Today’s Tidbits: July 25, 2019

Today’s Tidbits: July 25, 2019

Here are’s tidbits for July 25, 2019:  House passes budget/debt limit deal; DOD nominations update (Hyten, Milley, Norquist); Dickson confirmed for FAA; another SpaceX reusability milestone.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

House Passes Budget/Debt Limit Deal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

Today the House passed the deal negotiated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to raise budget caps for FY2020 and FY2021 and suspend the debt limit until July 31, 2021.  The deal, endorsed by President Trump, was announced on Monday. It allows more spending both for defense and non-defense programs and is almost certain to increase the budget deficit and the national debt.

Reducing the deficit was a signature issue for presidential candidate Donald Trump and congressional Republicans for many years.  Nonetheless, during the the first two years of Trump’s tenure, when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate, it grew significantly.  The deficit was $665 billion when President Obama left office.  Early this year, as Democrats took control of the House, it was just over $1 trillion.

With control of Congress now split between Democrats and Republicans, and a Republican in the White House, it looks like it will rise even more.  The deal is touted as a compromise with provisions that please and displease both sides — Republicans get more defense spending, but not the non-defense cuts they sought; Democrats get more non-defense spending, but had to agree to giving the President authority to move money around to pay for the border wall.

The prize for everyone is reducing the chances of government shutdowns or defaulting on the national debt past the 2020 elections.  The price is more debt.  The vote in the House was 284-149.  The Senate will take up the bill next week.

The House left town today for its August recess. It will return on September 9.  The Senate is staying for one more week and will come back a little earlier, on September 4.  It has a lot more work to do.  While the House has passed 11 of the 12 FY2020 appropriations bills, none even have been reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee, much less debated on the floor.  Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he would not move those bills until a budget deal was reached.  It appears that moment has come.  FY2020 begins on October 1.

DOD Nominations Update

As we reported earlier this week, the Senate confirmed Mark Esper to be Secretary of Defense on Tuesday and he was sworn into office hours later by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in an Oval Office ceremony.  Progress is being made on other pending DOD nominations as well.

Gen. Mark Milley (U.S. Army) was confirmed by the Senate today to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, succeeding Gen. Joseph Dunford (USMC).  Milley is currently Army Chief of Staff.

Also today, David Norquist was approved by the Senate Armed Services Comnmittee (SASC) to be Deputy Secretary of Defense.  The Senate is expected to confirm him next week.  Norquist is the DOD Comptroller and additionally has been “performing the duties of” the DepSecDef since January 1 when Patrick Shanahan moved up to the Acting SecDef position.

Today SASC scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on the nomination of Gen. John Hyten to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He currently is Commander of U.S. Strategic Command and was Commander of Air Force Space Command.  He appeared to be on a smooth route to confirmation until a former subordinate accused him of sexual misconduct.  Senators heard privately this week both from Hyten and from his accuser.  SASC Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said today that committee members had met in executive session four times and “devoted many hours” to considering the matter.

Through a fair, thorough and methodical process, each member was able to ask questions, receive answers, review documents, listen to testimony, conduct analysis and express their opinions. Next Tuesday, the members of the committee will have the opportunity to consider General Hyten’s nomination in a public forum.–  SASC Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe

Dickson Confirmed for FAA

Steve Dickson, incoming FAA Administrator. Credit: Delta Airlines

Steve Dickson was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday as the new Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is part of the Department of Transportation.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation facilitates, promotes and regulates the commercial space launch business and the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) is developing a Space Data Integrator (SDI) to make it faster and easier to close and reopen airspace when launches and reentries occur.

Dickson retired from Delta Airlines last year.  He was Senior Vice President-Flight Operations.  His nomination was controversial because he allegedly retaliated against a pilot who reported safety concerns at the airline.  Right now when the FAA is under pressure over whether it was sufficiently safety conscious when it approved Boeing’s 737 Max design, some question whether he is the right person.  Enough Senators think he is.  He was confirmed by a vote of 52-40.

Another SpaceX Reusability Milestone

SpaceX launched its 18th cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) today at 6:01 pm ET.  The Dragon spacecraft is packed with 5,000 pounds of experiments, equipment and supplies for the ISS crew.

Jessica Jensen, SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management, at the SpaceX CRS-18 pre-launch briefing, July 24, 2019. Screengrab from NASA TV.

SpaceX is all about reusability and that goes for spacecraft as well as rockets.  Today was another milestone — the third flight to space for a Dragon capsule.

SpaceX conducts these missions under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract and they carry CRS designations. Today’s is CRS-18.  This specific capsule already flew to ISS on CRS-6 and CRS-13.

This version of the capsule, Dragon 1, is certified for use three times.  A newer design, Dragon 2, will be able to fly five times.  That is what SpaceX will use for its commercial crew flights, which are expected to begin within a year.

During a pre-launch press conference yesterday, SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management Jessica Jensen said the next two cargo missions, CRS-19 and CRS-20, will be the last for Dragon 1.  Those capsules also will be making their third flights.

Dragon 1 will be retired after that.  CRS-21, the first mission under the follow-on CRS-2 contract, marks the transition to Dragon 2.  The cargo version of Dragon 2 is different from the crew version — it does not have the abort system required for the crew version for example.

The Dragon 2 spacecraft, both for cargo and crew, will splash down in the Atlantic instead of the Pacific.  All the refurbishment of the capsules will take place in Florida, instead of Florida, Texas and California.  That will speed up how quickly the spacecraft can be turned around for reflight.

Reusing Falcon 9 first stages has become routine for the company and today was no exception.  The first stage for today’s flight launched the CRS-17 mission just over two months ago.  It returned once again to a landing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, very close to where it had launched less than 10 minutes earlier.

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