Category: Commercial

Advice for the National Space Council from Policy Insiders

Advice for the National Space Council from Policy Insiders

Now that President Trump has announced his intent to appoint Scott Pace as Executive Director of the newly reconstituted National Space Council, advice is pouring in on what issues it should tackle and the challenges ahead.

At a seminar Friday sponsored by the Aerospace Corporation and George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute — which Pace currently heads — Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) and two panels of experts offered their views on the Space Council and other topics.  The White House announcement came the evening before the seminar began.  While Pace was widely rumored to be the top choice, the timing caught many by surprise. The seminar’s topic, however, Ensuring U.S. Space Leadership, lent itself to the breaking development.

The National Space Council has existed in law since the FY1989 NASA Authorization Act. (A predecessor National Aeronautics and Space Council was created in the 1958 law that established NASA, but was disbanded by President Nixon in 1973).  President George H.W. Bush issued an Executive Order standing up the organization in April 1989 with Vice President Dan Quayle as its chair.  After his term ended in 1993, however, no President has chosen to fund or staff the office until now.  President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 30 reestablishing the Council within the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with Vice President Mike Pence as its chairman.

In the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama Administrations, space policy was developed in the EOP through interagency processes led by the National Security Council (NSC) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).  The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which formulates the President’s budget request to Congress and oversees how agencies spend money appropriated by Congress, is also part of the EOP.

The two panels at Friday’s seminar encompassed six EOP space policy veterans.  From the NSC: Gil Kilnger (George W. Bush), Peter Marquez (George W. Bush and Obama), and Chirag Parikh (Obama).  From OSTP:  Richard DalBello (Clinton, Obama), Damon Wells (George W. Bush, Obama), and Ben Roberts (Obama). All but Roberts continue to work on space in industry or government — Harris, Planetary Resources, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Virgin Galactic, and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), respectively — though all were speaking in their private capacities. The group is very collegial and offered good-natured advice and ribbing about the challenges Pace will confront, while seriously addressing both structural and policy issues that need to be solved.

Joining them were former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and former Commander of U.S. Strategic Command Gen. C. Robert Kehler (Ret) who also offered their views on the proposal to form a Space Corps within the Air Force, an idea they oppose.  Babin chairs the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee and gave a comprehensive keynote address that included the key issues he thinks the Space Council should address.

Many of the comments from the White House policy veterans focused on the inner workings of the EOP and the challenges of dealing with complex policy issues with just one person at the NSC assigned to work on space issues and perhaps one or two at OSTP.  The prevailing view was that reestablishing the Space Council would help because it presumably will have a few more staff than that and, with the Vice President as chairman, raising these issues to higher levels in the White House will be easier.

Roberts, who left OSTP in March after nine years in the EOP (the first seven at OMB) conceded that he was skeptical when he first heard that the Space Council would be reestablished because the OSTP/NSC model was working quite well.   He has changed his mind because it is not clear how President Trump will staff or utilize OSTP.  No science advisor has been nominated and most of the staff has departed with no replacements in sight.  Obama’s OSTP Director and Science Adviser John Holdren had “a lot of clout” with the President on civil and commercial space issues, Roberts said. With that model now in doubt, he views the Space Council, reporting directly to the Vice President, as a positive development.

Parikh pointed out that one missing element of the Executive Order reestabllshing the Council, however, is that no line is drawn among OSTP, NSC and OMB.  The NSC and OSTP staff can write policies, “but it you’re not linked with the budget officials” the policies may not be executable.  For example, when Obama’s National Space Policy was issued in 2010 the policy community recognized the need for more investment in space security, but funding was not made available until 6 years later.  He lamented that too much time is spent worrying about where to place a comma while forgetting about the budgetary spreadsheets.

Wells and DalBello agreed the challenge is implementation.  “Policy is aspirational goals,” said Wells. but it is only after the policy is released “that the fun begins” in obtaining budgetary resources and harmonizng policy and regulatory frameworks.  Calling the space policy process “self congratulatory,” DalBello said it falls short in getting the necessary interagency commitments to translate policy into workable budgets as well as in reaching out to Congress.  Congress needs to appropriate the money and in some cases set policy in law.

More broadly, Klinger stressed that the single most critical issue is whether the rate at which the United States is adapting and changing its space policy and capabilities matches the rate of change in threats and opportunities.  “If yes, we’re in the game.  If not, we are at risk of looking like the dinosaurs in the Gary Larson cartoon.”

