of federal funding available for FY2018.

Strictly speaking, the House and Senate are supposed to agree on a Budget Resolution setting that figure, after which specific amounts are allocated to each of the 12 appropriations subcommittees to spend.  Republicans denounced Democrats for not passing Budget Resolutions when Democrats were in control, but have had their own challenges in doing so.  The chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), has been unable to get agreement even among her Republican colleagues.  There is broad agreement to increase defense spending, but not on compensating cuts to non-defense spending.

Indeed, subcommittee chairman John Culberson (R-TX) expressed hope that there will be a budget agreement that will provide more money for his subcommittee so it can “backfill some of the holes” in what was approved today.  Anything is possible, but Congress has a long journey ahead to decide on FY2018 funding and deal with increasing the debt limit this fall, all while the budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act are in effect.

Lowey said the committee should not be “patting ourselves on the back” for moving forward on appropriations bills like CJS because there still is no Budget Resolution or “any semblance of a plan to keep the government funded and avoid a debt default.”

Nonetheless, when the vote was called, none of the Democrats said “no.”  That is not really surprising since today’s action merely moves the bill from subcommittee to full committee where the debate can continue.  No date was announced for full committee markup.

Over on the Senate side, Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot fielded questions from CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL); the new top Democrat on the subcommittee, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), replacing Barbara Mikulski (who retired) as the Ranking Member; and other subcommittee members.

This was the third hearing on NASA’s budget request this month.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the House Appropriations CJS subcommittee each held their hearings on June 8. At all three hearings, concern was expressed about the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate NASA’s Office of Education and five earth science programs (PACE, RBI, CLARREO-Pathfinder, OCO-3, and the earth facing instruments on DSCOVR).  Support for the Office of Education is bipartisan, while support for earth science is primarily from Democratic members.

Today, Senators from both parties made clear that they object to dismantling the Office of Education and its EPSCoR, Space Grant, MUREP, and  SEAP programs.  Lightfoot explained that NASA hopes to be able to continue engaging with students through programs in the Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate, but conceded they were not replacements for the terminated programs.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who won Mikulski’s seat and now sits on the CJS subcommittee (though as a junior member) and Shaheen spoke out against the earth science cuts.  Lightfoot explained that he was given direction to cut the budget and decisions were made based on whether a program was recommended in the 2007 Decadal Survey for earth science, how the program was performing, or if NASA had other ways to get the needed data.  “With the budget box we were in .. that was how we made the decisions.”  Shaheen was not convinced that was the reason for terminating the earth-facing instruments on DSCOVR.   She characterized it as a political decision.

The RESTORE-L satellite servicing program was also a topic of considerable discussion.  NASA had been planning to develop technology to refuel a satellite in low Earth orbit and demonstrate the technology by refueling the Landsat 7 satellite.  The Trump Administration wants to limit NASA to only developing the technology, not demonstrating it, and merge NASA’s program with a different satellite servicing technology development effort at DARPA.

West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin (D) and Shelley Moore Capito (R) along with Van Hollen debated that decision.  Lightfoot argued that NASA will develop the technology and turn it over to the private sector to use through a public private partnership.  The Senators were skeptical that the private sector would step in without more NASA involvement.  West Virginia University is involved in RESTORE-L, which is managed at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Shelby’s questions illustrated his continued strong support for the Space Launch System and criticism of the commercial crew program.  At the end of the hearing, however, he asked a more general question — what is NASA’s biggest challenge today.

Stability, Lightfoot replied.  While expressing gratitude for the strong bipartisan budget support for NASA on Capitol Hill, he noted that the Administration’s proposal is for NASA’s budget to remain flat funded at $19.092 billion for the “outyears” (the next four years after FY2018), without an adjustment even for inflation.  “We’re not working on one-year programs here. When you look at things like flat outyears … that’s $4.5 billion in potential lost buying power.  How do I plan for that?”

House Appropriators Propose $19.9 Billion for NASA, Full Funding for JPSS and GOES

House Appropriators Propose $19.9 Billion for NASA, Full Funding for JPSS and GOES

The House Appropriations Committee released the draft FY2018 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill today, which funds NASA and NOAA among other agencies.  The CJS subcommittee will mark up the bill tomorrow.  The draft proposes $19.872 billion for NASA. Although the dollar number for NOAA’s satellite programs is not included in the bill, it does promise full funding for NOAA’s two major weather satellite programs.

