Today’s Tidbits: November 14, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: November 14, 2017

Here are our tidbits for November 14, 2017:  House passes final version of FY2018 NDAA; Speaker Ryan floats idea of another CR; great video from Mars 2020 parachute deploy test; national security space expert Jeff Richelson dies. 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 Final Version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810)

The House passed the final version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) late this afternoon by a vote of 356-70.  It now must go to the Senate for a final vote, and then be signed by the President.

Conference reports emerge from lengthy negotiations between the House and Senate and rarely are changes made once agreement is reached.  In this case, however, a non-space related provision (concerning the military’s ability to use non-FDA approved treatments on soldiers) proved too controversial.  The two chambers are handling it by quick introduction of  a bill (H.R. 4374) that places strict limits on when the military can do that and repeals the relevant section of the FY2018 NDAA.   Pursuant to the rule the House adopted governing today’s debate on the H.R. 2810 conference report, the House will not send it to the Senate until the Senate passes H.R. 4374.

Ryan Broaches Idea of Another Continuing Resolution for FY2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin)

Congress did not complete action on any of the 12 FY2018 appropriations bills by the time FY2018 began on October 1.  The government is currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on December 8.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) suggested today that the House probably will pass another CR to extend that deadline later into December, although he said he did not want it to go into the New Year.  He said the appropriations committees need more time to get their bills written, which may be true, but the House and Senate are also currently busy trying to pass a tax bill and get it to the President’s desk by the end of the year.  Agencies dislike CRs because they keep funding at the prior year’s level and do not allow new programs to begin or old ones to end.

One problem is that if another CR is approved, it could break budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).  Under the BCA, if Congress appropriates more money than allowed by the cap, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) must make across-the-board-cuts, called sequestration, to reduce the total to the cap’s level.  Congress and the Obama White House relaxed the caps for FY2014-2015 and then for FY2016-2017, but nothing has been done for FY2018 and beyond.  There is very broad agreement that the caps are too stringent and sequestration is a terrible way to run the government, but nonetheless the BCA remains the law of the land.

JPL Tests Parachute for Mars 2020 Mission

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is making progress getting its next Mars rover ready for launch.  Mars 2020 is a close cousin of the Mars Science Lab/Curiosity rover that is on the surface of Mars right now.  Mars 2020 will go through the same “Seven Minutes of Terror” as Curiosity did in order to land on the planet.  Today, JPL released video of an October 4, 2017 test of the parachute, which must open at supersonic speeds.


The test started with a launch of the Black Brandt sounding rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia (the same place where Orbital ATK launches its Antares rockets).  It boosted its payload to an altitude of about 32 miles and a velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound.  The parachute successfully deployed and landed in the Atlantic Ocean 35 miles southeast of Wallops approximately 35 minutes after launch.  The next test is planned for February 2018.

Jeff Richelson Passes Away

Jeff Richelson, Senior Fellow, National Security Archive. Credit: National Security Archive website.

Jeff Richelson succumbed to cancer on Saturday night at the age of 67.  Richelson is very well known for his well researched and thoughtful books that shed light on super-secret government agencies and programs including some in the national security space realm.

He worked for the National Security Archive, which announced his death today remarking that he was “a prolific Freedom of Information Act requester and critically-praised author of extraordinary reference works on intelligence, nuclear weapons,  China, terrorism, military uses of space, and espionage.”  []

Among his space-related books are:   America’s Secret Eyes in Space: The U.S. Keyhole Spy Satellite Program (1990);  America’s Space Sentinels: DSP Satellites and National Security (1999); and America’s Space Sentinels: The History of the DSP and SBIRS Satellite Systems (2012).

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