Klinger, Parikh and DalBello all mentioned the soft power value of the space program on the global stage.  DalBello urged that whatever human spaceflight goals are chosen be “articulated in an international context.”  Whether in human spaceflight or space traffic management or other areas, the United States needs to “align our interests with other nations.”

One benefit that many see to a Space Council is that it can deal with issues on a cross-cutting basis rather than stovepiped into the civil, commercial, and national security sectors.  Babin discussed five issues he believes would benefit from a “holistic” review by the Space Council:  space transportation, satellite servicing, weather, space weather, and space situational awareness. He offered his own views and solutions, some of which are reflected in the American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act that was approved by the committee last month, but also believes an “appropriately constituted” Space Council “can provide a leadership role in synergizing” many of these issues.  He cautioned, however, that if the Space Council does not get “buy-in” from the NSC, OMB and OSTP, “it could simply become another layer of bureaucracy.”

For his own part, Pace noted that he was the Department of Commerce’s representative to the George H.W. Bush Administration’s National Space Council and remarked on how much has changed in aerospace in the intervening decades.  The Council is being “reincarnated” in an era of “democratization and globalization” where the private sector “is changing the rules of the game.”

Although it dealt with a wide variety of issues, the earlier Space Council is probably best remembered for the tense relationship it had with NASA, which eventually led to the firing of NASA Administrator Richard Truly and his replacement by Dan Goldin.

Pace stressed in an op-ed published in the March 14, 2017 issue of The Hill that the Space Council’s purpose is not to supervise NASA.  Pace was NASA’s Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation when Mike Griffin was Administrator in the second George W. Bush term, so has seen the process from that side.   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.”

That opinion was shared by participants in the seminar.  As Marquez said, it is “not a NASA council” but is “about national priorities, needs, and strategic imperatives.”

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 17-21, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 17-21, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 17-21, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session this week.

During the Week

The big event this week is the annual International Space Station Research and Development (ISS R&D) conference organized by the American Astronautical Society.  This year it’s in Washington, DC at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.  Pre-conference events take place tomorrow (Monday).  Among the events is a session on the role of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the evolution of ISS research and a joint NASA-JAXA workshop on maximizing the outcome of the ISS and the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), which is named Kibo. The workshop includes NASA’s Marybeth Edeen and Bill Gerstenmaier (head of NASA”s human spaceflight program), and JAXA Vice President and Director General of Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate Takashi Hamazaki and JAXA’s manager and director of the JEM utilization center, Kunihiro Matsumoto and Kazuyuki Tasaki, respectively.

Tuesday-Thursday are the main sessions of the conference, which will be livestreamed.  Among the keynote speakers are Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot, Bigelow Aerospace’s Robert Bigelow, SpaceX’s Elon Musk, and ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoferretti.  NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is a featured speaker on a panel Tuesday morning.  A space policy panel will take place on Wednesday morning.

On exactly the same days (Monday-Thursday), NOAA will hold a conference at the City College of New York in New York City on “A New Era for NOAA Environmental Satellites” with its own who’s who of experts from the U.S., other countries (including China, Japan, South Korea and Brazil) and international organizations (e.g. EUMETSAT and the World Meteorological Organization).  NBC’s Al Roker is the luncheon keynote speaker on Monday.  Sessions focus on GOES-R, JPSS, Big Data, and spectrum issues.  The conference website does not indicate if any of it will be webcast.  If we find out, we will add the information to our calendar item.

And on three of those four days (Tuesday-Thursday), NASA will hold its annual Exploration Forum at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA.  Sponsored by the Solar System Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) it, too, has a jam-packed agenda with fascinating panels and speakers.

This week definitely has an embarrassment of riches for anyone interested in space science, technology and policy and we haven’t even gotten to Congress yet.

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the bill (T-HUD) that funds FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation on Monday evening; the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Space Subcommittee will hold a hearing on planetary flagship missions, including Mars 2020 and Europa Clipper, on Tuesday morning; and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has a nomination hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon that includes the nominations of Ellen Lord to be USD/ATL and Matthew Donovan to be Under Secretary of the Air Force (SASC Chairman Sen. McCain’s decision to remain in Arizona this week recovering from eye surgery could change that schedule, though).

Those events and others 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 17)

Monday-Thursday (July 17-20)

Tuesday (July 18)

Tuesday-Thursday (July 18-20)

Wednesday, July 19

Wednesday-Thursday, July 19-20

Thursday, July 20


Scott Pace to Be National Space Council’s Executive Secretary

Scott Pace to Be National Space Council’s Executive Secretary

The White House announced today that President Trump intends to appoint Scott Pace to be Executive Secretary of the National Space Council.  Pace is currently Director of the Space Policy Institute and Professor of Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University (GWU).

