Today’s Tidbits: March 6, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: March 6, 2018

Here are our tidbits for March 6, 2018:  Chinese space station Tiangong-1 reentry window narrows; DOD sends Congress interim space organization report; Senators introduce US-Israel space cooperation bill.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Tiangong-1 Reentry Window Narrows

China’s first space station, Tiangong-1, is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere in the next few weeks. It was launched in September 2011 and hosted one robotic test vehicle (Shenzhou-8) and two crews (Shenzhou-9 and -10), the last in 2013.

China’s Xinhua press service stated in March 2016 [] that ground controllers had lost contact with the 8.5 metric ton module.  That means it will make an uncontrolled reentry anywhere along its flight path, which ranges from 42.65 degrees north to 42.65 degrees south latitude.  China has issued periodic forecasts of when the reentry will occur, including a December 2017 statement to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space  [].

When an uncontrolled space object will reenter is dependent on many factors and is difficult to predict.  The window narrows the closer reentry gets.  The European Space Agency’s Space Operations Center (ESOC) and the U.S. Aerospace Corporation have been releasing their estimates regularly.  ESOC issued its most recent prediction today: sometime between March 29 and April 9.

The Aerospace Corporation’s most recent estimate issued February 28, 2018 is roughly the same:  early April, plus or minus one week. Most of the module is expected to be destroyed as it reenters.  Earth is covered 70 percent by water, so the likelihood of any debris that does survive causing harm to people or property is very low.  The Aerospace Corporation calculates it this way:  “the probability that a specific person (i.e. you) will be struck by Tiangong-1 debris is about one million times smaller than the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot.”  Its website also had a handy map showing the portions of the globe where debris conceivably might fall.  [].

DOD Sends Congress Interim Space Reorganization Report

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. Credit: DOD.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan submitted an interim report to Congress on March 1 on efforts to improve the organizational and management structure of national security space.  The report is required pursuant to Sec. 1601 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The final report is due August 1.

It is one of two sets of reports required by the law regarding national security space organization.  The interim report on the other, an “independent plan to establish military department,” is due August 1 and the final report by December 31, 2018. The law requires DOD to contract with a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) not closely associated with the Air Force to conduct each study.

The requirement for the reports emanated from a disagreement between the House and the Senate over how to organize the Air Force and DOD to better oversee the national security space program.  The House wanted to created a Space Corps within the Air Force.  The Senate wanted to create a new Chief Information Warfare Officer who would have responsibility over space, cyber and information.  The compromise was to abolish some of the existing positions and organizations and conduct studies on what to do instead.

The March 1 interim report [] on the structure of the program basically lays out what Shanahan has in mind and states that a contract would be signed with an FFRDC by March 2, but did not identify which FFRDC was selected.  It restates DOD’s position that space is now one of the warfighting domains along with land, sea, air and cyber and there is a need to move with alacrity to ensure next-generation space capabilities are resilient and agile.  The review will focus on “(1) the research, development, acquisition and sustainment system, (2) organization and governance; (3) joint warfighting, and (4) workforce development.” It promises to review various organizational options including the Space Corps concept.

The bipartisan leadership of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Jim Cooper (D-TN), who originated the Space Corps concept in legislation, made clear last week that they have not given up on the idea.

US-Israel Space Cooperation Bill

Ilan Ramon, Israeli Air Force pilot and member of the STS-107 Space Shuttle Columbia crew.  Credit: NASA

A bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation today directing the NASA Administrator to continue working with the Israeli Space Agency.  The two agencies have cooperated since 1985.  Israeli Air Force Pilot Ilan Ramon was one of the seven members of the Space Shuttle Columbia mission who perished 15 years ago when the shuttle broke apart from aerodynamic forces during reentry after a 16-day science mission.

Senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) issued a joint press release about the bill.  The action coincides with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington D.C. to meet with President Trump and speak to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The House passed its version the bill (H.R. 1159) in December.  It is sponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Washington) with three original co-sponsors: Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Oklahoma, who has been nominated by President Trump to be NASA Administrator); Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida) and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas).  The bill currently has 37 co-sponsors.

The text of the Senate bill is not posted yet so what differences it may have from the House version are not clear.  The description in the press release sounds identical to the House bill.

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