Today’s Tidbits: October 17, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: October 17, 2017

Here are our tidbits for October 17, 2017:  Senate appoints NDAA conferees; Air Force choice for the new A11 slot; Gen. Raymond on reusable rockets; and a scientist blasts the National Space Council.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Let the Games Begin

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), all of whom have been appointed as conferees on the FY2018 NDAA. Source: SASC website.

The Senate approved its conferees for the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today.  The House appointed its members of the conference committee last week, so the chambers are now in a position to negotiate a compromise version of the legislation.

As we’ve been reporting, one of the biggest differences is that the House wants to create a Space Corps within the Air Force analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy because it feels the Air Force is not managing space programs effectively.  The Senate agrees there’s a problem, but has a very different solution.  It wants to create a new position of Chief Information Warfare Officer (CIWO), reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense (not through the Air Force), to manage space, cyber, and information programs.  The Senate version of the bill (H.R. 2810) goes so far as to prohibit any money authorized in the bill from being used to set up a Space Corps.

The Senate appointed all the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee as conferees.  We posted the House list of conferees last week.

It is all but certain that they will reach agreement somehow.  The NDAA is one of the few authorization bills (perhaps the only) that is enacted every year.  The first was in 1961 and they haven’t missed a year yet.

Air Force Nominates General for New “A11” Slot

Maj. Gen. David Thompson, Vice Commander, Air Force Space Command. Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

The Air Force and the White House also oppose the Space Corps idea.  They agree that changes need to be made, but insist they are doing that already.  One change is creating a new Air Force A11 (AF/A11) position, Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Operations, to ensure a link between “combatant commander and  service space requirements with our capabilities,” as expressed by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.  The intent to create the position was announced in April by Acting Secretary of the Air Force Lisa Disbrow.  New Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson made it official on June 16 and the new directorate began operating on August 17 [], but is awaiting the person who will fill the A11 slot.

Inside Defense reports today that the Air Force has nominated Maj. Gen. David Thompson to serve in that new capacity. Thompson is currently the Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command. He would be promoted to Lieutenant General for this position, which requires Senate confirmation.

AFSC Commander Raymond: “Foolish” Not to Take Advantage of Reused Rockets

A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage after landing on an autonomous drone ship at sea. Credit: SpaceX website.

General John “Jay” Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSC), told Bloomberg News yesterday that the Air Force would be “absolutely foolish” not to utilize SpaceX’s reused (pre-flown) rockets in order to take advantage of the cost savings.  “We’d be dumb not to do it. … What we have to do is make sure we do it smartly.”  []

SpaceX has introduced the era of reusable rockets with almost routine landings of its Falcon 9 first stages either on autonomous drone ships stationed out at sea or on land after they have propelled their payloads on their way to space.  To date, it has achieved 16 successful drone ship landings and seven on land at Cape Canaveral, FL.  It will attempt its first landing on land at Vandenberg Air Force Base soon.  Three of those recovered first stages since have been used to launch other commercial spacecraft, but the government has not used a pre-flown rocket yet.

A Scientist Takes On the National Space Council

Astrobiologist Lucianne Walkowicz minced no words in a stinging rebuke of the National Space Council and the Moon/Mars debate in an op-ed for Scientific American [].   Calling the Space Council “a recurring relic of the past, like a chain letter that surfaces every few decades or so,” she criticized the first meeting of the Council two weeks on ago on several grounds.

Chief among them was the Trump Administration’s decision to “pivot” the human spaceflight program back to a focus on the Moon, rather than Mars as it was during the Obama Administration, and its lack of attention to science.  She said that “as a member of the astronomical community, it’s hard not to feel like a passenger in the back seat of a car, watching an ongoing struggle over the steering wheel. Having the vision for our space program remain agile and responsive in a changing science and technology landscape is one thing, but it bears remembering that if all we do is pivot, we’ll never get anywhere.”

Walkowicz is an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago who studies stellar magnetism and its effects on planetary habitability.  She also is the 2017-2018 Baruch S. Blumburg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology [].

Also Published on This Week

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.