Pace has a long career in space policy and is very well known and highly respected in the community.  Ever since the Trump Administration indicated that it would reestablish the Space Council, his is virtually the only name rumored to be in the running to serve as the head of its staff.  The Council was officially reestablished on June 30 and is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.  Pace was spotted at Kennedy Space Center last week where Pence addressed the KSC workforce, further fueling speculation that he would be appointed as head of the Space Council.

In its announcement, the White House said Pace has “honed his expertise in the areas of science, space, and technology” citing his career at GWU, NASA, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the RAND Corporation’s Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Scott Pace.  Photo credit:  GWU website.

Pace received a B.S. in physics from Harvey Mudd College, a master’s in Aeronautics and Astronautics and Technology and Policy from MIT, and a Ph.D. in policy analysis from the RAND Graduate School.

During the George W. Bush Administration’s second term, Pace was NASA’s Associate Administrator for Program Analysis and Evaluation under then-NASA Administrator Mike Griffin.  He was closely involved in formulating the Constellation program to return humans to the surface of the Moon and then going on to Mars.

His expertise is much broader, however.  He was Deputy Director and Acting Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce from 1990-1993 when that office reported to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce (instead of being part of NOAA as it is today).   He has been very active on GPS issues for many years, including protecting GPS spectrum at World Radiocommunications Conferences (WRCs) organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).  He was a member of the U.S. delegation to the WRCs in 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2007.  He also has served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (2009 and 2011-2015). Today he is vice-chair of NOAA’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing, of which he has been a member for several years.

John Logsdon, who founded GWU’s Space Policy Institute and is Professor Emeritus there, said via email that he could think of “no one more qualified” to take on the “essential task of crafting a strategic approach to using U.S. space capabilities to advance this country’s geopolitical interests and to forge productive collaboration among all government space actors and the private sector.”

Mary Lynne Dittmar, President and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE), also praised the announcement.  “Dr. Pace’s unique combination of experience in government, the private sector, and academia, and his internationally-recognized expertise in space policy, make him an exemplary selection” for the position.  She added that CDSE looks forward to working with “the Council, its staff, and the Vice President’s office to support U.S. leadership and strategic interests in space.”  CDSE is an alliance of space industry businesses and advocacy groups that support deep space human exploration and science.


Update:  this article has been updated with reaction to the announcement.

NOAA’s Polar Follow On Program Zapped by House Appropriators

NOAA’s Polar Follow On Program Zapped by House Appropriators

NOAA’s Polar Follow On (PFO) program to build the next two JPSS polar-orbiting weather satellites barely survives in the House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee’s draft budget for the agency.  Only $50 million would be allocated, compared to the $586 million NOAA said last year that it would need in FY2018.  The Trump Administration proposed a re-plan of the program in its budget request, asking for $180 million for FY2018.  The subcommittee is going well beyond that, but said it may reconsider its decision if NOAA provides better information about the re-plan.  The full committee will mark up the bill tomorrow (Thursday).

NOAA is building new generations of its two weather satellite systems, one that orbits around the Earth’s poles (polar orbit) and the other in geostationary orbit above the equator.

The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) program consists of the first two JPSS polar-orbiting satellites.  It is fully funded in Trump’s budget request and by the subcommittee.  The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite series R (GOES-R) program also is fully funded.

The question is what comes next.  The JPSS program itself funds only the first two satellites, JPSS-1 and -2.  The next two, JPSS-3 and JPSS-4, have a different program name and funding line item — Polar Follow On (PFO).   The original decision to split JPSS into different program lines was part of an effort to reduce the cost of what was officially labeled the JPSS program, although a number of changes have been made since.  Most recently, NOAA has been planning to procure instruments and spacecraft for JPSS-2, -3, and -4 simultaneously to achieve cost savings and create resiliency in case a satellite fails early or is lost during launch.

Budget constraints have changed the picture, however.  With the Trump Administration trying to cut costs across the government, it signaled early on that NOAA’s future satellite programs would be reduced.  PFO is one of the targets.  NOAA had projected in its FY2017 request that $586 million would be needed in FY2018, but the Trump Administration’s request was for only $180 million in FY2018 and “TBD” for future years.