Those are the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) of polar-orbiting weather satellites and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) series R (GOES-R) satellites.  The JPSS program funds the first two satellites in what is intended to be a series of four.  The other two have a different program name and funding line – the Polar Follow On (PFO) program. The GOES-R program funds four GOES geostationary satellite.

The Trump Administration supports full funding for JPSS and GOES-R.  The question is what will happen to PFO and a space weather follow-on program to build future satellites to replace the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).  The Trump Administration proposed deep cuts for those.   The subcommittee’s recommendation was not included in the bill text released today, but should become clear either tomorrow during the markup or when the accompanying report is released.

Trump proposed a substantial cut for NASA in his FY2018 budget request — from the $19.653 billion provided by Congress in FY2017 to $19.092 billion for FY2018 and the same total for each of the subsequent four years.

The House CJS subcommittee recommendation is an increase not only above the Trump request, but also above the FY2017 level:  $19.872 billion.  The proposed House CJS subcommittee funding is as follows (see’s FY2018 NASA budget fact sheet to compare with FY2017 and FY2016).

  • Science:  $5,858.5 million, including $495 million for the Europa mission outlined in the most recent National Academies Decadal Survey (meaning an orbiter and a lander) with the requirement that they be launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2022 and 2024 (the same requirement included in last year’s appropriations bill)
  • Aeronautics:  $660.0 million
  • Space Technology:  $686.5 million
  • Exploration:  $4,550.0 million, including $1,350 million for Orion; $2,150 million for SLS; $600 million for Exploration Ground Systems; and $450 million for Exploration Research and Development.  Of the funding for SLS, $300 million is for the Exploration Upper Stage.  EM-2 is to be launched by 2021.
  • Space Operations:  $4,676.634 million
  • Education:  $90 million, of which $18 million is for EPSCoR and $40 million is for Space Grant (Trump proposed eliminating NASA’s Office of Education and funding for these and other programs funded by that office)
  • Safety, Security and Mission Services:  $2,826.2 million
  • Construction, Environmental Compliance and Restoration:  $486.1 million
  • Inspector General:  $37.9 million

The existing restrictions on NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding space cooperation with China remain.

The markup is at 2:00 pm ET tomorrow and will be webcast.

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 26-30, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 26-30, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 26-30, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Congress is racing to complete action on a number of things before the July 4 recess.  Among them is making progress on legislation at the top of congressional priorities — appropriations bills for FY2018 (which begins on October 1) and the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

By the end of the week, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will have completed their markups of the NDAA, positioning them for floor action once Congress returns — one more step along the legislative path.  As we reported last week, the HASC Strategic Forces subcommittee wants to create a Space Corps within the Air Force and a U.S. Space Command within U.S. Strategic Command.  Its Senate counterpart will markup its version of the bill tomorrow (Monday), but it is closed so we may not know whether it takes a position on that issue until the end of the SASC process later this week. The full HASC will mark up the bill, H.R. 2810, on Wednesday.   HASC markups are usually marathon sessions that last into the wee hours of the night.  They are open and webcast.

SASC, by contrast, does everything behind closed doors.  All of the subcommittee and full committee markups begin tomorrow and hopefully finish by Thursday, but they have Friday in reserve if needed.  The markups all take place in the same room and the first three subcommittees, including Strategic Forces, are scheduled just 30 minutes apart, suggesting that they already have decided what they are going to do and the markups are pro forma. Full committee markup, on the other hand, is a multi-day event.

The NDAA is an authorization bill, of course, that sets policy and recommends funding levels, but money only comes from appropriations committees.  The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will mark up the defense appropriations bill this week as well.  The overall budget battle over how much to add to defense and what cuts will be made to non-defense programs is far from over, but the committee is determined to move forward anyway. It already has approved the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) bill.

