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What’s Happening in Space Policy July 31-August 11, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 31-August 11, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, July 31-August 11, 2017.  The House is in recess until after Labor Day.  The Senate plans to be in session for both of these weeks.

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Welcome to SpacePolicyOnline.com’s New Look

Welcome to SpacePolicyOnline.com’s New Look

As promised, here is the modernized version of SpacePolicyOnline.com.   This is the first article we are posting using the new software and is primarily a test to make sure everything is working.

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Heads Up: Changes are Coming to SpacePolicyOnline.Com

Heads Up: Changes are Coming to SpacePolicyOnline.Com

SpacePolicyOnline.com is about to change its look.  We’ll have the same objective, non-partisan content as always, but we are moving to a new mobile-friendly software platform with streamlined site navigation.  The change is scheduled to take effect on Monday, July 31, 2017.

Our news stories, fact sheets, meeting and hearing summaries and event calendar will all be there.  Anyone who accesses the site using a mobile device should have a better experience and everyone hopefully will find the new navigation menu at the top of the page more intuitive than the current design.

The switch to the new platform should be seamless.  That being said, we all know that hiccups are not uncommon in the IT world so please bear with us if it’s not!

If you encounter a “Page Not Found” message, for example, please keep trying.  You may have to refresh your cache.

For those of you on the SpacePolicyOnline.com email list, you should NOT have to sign up again.  The software product that automatically scoops up our stories and sends them to you will stay the same.

What you see in those emails will change, however.  Instead of receiving the entire text of an article, you will get only the headline and the first 400 characters.  If you want to keep reading the article, just click on the headline and you will be whisked to the website so you can read it there.  This will avoid the problem some of you have experienced where images do not appear because your email system blocks them.  It also means that you will get the most up-to-date version of the story.

Let us know if you have any trouble finding your way around the redesigned site or if you discover that you are not getting our emails.

You can reach us at:  info@spacepolicyonline.com.

Hope you enjoy our new look and modern capabilities.

Russia Sanctions Bill Clears Congress

Russia Sanctions Bill Clears Congress

The Senate today approved the Russia sanctions bill that passed the House earlier this week, clearing the measure for the President.  It is not known if he will sign it or not.  The final version includes language adopted by the Senate last month clarifying that NASA activities with Russia are exempted as are space launches conducted for NASA or the commercial sector.

The Senate passed its version of the bill in June by a vote of 98-2.  It imposed additional sanctions on Russia and Iran.  The House passed its version, H.R. 3364, on Tuesday, adding sanctions against North Korea. The House vote was 419-3.  The Senate agreed with the House version this evening, again by a vote of 98-2.

With regard to Russia, the bill imposes sanctions against Russian individuals and entities due to Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and for “undermining cybersecurity.”  During consideration of the bill in June, the Senate added section 237 to clarify that the bill does not apply to NASA’s activities with Russia and is not intended to place any limitation on any Russian entity providing products or services related to any space launch for NASA or any other non-Department of Defense customer (i.e., the commercial sector).

Russia is a critical partner in the US-Russian-Japanese-European-Canadian International Space Station (ISS) program and is the only ISS partner currently capable of taking crews back and forth to ISS.  A three-person crew will launch tomorrow morning (Friday), for example.  NASA and commercial customers also rely on rockets that contain Russian components (such as the RD-180 engines that power ULA’s Atlas V and the RD-181s used on Orbital ATK’s Antares) or are owned by Russian entities (e.g. Proton).

President Trump has given conflicting signals on whether he will sign or veto the bill.  One issue is that it prohibits a President from waiving sanctions without congressional approval.  If he vetoes the bill, Congress could override it with a two-thirds vote of each chamber.  The bill passed both the House and Senate with wide enough margins to be veto-proof, putting the President in a difficult situation.

House Passes FY2018 “Make America Secure” Appropriations Bill

House Passes FY2018 “Make America Secure” Appropriations Bill

The House passed a FY2018 appropriations bill today that includes funding for the Department of Defense (DOD).  The defense appropriations bill was bundled with three others into the “Make America Secure” appropriations bill, H.R. 3219.  The only space-related amendment that was adopted during floor debate specifies $5 million for the Air Force’s commercial weather data pilot program.