NOAA said it would “initiate a re-plan” and “work to improve the constellation strategy considering all the polar satellite assets to ensure polar weather satellite continuity while seeking cost efficiencies, managing and balancing systems technical risks and leveraging partnerships.”

The CJS subcommittee funds the Department of Commerce, of which NOAA is part.  In its draft report, released today, it left no doubt that it found NOAA’s new approach insufficient.   “The request proposes a dramatic and incipient re-plan of this program. Yet the request fails to assess the purported new mission design’s impacts on constellation availability, or provide an updated gap analysis, or new annual or lifecycle cost estimates.”   Therefore it approved only $50 million.

A gap analysis is an assessment of the possibility that a gap in coverage could occur if new satellites are not launched quickly enough to replace older satellites as they fail or if a satellite fails prematurely.  Because of the vital nature of weather satellite data, NOAA and Congress are determined to avoid gaps in either polar or geostationary weather satellite data.  Such assessments are difficult, though.  Many satellites outlive their design lives, but others do not and there is always the risk that a new satellite could be doomed by a launch failure.

The subcommittee added that it will reassess its decision on funding for PFO if NOAA provides better information.

Another NOAA satellite program whose future is in doubt is space weather.  NOAA is responsible for spacecraft that monitor the Sun for particle ejections that can damage  satellites in orbit and infrastructure on Earth like the electric grid.  The most recent space weather satellite to be launched to the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point for that purpose was DSCOVR.  NOAA proposed a plan last year to build two new spacecraft and instruments with the first one ready to be launched before the end of DSCOVR’s design lifetime.  This Space Weather Follow On program was to be funded at $53.7 million in FY2018 according to NOAA’s projections.

The Trump Administration’s budget request did not support that plan, requesting only $500,000.  Congress has a strong interest in space weather.  On May 2, 2017, the Senate passed the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act and a companion bill has been introduced in the House.  For FY2017, Congress appropriated $5 million to NOAA for space weather, double the request.

The House CJS subcommittee also boosted the request this time, approving $8.545 million, which is much better than $500,000, but far less than what the agency was planning last year.

In other NOAA space programs, the subcommittee recommended $6 million for the commercial weather data pilot program, twice what the Trump Administration requested.

It also recommended $1.8 million for the Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) and $1.2 million for the Office of Space Commerce.  For FY2017, Congress funded the CRSRA at $998,000 and the Office of Space Commerce at $800,000.  For FY2018, the Trump Administration requested $1.2 million for each.

The full House Appropriations Committee will mark up the bill tomorrow at 10:00 am ET.  The meeting will be webcast.

SIA: State of Satellite Industry is “Positive”

SIA: State of Satellite Industry is “Positive”

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) released its annual report on the “State of the Satellite Industry” today with data on how the industry fared in 2016 compared with prior years.  SIA President Tom Stroup said 2016 “was once again a positive year,” though results for the four industry market segments varied widely.  Global satellite manufacturing revenue dropped 13 percent, for example, while satellite ground equipment revenue grew 7 percent.

SIA released the 2017 report, the 20th in the series, at a press conference this morning in Washington, D.C.  The report was prepared for SIA by Bryce Space and Technology.

Overall, worldwide satellite industry revenue grew by two percent in 2016 to a new high of $261 billion, up from $255 billion in 2015.  The 2 percent growth rate is less than the 3 percent in 2015, however, and not all segments fared as well as others.  Satellite services revenue was flat, satellite manufacturing revenue decreased 13 percent, launch industry revenue increased 2 percent, and ground equipment revenue increased 7 percent.

Satellite services encompass consumer services (satellite TV, radio and broadband), fixed satellite services (transponder agreements and managed network services including in-flight services), mobile satellite services, and earth observation services.  Globally, that segment grew just 0.2 percent (hence the characterization as “flat”), from $127.4 billion in 2015 to $127.7 billion in 2016.   The U.S. share of the revenue was 40 percent, down 2 percent from 2015.

Earth observation services were singled out as one of the report’s case studies.  Charity Weeden, SIA’s Senior Director of Policy, noted that revenue increased 11 percent amid a growing number of companies and partnerships getting into the business.  The report lists six companies in the “large satellite” and 16 in the “small satellite” earth observation categories.

SIA Senior Director of Policy Charity Weeden (at podium) discusses findings from 2017 State of Satellite Industry Report, July 11, 2017.  Photo credit:  tweet from Bryce Space and Technology (@BryceSpaceTech).