Traditionally (but not necessarily) the House acts first on appropriations bills and, indeed, the Senate Appropriations Committee is still in the hearing phase.  The Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee will hold its hearing on the FY2018 NASA budget request on Thursday morning.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot is the only witness.  At exactly the same time, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on in-space propulsion.   NASA Associate Administrators for Human Exploration and Operations (Bill Gerstenmaier) and Space Technology (Steve Jurczyk) will be joined at the witness table by former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz (of VASIMR engine fame), Mitchell Walker representing the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Joe Cassady from Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Anthony Pancotti of MSNW LLC, which is developing the NASA-funded Electrodeless Lorentz Force (ELF-250) thruster and the ElectroMagnetic Plasmoid Thruster (EMPT).

Lots and lots of other really interesting events going on, including the Space Weather Enterprise Forum in DC; the NewSpace 2017 conference in San Francisco; the IAA’s Future of Space Exploration — Towards Moon Village and Beyond in Torino, Italy; and Asteroid Day on Friday, June 30, with events worldwide and a 24-hour broadcast from Luxembourg beginning at 01:00 GMT (which is 9:00 pm ET June 29).

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, June 26

Tuesday, June 27

Tuesday-Thursday, June 27-29

Tuesday-Friday, June 27-30

Wednesday, June 28

Wednesday-Thursday, June 28-29

Thursday, June 29

Friday, June 30

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 18-24, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 18-24, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 18-24, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the A1:T27

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will begin marking up the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week.  Most military space programs are under the jurisdiction of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.  Its markup is on Thursday morning.  Across Capitol Hill, Senate defense appropriators will begin drilling down into the budget requests from the three services.  They heard from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford last week about the broad scope of funding issues facing DOD.  This Wednesday they will hear from Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein specifically about Air Force needs.  Most military space programs are in the Air Force budget and Wilson is the Principal DOD Space Advisor.  Separately, Dunford will give a luncheon address at the National Press Club tomorrow (Monday) and Gen. John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, will talk about space, nuclear and missile defense modernization Tuesday morning as part of the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute space breakfast series (one must register in advance to attend).

On the space science front, NASA will hold a briefing tomorrow (Monday) at NASA’s Ames Research Center on recent discoveries from the exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope.  The briefing is in conjunction with the fourth Kepler Science Conference taking place there all week.  

Back here in Washington, NASA is sponsoring back-to-back briefings on Wednesday about the upcoming solar eclipse.  On August 21, for the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will pass over the United States.  The total eclipse will be visible in 14 states from Oregon to South Carolina.  The rest of North America and parts of South America, Africa and Europe will see a partial eclipse. It is such a rare event that huge traffic jams and other disruptions are expected and it is vitally important that people wear special “eclipse glasses” to look at the sun.  NOT sunglasses.  You need eclipse glasses.  They are inexpensive and readily available from many retailers as a quick look on will reveal.  NASA has arranged these briefings two months before the eclipse so people have plenty of time to get prepared.  The first Wednesday briefing is on logistics and the second is on the science of solar eclipses.  They will take place at the Newseum in Washington and broadcast on NASA TV.

The space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a third hearing on commercial space issues on Wednesday (unfortunately at the same time as the NASA eclipse briefings as well as a very interesting CSIS seminar on “Small Satellites, Big Missions”).  Subcommittee chairman Ted Cruz is holding a series of hearings under the rubric “Reopening the American Frontier.”  The first two were on April 26 and May 23.  This one is focusing on partnerships between the government and the private sector.  Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC), is the lone government witness.  He has been leading the conversion of KSC from a NASA center to a multi-user spaceport populated almost as much by other government agencies and private sector companies as by NASA itself.  Joining him at the witness table will be Gwynne Shotwell from SpaceX (which leases KSC’s iconic Launch Complex 39A from NASA), Jeff Manber from Nanoracks (which arranges to send cubesats to the International Space Station for deployment into orbit), Moriba Jah from the University of Texas at Austin (an expert on space situational awareness), and Tim Ellis from Relativity (a company whose website says it is “reimagining the way orbital rockets are built and flown”).

This is also Paris Air Show week with the venerable event taking place as usual at Le Bourget outside Paris, France.