H.R. 3219 combines four of the 12 regular appropriations bills:  Defense, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA), Energy-Water (the Department of Energy oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile), and Legislative Branch (which funds congressional operations).  In total, the bill provides $789 billion.  It passed 235-192 on largely party lines.

Of the total, $658 billion is for defense, substantially more than allowed under spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).  The House has not passed a Budget Resolution or reached other agreement to modify the BCA caps, so the path forward for the legislation is unclear.  By law, if Congress approves more money than allowed by the BCA caps, across-the-board cuts called a sequester automatically go into effect to reduce spending to the allowed limit.  That happened in FY2013 for DOD and other government agencies.  The effects were so dire that agreements were reached between Congress and the White House to lift the caps for FY2014-2015 and FY2016-2017, but nothing has been done so far with regard to FY2018.

Many aspects of the bill are controversial, such as funding to build the border wall with Mexico advocated by President Trump, but not with regard to space activities.  The House Rules Committee prevented an amendment from being brought to the House floor for debate that would have prohibited spending funds to create a Space Corps within the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy as directed in the House-passed version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

It allowed two other space-related amendments to be offered.  The first, by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), specifies $5 million for the Air Force’s commercial weather data pilot program to determine if commercially-available satellite data can be used in operational DOD weather forecasts.  It is similar to NOAA’s commercial weather data pilot program. Bridenstine created the NOAA program in a FY2016 appropriations bill.  The companion DOD program was created last year and the FY2018 NDAA extends it for another year.  The $5 million would pay for that extension.  The amendment was approved by the House as part of an en bloc amendment offered today by Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee.

The other was offered by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), the only physicist in the House.  He sought to prohibit funds from being spent on developing, procuring or deploying a space-based ballistic missile defense layer on the basis that it is technically infeasible.  The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

Overall, the bill pretty much follows the Administration’s request for DOD space activities, but there are some changes. For example, it cuts $160 million from the $3.2 billion requested for Air Force space procurement.

The majority of the cut, $132.4 million, is from advanced procurement for the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) High, the entirety of what was requested.  In its report on the bill, the House Appropriations Committee explained that the request “is not directed by a clearly defined strategy.  For example, the SBIRS analysis of alternatives remains incomplete, the wide field of view sensor has no clear transition path into a program of record, and the Committee is unaware of any sustained effort to integrate overhead persistent infrared requirements and capabilities across” DOD and the Intelligence Community.  The Committee also encourages the Air Force to focus “resources on the ground segment before building the space segment.”  DOD has been criticized for getting new satellites ready for launch before their associated ground systems are in place, meaning that the satellites are launched into orbit before their capabilities can be fully utilized.

The committee approved the $85.9 million requested for GPS III procurement, but noted that it understands the Air Force “continues to research the efficacy of recompeting the existing contract.”   The program has struggled with cost growth and schedule delays as detailed in several Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.  The committee directs the Secretary of the Air Force to provide a report by February 1, 2018 on the results of a review “that considers solutions that minimize technical and schedule risk as well as maximize reutilization of existing technology and infrastructure investments.”

Those decisions affect procurement funding.  For Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), the committee provided $295 million ($16.5 million less than requested) for SBIRS-High plus $71 million (the same as the request) for “evolved SBIRS.”  For GPS III RDT&E, the committee approved the $510 million requested for the ground segment (Operational Control Segment — OCX) plus $223.4 million for the space segment ($20 million less than the request).

The committee also approved the $297.6 million requested for RDT&E of a new rocket engine for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program to replace Russia’s RD-180 used for the Atlas V.  There is an ongoing debate over whether Congress should fund only a new engine — or, more accurately, a propulsion system — or a complete new launch system (of which propulsion is a part).  The House-passed FY2018 NDAA authorizes funding only for an engine and the appropriations committee followed suit.

The appropriations committee’s report also directs the Air Force to evaluate NATO allies’ launch infrastructure to determine how it might be used to provide assured access to space in an emergency.