In 2016, of the four market segments, commercial satellite manufacturing suffered the greatest revenue loss globally — 13 percent, from $16 billion in 2015 to $13.9 billion in 2016.  Although U.S. satellite manufacturing revenue dropped from $6.6 billion to $5 billion, its share of global revenues nonetheless grew from 59 percent to 64 percent.  SIA’s report found that excluding cubesats, U.S. companies built 27 percent of the satellites launched in 2016.  If cubesats are included, U.S. companies built about 63 percent of the satellites launched.  A total of 126 satellites were launched in 2016, a significant drop from the 202 launched in 2015 due largely to delays in launches of very small satellites.

Launch industry revenues were up 2 percent, from $5.4 billion in 2015 to $5.5 billion in 2016.  The U.S. share of those global revenues was 40 percent ($2.2 billion), an increase from 34 percent in 2015. The report signals troubled times ahead for the launch industry, however.  Only 14 commercial satellite launch orders were placed in 2016, down from 33 in 2015.  Just four were won by U.S. companies, down from 15 in 2015. That count does not include 11 orders for government satellites.

Ground equipment includes network equipment (gateways, control stations, Very Small Aperture Terminals) and consumer equipment (satellite TV dishes, satellite radio equipment, satellite broadband dishes, satellite phones and mobile satellite terminals, and satellite navigation stand-alone hardware). For this segment, global revenues were up 7 percent, from $106 billion to $113.4 billion.

The report also includes data on U.S. employment in the satellite industry:  211,185 jobs in September 2016, a decrease of 1 percent from 2015.

Stroup said in a press release that the growing number of operational satellites in orbit — 1,459 at the end of 2016 compared with 1,381 a year earlier — illustrates the “need for regulators to fully understand the critical importance of satellites.  Investment and innovation rely on lawmakers maintaining a spectrum policy regime that ensures the continued reliable delivery of vital satellite services to customers now, through the next decade and beyond.”

Insatiable consumer demand for terrestrial mobile services like smartphones has created spectrum wars between companies offering terrestrial versus satellite services.  Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are enmeshed in the debate over how to allocate spectrum effectively.

SIA is a trade association that represents the commercial satellite industry.  The report is posted on SIA’s website.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article stated revenues for satellite services and ground equipment in $millions.  The figures are in $billions and have been corrected.  


FAA Space Office To Get Budget Boost from House Appropriators – UPDATE

FAA Space Office To Get Budget Boost from House Appropriators – UPDATE

House appropriators are recommending a budget boost for FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  The office received $19.8 million for FY2017, but the Trump budget proposal for FY2018 is $2 million less.  By contrast, the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the office is proposing $21.587 million. [UPDATE:  the subcommittee approved that amount on July 11 as did the full House Appropriations Committee on July 17.]

The Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee will mark up the bill tomorrow evening.  In total, the bill allocates $56.5 billion for the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  That total is $1.1 billion less than FY2017 and $8.6 billion above the Trump Administration’s request.

FAA/AST regulates, facilitates and promotes the commercial space launch industry.  Among its responsibilities is issuing permits and licenses related to commercial space launches and reentries.  With the burgeoning growth in both areas, advocates point to the need to provide the office with enough funding to hire sufficient staff to process applications in a timely manner.  Debate continues over whether to expand FAA/AST’s role into non-military space situational awareness or regulating non-traditional space activities, but on a more fundamental level the question is how to ensure the office can effectively execute its current assignments.

The office received $17.8 million for FY2016.  The FY2017 request from the Obama Administration was $19.8 million and Congress eventually appropriated that amount in May 2017.  Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) were particularly influential in convincing House appropriators to provide that level of funding last year.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration was formulating its FY2018 budget request while Congress was still debating the final FY2017 numbers and FAA/AST was funded by a Continuing Resolution at its FY2016 level.  Thus, the Trump Administration may have viewed its FY2018 request of $17.8 million as level funding when in fact it would be a $2 million cut.

In any case, the T-HUD subcommittee’s recommendation of $21.587 million is a boost over FY2017.  In March, Bridenstine testified before the subcommittee in favor of a $23 million budget, a $3.2 million increase above FY2017.  The $21.587 million proposed by the T-HUD subcommittee is a bit more than half of that.

FAA also funds commercial space transportation-related activities in two other accounts, but the draft bill released by the committee today does not provide sufficient detail to know how those requests fared.   The FY2018 requests are $1.796 million in Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) for AST’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and other R&D related to safely integrating commercial space transportation into the National Airspace System; and $4.5 million in Facilities and Equipment (F&E) for the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) to acquire a Space Data Integrator tool that will enable ATO to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.