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, June 18

Monday, June 19

Monday-Friday, June 19-23

Monday-Sunday, June 19-25

Tuesday, June 20

Tuesday-Thursday, June 20-22

Wednesday, June 21

Thursday, June 22

Thursday-Friday, June 22-23

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 11-16, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 11-16, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 11-16, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This week it’s DOD’s turn to talk to authorizers and appropriators about the FY2018 budget request. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford are the witnesses at each of the four hearings on successive days beginning tomorrow (Monday).  It’s not clear whether military space programs will come up to any great extent, but the hearings should provide some sense of where space activities sit in DOD priorities. Mattis and Dunford testify to the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow, Senate Armed Services on Tuesday, Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday, and House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Thursday.

On Monday, Orbital ATK and NASA will hold a briefing at Wallops Island, VA, home to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), the launch site for Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket.  The briefing will provide an update on the next Orbital ATK cargo mission on a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), which will launch on Antares from MARS at Wallops. The launch is currently expected in September.  Orbital ATK has launched Cygnus on both Antares from Wallops and United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral.  At first, Orbital ATK used ULA’s Atlas V while it was getting Antares back to flight after an October 2014 failure.  Antares returned to service in October 2016, but the company’s most recent Cygnus mission used the Atlas V again reportedly at NASA’s request.  Atlas V can lift more mass than Antares.

Orbital ATK officials have said they are happy to use either rocket depending on the customer’s requirements, but with this briefing, clearly are trying to highlight Antares and the MARS facility, which is located at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, but owned and operated by the Virginia Commercial Space Flight  Authority (“Virginia Space”).  NASA Wallops Director Bill Wrobel and Virginia Space Executive Director Dale Nash will join Orbital ATK’s Frank Culbertson and Kurt Eberly for the briefing, which will be livestreamed.  The briefing will take place one day after the most recent Cygnus mission ended.  After about six weeks attached to ISS and one week in independent flight, the S.S. John Glenn fired its engines for a last time today and descended into the atmosphere and disintegrated, as intended. Only one of the ISS cargo resupply spacecraft is designed to survive reentry, SpaceX’s Dragon.

SpaceX’s most recent Dragon arrived at the ISS last Monday and Russia will launch its next Progress cargo resupply mission this Wednesday (with docking on Friday if all goes well).  All these cargo spacecraft comings and goings illustrate the challenges of sending people on lengthy trips beyond low Earth orbit.  Tough enough to provide all the needed supplies and equipment when they are close to home.  It’s going to take a lot of technology development for life support and other systems, and many logistics flights, to support such missions.

NASA’s Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) is meeting Monday-Wednesday at Goddard Space Flight Center.  Michele Gates is on the agenda on Tuesday for 15 minutes to talk about the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which consumed a lot of SBAG’s attention for the past couple of years.  Presumably her task at this point is just to inform SBAG that the Trump Administration has terminated ARM, but two aspects of it — high power solar electric propulsion development and asteroid hunting — will continue nonetheless.  NASA’s Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green and Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson are also on the agenda along with many other presentations that sound quite interesting, including two by representatives of asteroid mining companies.  The meeting is available remotely through Adobe Connect.

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

Monday, June 12

Monday-Wednesday, June 12-14

Monday-Friday, June 12-16 (continued from last week)

Tuesday, June 13

Wednesday, June 14

Thursday, June 15

Friday, June 16

New Astronauts, But No News from VP Pence

New Astronauts, But No News from VP Pence

Vice President Mike Pence attended a NASA event at Johnson Space Center (JSC) today introducing the 12 new astronaut candidates NASA selected from a pool of approximately 18,300 applicants.  His remarks evoked patriotic images of American leadership in space, but provided no news about the reestablishment of a White House National Space Council, the nomination of a NASA Administrator, or detaiis of what the Trump Administration plans for NASA.

Pence joined Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot and JSC Director Ellen Ochoa at the event, along with Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Lamar Smith and Rep. Brian Babin.  Cruz, Smith and Babin are all members of the Texas congressional delegation.  Cruz chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation space subcommittee.  Smith chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and Babin chairs its space subcommittee (he also represents the congressional district that includes JSC).   Texas Governor Greg Abbott also was there along with other local Texas officials.

The spotlight was on the new astronaut candidates — they will become astronauts, available for assignment to missions, after two years of training — but Pence’s participation raised expectations of an announcement of some sort at the national level.   Pence said in March during the Oval Office signing ceremony for the NASA Transition Authorization Act that President Trump would reactivate the White House National Space Council “in very short order” and he (Pence) would chair it.  Two months later, the space policy community continues to wait.   Today, Pence said only that it would happen “soon.” He said nothing about a NASA Administrator nominee.