The appropriations process still has a long way to go. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not yet marked up its version of the FY2018 defense appropriations bill, for example, but the overarching issue, as noted, is the lack of an agreement in the House or Senate, or between Congress and the White House, on how much money Congress may spend for FY2018.

Senate-Passed Sanctions Bill Includes Exception for NASA, Commercial Space Launches

Senate-Passed Sanctions Bill Includes Exception for NASA, Commercial Space Launches

The Senate passed a Russia-Iran sanctions act today by a vote of 98-2.  During debate, the Senate adopted an amendment to clarify that the bill is not intended to prevent commercial launch service providers from using Russian engines on rockets that launch NASA or commercial payloads.

The amendment was sponsored by Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and co-sponsored by his Democratic counterpart (Bennet), both Republican Senators from Alabama (Shelby and Strange), both Democratic Senators from Virginia (Warner and Kaine), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL).

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) spoke against the amendment.  His opposition to use of Russian RD-180 engines for national security launches using United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) Atlas V rocket is well known.  During consideration of last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he finally relented in his efforts to require ULA to terminate its use of those engines by 2019, agreeing to a more gradual transition as U.S. companies work to develop alternatives.

His passion to end U.S. reliance on Russian engines has not waned, however.  Today he turned his attention to the use of Russian engines for civil and commercial customers.


Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).  Photo Credit: McCain’s Senate Website

ULA’s RD-180-powered Atlas V already is sometimes used for launching Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  In the future, it will be used by Sierra Nevada for Dream Chaser cargo missions and by Boeing for launches of its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft.  Atlas V is also used for NASA science missions and for NOAA weather satellites, as well as commercial customers.

Orbital ATK uses its own Antares rocket for Cygnus launches to ISS, too.  Antares is outfitted with Russian RD-181 engines.

Invoking the same rhetoric he used in the RD-180 debate, McCain insisted that buying engines from Russia puts money into the pockets of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “cronies.”  He said the language agreed to in last year’s NDAA put DOD on the path to eliminate dependence on Russia as soon as possible while fostering competition among American companies and “NASA needs to do the same.  NASA needs to do the same.  NASA needs to do the same.”  Repeating it three times for emphasis, he urged a no vote on the Gardner amendment (SA 250).

He conceded that the amendment would pass despite his objections and he was correct.  It passed 94-6.

Gardner insisted that putting NASA on a path to phase out reliance on Russia is, in fact, the intent of the amendment, but just like DOD, time is needed for that transition to occur.   He characterized the amendment as an effort to avoid an “unintended consequence” of the underlying bill, S. 722.

The bill, “An Act to Provide Congressional Review and to Counter Iranian and Russian Governments’ Aggression,” came out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  It imposes additional sanctions on Iran and on Russia, but as committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said, it also “reasserts congressional authority” over imposing or ending sanctions on those countries.  “For decades, Congress has slowly and irresponsibly ceded its authorities to the executive branch, particularly as it relates to foreign policy.”

Corker added that the bill provides the Trump Administration with “appropriate national security flexibility.”  Its intent to prevent the President from unilaterally ending sanctions, particularly on Russia, however, is clear. Hence, the fate of the bill is in question.  It still must pass the House and be signed into law by the President to become law.  If it passes the House, it seems unlikely that any President would sign a bill limiting his authorities.  If Trump vetoes the bill, Congress could override it with a two-thirds vote of the House and of the Senate.  The 98-2 Senate vote today clearly would meet that margin, though voting to override a veto is quite different from voting on a piece of legislation at this stage of its development.   All eyes will be on the House to see what it does with the bill.

House Will Not Debate Amendment to Prohibit Space Corps Funding

House Will Not Debate Amendment to Prohibit Space Corps Funding

The House Rules Committee did not approve for floor debate an amendment that would prohibit money from being spent on creating a Space Corps within the Air Force.  The House is debating an appropriations measure that includes FY2018 funding for DOD and the Rules Committee decides what amendments may be offered.  The Space Corps amendment, proposed by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), was not included in the list released today.