Tomorrow’s subcommittee markup is at 7:00 pm ET.  It will be webcast.


What’s Happening in Space Policy July 10-14, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 10-14, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 10-14, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Congress and the space policy community overall are back to work in full force this week after a bit (but only a bit) of a break for July 4.

The House plans to take up the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) towards the end of the week. The House Rules Committee meets on Wednesday to consider which amendments will be allowed to be considered during floor debate.  As shown on the committee’s website, 394 have been filed as of today.  Five are related to space activities.

One is proposed by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).  It would strike a provision in the bill that requires DOD to establish a Space Corps within the Air Force, analogous to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy, and a U.S. Space Command as a subunit of U.S. Strategic Command.  The provision is very controversial.   It was written by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the House Armed
Services Committee’s (HASC’s) Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), the subcommittee’s top Democrat.  However, it is opposed by the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff and is not included in the Senate version of the bill.

Turner first tried to remove the provision during full committee markup by HASC on June 28.  His amendment instead would require DOD to study the need for such a reorganization and report to Congress next year. Turner is a former chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee and remains a member.  He argued that Congress has insufficient information to make such a major move.  Rogers, Cooper and HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) insisted the idea has been discussed for years and it is time to do it.  The amendment was rejected and the provision remains in the bill.  Turner wants the full House to have a chance to weigh in.  Will be interesting to see if the Rules Committee permits it.  Floor debate on the bill could begin late Wednesday or Thursday.

The House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee (T-HUD) will mark up its FY2018 funding bill on Tuesday, which includes the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  FAA/AST got $19.8 million in FY2017, a $2 million increase over the $17.8 million it received for FY2016.  Unfortunately, the Trump Administration formulated much of its FY2018 budget request before Congress finalized the FY2017 budget.  At that time, FAA/AST was funded at the $17.8 million level through a Continuing Resolution that held agencies to their FY2016 limits.  The Trump Administration may have thought it was proposing level funding for the office by requesting $17.8 million for FY2018, but Congress ultimately did give FAA/AST the $2 million boost it requested.  Now, if Congress funds the requested level for FY2018, it will mean a $2 million cut.  Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), a member of the full Appropriations Committee (though not the T-HUD subcommittee) and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) fought hard on FAA/AST’s behalf last year to get the $19.8 million.  We’ll see if they can convince appropriators to keep at least the $19.8 million this time.  (Bridenstine testified before the subcommittee in March in favor of another boost — to $23 million — for FY2018.)

The Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has rescheduled its hearing on commercial space partnerships for Thursday morning.  The hearing was scheduled for June 21, but on June 20 it was postponed without explanation.  The witness list is the same as before except that SpaceX SVP for Global Business and Government Affairs Tim Hughes will substitute for President and COO Gwynne Shotwell.  The other witnesses are NASA KSC Director Bob Cabana, fresh from hosting Vice President Pence last week; Tim Ellis from Relativity; Moriba Jah from the University of Texas at Austin; and Jeff Manber from Nanoracks.

Off the Hill, but still in D.C., there are a slew of really interesting events, including the Secure World Foundation’s panel discussion tomorrow (Monday) with industry perspectives on the space debris problem; the Satellite Industry Association’s release of its annual State of the Satellite Industry report on Tuesday morning; an ISU-DC space cafe Tuesday evening with experts from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center talking about how we benefit every single day from data acquired by earth science satellites; the Future Space Leaders Foundation annual Future Space conference on Thursday; and a seminar sponsored by GWU’s Space Policy Institute and the Aerospace Corporation on Friday morning on “Ensuring U.S. Leadership in Space.”

In other parts of the country, AIAA will holds its annual propulsion and energy forum in Atlanta and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA will hold a three-day symposium celebrating the center’s 100th birthday.  The National Academies committee that is performing the mid-term review of the 2011 planetary science Decadal Survey “Vision and Voyages” will meet at CalTech in Pasadena, CA from Tuesday to Thursday.  Open sessions of the meeting are available remotely via WebEx/telecon.   NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) will meet via teleconference on Monday to review with the Mars science community the input it plans to provide to the Academies committee later in the week.

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, July 10

Monday-Wednesday, July 10-12

Tuesday, July 11

Tuesday-Thursday, July 11-13

Wednesday, July 12

Wednesday-Friday, July 12-14

Thursday, July 13

Friday, July 14


Note:  This was updated to add the Defense One Tech Summit on Thursday.

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.


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