Pence spoke in general terms about American leadership in space and promised that the Trump Administration would provide the resources for NASA “to push the boundaries of human knowledge and advance American leadership to the boundless frontiers of space.”   America “will lead in space once again and the world will marvel.”   The video of Pence’s speech is posted on the White House YouTube channel.

Vice President Mike Pence (center) with NASA’s 12 new astronaut candidates, Johnson Space Center, TX, June 7, 2017.  Photo credit:  NASA

The Trump Administration’s FY2018 budget request is an almost 3 percent cut from FY2017, however.  The request is $19.092 billion not only for FY2018, but each year through FY2022 with no adjustment even for inflation.  Proposed funding for the systems needed to send humans beyond low Earth orbit — the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion — is less than what Congress appropriated for FY2017 even though the programs are still on the upslope of their development funding curves.

No bold statements about reaching Mars at any particular point in time were made.  In fact, Pence told the 12 NASA astronaut newcomers that they “may” return to the Moon or travel to Mars, not that they “will.”  Even NASA’s press release omitted any mention of specific destinations beyond low Earth orbit.  After two years of training the astronaut candidates could be assigned “to any of a variety of missions” including research on the International Space Station, flying on the SpaceX or Boeing commercial crew vehicles, or “departing for deep space missions on NASA’s new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.”  The Obama Administration’s goal was to send humans to orbit Mars in the 2030s.

Advocates of restoring the lunar surface to U.S. human exploration plans nevertheless might be cheered by Pence’s mention of that possibility.  NASA currently has no plans to return humans to the surface of the Moon, only to lunar orbit as a steppingstone to Mars, although it hopes that it might be able to join international and commercial partners that have their own lunar surface plans.

Commercial space enthusiasts also were probably pleased by Pence’s assertion that with “increased collaboration with commercial space industries we can seize opportunities that will benefit” the country for years to come.

The day really belonged to the new astronaut candidates and their aspirations, not budget realities or policy arguments. 

NASA’s 2017 class of astronaut candidates.  Photo credit:  NASA

  • Lt. Kayla Barron, U.S Navy, 29, submarine warfare officer, flag aide to the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy
  • Zena Cardman, 29, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow working on doctorate at the Pennsylvania State University, marine sciences
  • Lt. Col. Raja Chari, U.S. Air Force, 39, commander, 461st Flight Test Squadron, director F-35 Integrated Test Force, Edwards AFB, CA
  • Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Dominick, U.S. Navy, 35, department head, Strike Fighter Squadron 115, USS Ronald Reagan
  • Bob Hines, 42, NASA research pilot, Johnson Space Center
  • Warren “Woody” Hoburg, 31, assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, MIT
  • Lt. Jonny Kim, U.S. Navy, 33, resident physician in emergency medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Robb Kulin, 33, leads the Launch Chief Engineering Group, SpaceX
  • Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli, U.S. Marine Corps, 33, H-1 helicopter test pilot, quality assurance and avionics officer for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1, Yuma, AZ
  • Loral O’Hara, 34, research engineer, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
  • Maj. Francisco “Frank” Rubio, U.S. Army, 41, surgeon, 3rd Battalion, Army 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, CO
  • Jessica Watkins, 29, postdoctoral fellow, California Institute of Technology where she collaborates on the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover
Wilson: AF Requesting 20 Percent Increase for Space, SpaceX to Launch Next X-37B

Wilson: AF Requesting 20 Percent Increase for Space, SpaceX to Launch Next X-37B

Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson told a Senate committee today that the service is requesting a 20 percent increase for its space programs in FY2018.  She also revealed that SpaceX will launch the next X-37B mission in August, the first time one of the uncrewed spaceplanes will launch on a vehicle other than a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V.   She and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein further reinforced the Air Force paradigm that space no longer is a benign environment, but a warfighting domain.

Wilson was sworn in as SecAF on May 16 and testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) along with three other top Air Force officials (including Goldfein) the next day about military space programs.  