The House passed the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on July 14.  It would create a Space Corps within the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy.  Its advocates include the bipartisan leadership of the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC’s) Strategic Forces subcommittee, Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN) as well as HASC chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX).  It is opposed by other HASC members, the White House, and the Air Force, however.  Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), a former chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee and currently chair of the Tactical and Land Forces subcommittee, tried to eliminate the provision during full committee markup, but his amendment failed by voice vote.  He tried to bring the matter to the full House during debate on the bill, but the Rules Committee did not approve his amendment.  Thus the bill, as passed, includes the Space Corps directive.

The NDAA is an authorization bill that sets policy and recommends funding levels, but does not actually provide any money.  Only appropriations bills provide money. The House has begun debate on the Make America Secure Act (H.R. 3219) that combines four of the 12 regular FY2018 appropriations bills, including Defense. (The others are Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, Energy-Water, and Legislative Branch.)

The Perry amendment would have prohibited any money being used to establish a Space Corps.  The Rules Committee approved an initial list of amendments yesterday, but they were to other parts of the bill.  It dealt with amendments to the defense portion (Division A) today and the Perry amendment is not designated as “made in order” on the committee’s website or included in the committee’s resolution.  That means it will not be debated.

The proposal still has a long way to go. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) does not have a similar provision in its version of the NDAA. Instead it proposes a much broader reorganization of DOD, creating a Chief Information Warfare Officer (CIWO) who would oversee all space, cyberspace, and information programs at DOD.  The CIWO would serve as the Principal DOD Space Advisor (PDSA), a position currently filled by the Secretary of the Air Force. Once the Senate passes its version of the NDAA, the two chambers will have to negotiate a compromise and then money will have to be found to implement whatever they decide to do.

Among the amendments the Rules Committee did approve is one that will be offered by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to add money for DOD’s commercial weather data pilot program.  Bridenstine created a commercial weather data pilot program at NOAA two years ago and did the same for DOD last year.  The House-passed FY2018 NDAA extends the DOD program for another year, but, again, it is an authorization not an appropriations bill, so does not provide money to carry it out.  Bridenstine’s amendment to H.R. 3219 would add $5 million for the program within the Air Force’s Research, Development, Test and Evaluation budget.  The addition would be offset by an equal reduction to the Army’s Operation and Maintenance account.

Another amendment that was approved by the Rules Committee will be offered by Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) to prohibit the use of funds to develop, procure or deploy a space-based ballistic missile defense layer.

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves $19.5 Billion for NASA

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Approves $19.5 Billion for NASA

The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee approved $19.5 billion for NASA in FY2018 according to a committee press release.  The figure was rounded, but the press release also said it is $437 million more than President Trump requested and $124 million less than FY2017.  That would make $19.529 billion a more precise figure.

The request was $19.092 billion. NASA’s FY2017 funding level is $19.653 billion.

The House Appropriations Committee was more generous, approving $19.872 billion. The bill has not gone to the House floor for debate yet.

Only a few details were released by the Senate committee following the markup today.  More information will be available after the full committee marks up the bill on Thursday.

The press release highlighted these programs:

  • Space Launch System (SLS):  $2.15 billion, $212 million above the request.  Includes $300 million for the Exploration Upper Stage.  The House committee approved the same amounts.
  • Orion:  $1.3 billion, $164 million above the request.  The House committee approved $1.35 billion.
  • Science:  $5.6 billion, $140 million below the request.  The House committee approved $5.859 billion.
  • Commercial crew:  $732 million, the same as the request.  The House committee did not specify funding for this program.
  • Space Technology:  $700 million, $21 million above the request.  The House committee approved $686.5 million.
  • Education:  $100 million, including $18 million for EPSCoR, $40 million for Space Grant, $32 million for MUREP, and $10 million for STEM Education and Accountability Project (SEAP).   The House committee approved $90 million for the first three programs, divided the same as the Senate, but none for SEAP.   The request was for $37 million to close out all these programs and eliminate the Office of Education.
What’s Happening in Space Policy July 24-28, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 24-28, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of July 24-28, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

FY2018 appropriations and the new Russia/Iran/North Korea sanctions bill top the space-related congressional agenda this week.  At the moment, the House remains scheduled to recess on Friday for 5 weeks as planned at the beginning of the year while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided to keep the Senate in session for an extra two weeks at the urging of the President.  Whether the schedule changes again may depend on what happens this week on other issues.

Although the House has not yet passed a Budget Resolution that is supposed to set spending limits, it is moving forward with a bundle of four of the 12 regular appropriations bills that it considers to be related to national security:  Defense, Energy & Water (the Department of Energy oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile), Military Construction/Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA), and Legislative Branch (which funds congressional operations).  Some might quibble over whether Leg Branch counts as national security, but it does pay the salaries of the Members of Congress and their staffs who write the laws that set policy and authorize and pay for those programs, so there is logic to it. The bundle is called the “Make America Secure” bill and uses the Defense Appropriations bill number, H.R. 3219.   The House Rules Committee meets tomorrow (Monday) and Tuesday to write the rule and decide which amendments will be in order for floor debate.  House action could begin late Tuesday.

Speaking of the Budget Resolution, the House Budget Committee did finally release its version.  One of the proposals to save money is by reorganizing the Department of Commerce and moving NOAA to the Department of the Interior, something the Obama Administration recommended several times. Penny Pritzker, Obama’s last Secretary of Commerce, endorsed it again in her exit memo.

Across Capitol Hill, the Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up two bills that fund space activities:  Transportation-HUD (T-HUD, including the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation) and Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS, including NASA and NOAA).  The two subcommittees will mark up their bills on Tuesday; full committee markup is on Thursday.   Audio of all three meetings will be webcast.  The House Appropriations Committee has already reported out its versions of T-HUD and CJS.

Separately, the House and Senate have agreed on a compromise measure to impose additional sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.  The Senate passed its bill last month 98-2 after adopting an amendment that exempts NASA and the commercial sector from provisions that could have prevented them from launching satellites on rockets that use Russian components or using companies that do business with the Russian defense sector.  The compromise version is scheduled for a vote in the House on Tuesday.  The House is expected to vote as strongly in favor of the bill as did the Senate.  That would create a dilemma for the White House, which opposes it because it would prevent a President from acting alone to waive sanctions.  Congress would have to agree.  Pundits are debating whether the President will sign it anyway to avoid adding more fuel to the fire over his relationship with Russia or veto it.  Congress can override a veto with a two-thirds vote of each chamber.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and its committees are meeting this week in Hampton, VA, near NASA’s Langley Research Center.   Committee meetings are tomorrow and Tuesday, while the full NAC meets Thursday-Friday.  The meetings are available remotely by WebEx/telecon.  On Tuesday, the Human Exploration and Operations Committee and the Science Committee meet together.

Three new crew members launch to and dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday.  The American-Italian-Russian crew (Bresnik-Nespoli-Ryazansky) will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 11:41 am Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) and dock with ISS at 6:00 pm EDT joining the American-Russian crew members already aboard (Whitson-Fischer-Yurchikhin).

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-Tuesday, July 24-25

Tuesday, July 25

Thursday, July 27

Thursday-Friday, July 27-28

Friday, July 28

  • Soyuz MS-05 Launch/Docking
    • launch, 11:41 am EDT (9:41 pm local time at launch site), NASA TV coverage begins 10:45 am EDT
    • docking, Earth orbit, 6:00 pm EDT,  NASA TV coverage begins 5:15 pm EDT
Application Deadline Extended for Academies’ US-China Young Scientists Forum

Application Deadline Extended for Academies’ US-China Young Scientists Forum

The Space Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is inviting young (under 40) space science researchers to apply to participate in its 2018 U.S-China Forum for New Leaders in Space Science.  Astrophysics and heliophysics are the focus this time.  Applications are due July 28.

Initiated in 2014, the forum allows a small group of researchers from both countries to meet in China and in the United States to discuss their research activities.  This pair of forums are on January 23-24, 2018 in Guangzhou, China and July 12-13, 2018 in Pasadena, CA.  Travel and subsidence expenses for U.S. scientists will be paid by the National Academies using non-government funds.   Applicants must be available to participate in both meetings.

This set of forums is focused on astronomy and astrophysics and solar and space physics.  The original application deadline of July 14 has been extended to July 28.  Participants will be selected by an International Program Committee.

More information, eligibility criteria, and application instructions are on the SSB website.