Today’s annual Air Force posture hearing was much broader and encompassed all Air Force activities. The preponderance of the hearing focused on aircraft and personnel.  In her opening statement, however, Wilson chose space as one of her three main themes.  The others were readiness and modernization.  Regarding the space portion of the service’s portfolio, she said the FY2018 budget request includes a 20 percent increase for space, but did not go into details.

During an exchange with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) over whether U.S. space capabilities are sufficiently resilient and responsive, both praised the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office and its rapid acquisition authorities.  ORS is headquartered at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, which Heinrich represents in the Senate and Wilson represented in the House from 1998-2009.  As the discussion continued, Heinrich also urged Wilson to consider using small launch vehicles from companies like Virgin Galactic, Vulcan Aerospace and Orbital ATK to ensure more distributed, responsive and flexible access to space.

In her reply, Wilson held up a model of the X-37B spaceplane and said it “will be going up again, it’s a reusable vehicle, and it will be going up again on top of a SpaceX launcher in August.”  

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson shows model of X-37B spacecraft at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, June 6, 2017.  Screengrab from committee webcast.

She added that Goldfein had a model of a cubesat with him and overall spacecraft are “getting smaller, able to be put on multiple different platforms, and there’s some very exciting things happening in commercial space that bring the opportunity for assured access to space at a very competitive price.”

The Air Force has two Boeing-built X-37B Orbital Test Vehicles (OTVs), each of which has been launched two times.  What they do in space is highly classified, but they remain on orbit for very long periods of time.  They look like miniature space shuttle orbiters.  The most recent flight ended last month after 718 days in space, landing at Kennedy Space Center for the first time.  KSC was the launch site for all of NASA’s space shuttle missions and almost all of them landed there as well.  The Air Force is now using some of the former shuttle facilities for the X-37B, including the runway and a processing facility. The previous X-37B launches were on Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral, FL with landings at Vandenberg AFB, CA.

The fact that the Air Force chose SpaceX instead of ULA for the next X-37B launch does not appear to have been publicly disclosed until now.

Goldfein referred to the close cooperation between the Air Force and NASA in space, thanking Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for his work on the “NASA strategic plan,” a probable reference to the NASA Transition Authorization Act recently signed into law.  Cruz chairs the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that oversees NASA.

Cruz asked if the 20 percent increase in Air Force space funding, which he said would bring the total to $7.7 billion, is sufficient. 

Wilson said that some of the items on the Air Force’s “unfunded requirements list” that was sent to Congress are space-related, including $200 million for “space defense”.   She concluded that “I think there’s a lot of progress [with the requested increase] but there’s no question there’s much more to be done.”

Goldfein ended the hearing by reiterating the Air Force’s view that space is no longer a benign environment, but a “domain from which we have to be prepared to fight and win and … maintain space superiority, if war extends into space or starts in space.  … I align with General John Hyten [Commander of STRATCOM] who has said there’s no such thing as war in space, there’s just war.  But if it extends into space, we’ve got to be ready.”

Memorial Fund Established for Matt Isakowitz

Memorial Fund Established for Matt Isakowitz

The Future Space Leaders Foundation has established a fund in honor of Matthew Isakowitz, who died last week at the age of 29.  The organization is still filling in the details, but plans to use donations to further his “legacy in the field of human space exploration.”

Though still in the early years of his career, Matt was already a well known member of the space policy community — a champion especially for commercial space.  More than 100 tributes posted on a guest book at illustrate the respect and affection held for him by his friends and colleagues. 

Many of the more veteran members of the space policy community first came to know Matt as the son of Steve Isakowitz, who held a number of positions in the government and private sector (including NASA Comptroller when Sean O’Keefe was Administrator and President of Virgin Galactic) before becoming President and CEO of the Aerospace Corporation last year. Steve is himself a highly admired member of the community, but Matt made his own place in the profession.

Matt Isakowitz (center).   Photo provided by Clay Mowry (used with permission)

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton, with a master’s degree in international science and technology policy from George Washington University, Matt worked at Astranis, Planetary Resources, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, Space Adventures, SpaceX, and the XPRIZE Foundation.

The Future Space Leaders Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt organization “dedicated to the career development of young space and satellite industry professionals.”  A link to donate to the fund is on its website.

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