Today’s Tidbits: September 9, 2020

Today’s Tidbits: September 9, 2020

Here are’s tidbits for September 9, 2020: LeoLabs foot stomps NAPA report; effort to get space weather bill this year; Boeing agrees to independent ethics audit in HLS inquiry (Reuters).  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

LeoLabs CEO Foot Stomps NAPA Report

More info:

A three-day virtual summit on space sustainability sponsored by the Secure World Foundation kicked off today with a panel discussing the progress that’s been made and what still needs to be done in a variety of areas including Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM).

Diane Howard, Chief Counsel of NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce (OSC) in the Department of Commerce (DOC), was one of the panelists. She and other DOC officials, starting with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, have been trying for more than a year to convince Congress to increase OSC’s budget so it can get on with implementing Space Policy Directive-3,  which directs DOC to be the government interface with civil and commercial satellite operators on SSA and STM. DOD does it for everyone now and is eager to hand off the civil/commercial role to someone else so it can focus on military requirements.

Howard reiterated today that OSC is doing all it can with the modest funding Congress currently provides, but it is not sufficient to get the job done.  OSC gets basically $1.8 million a year, though it got $500,000 more for FY2020 (a total of $2.3 million) to help pay for a congressionally-directed study by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) on the pros and cons of DOC taking on that role.

The House-passed FY2021 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill puts it back at $1.8 million, but that action was taken before the NAPA study came out last month. NAPA assessed the relative capabilities of four agencies — DOC, FAA, NASA or keeping it at DOD — and endorsed DOC.

Daniel Ceperly, founder and CEO, LeoLabs. Credit: LeoLabs

The Senate hasn’t acted on FY2021 appropriations yet, so there is still a chance OSC could get an increase. The request is $15 million, but it is part of a larger plan to establish a Bureau of Space Commerce reporting directly to Ross. Creating new bureaucracies is usually a hard sell and the House Appropriations Committee clearly is not convinced.

But there is still the narrower question of responsibility for civil/commercial SSA and STM.  DOC is creating an open architecture data repository that would include data not only from DOD, but commercial companies like LeoLabs that are building their own tracking sites around the world. They want to sell tracking data and services like analysis warning satellite operators of potential collisions.

LeoLabs founder and CEO Daniel Ceperley was also on the panel and strongly supported putting OSC in charge. The United States needs a regulatory agency to take the lead on establishing norms for what it means to be a safe operator in space, he said, and wants to “foot stomp” the NAPA report.  “It really lays the groundwork for moving forward” and “I think the Office of Space Commerce is very well suited to take that lead.”

The summit continues tomorrow and Friday.

Effort to Get Space Weather Bill Enacted This Year

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado)

A staffer for Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) said today that the Congressman will make an all-out effort to get a space weather bill passed this year.

Jeff O’Neil, Perlmutter’s Legislative Director, told a group of space weather experts meeting at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that Perlmutter is intent on ensuring that this is the year the bill becomes law.

The legislation has been through many iterations since Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) introduced the first version in 2016.  What hopefully is the final version, S. 881, passed the Senate on July 27 and is awaiting action in the House.

It carries the Senate bill number, but the title used by the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee — Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act — when it approved the bill in January.

O’Neil said “we’re working to pass that as soon as possible in the House.” If it does not pass before the 116th Congress ends, the process will have to begin all over again.  He was reluctant to promise a timeline, but “anyone who knows my boss knows that when he’s [focused] on something he’ll work to get it done.”

Interest in space weather typically addresses protecting satellites and terrestrial systems from Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) and solar wind that can overload systems that are critical to daily life, like the electric grid. More recently, the impact on humans traveling beyond low Earth orbit has become another focus as NASA ramps up efforts to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars. The latter is a particular interest of Perlmutter’s whose “Mars 2033” bumper sticker has become a staple of House SS&T hearings on NASA’s human spaceflight program.

The bill is co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), so has bipartisan support in both chambers. It does not authorize funding, but assigns agency roles and responsibilities and directs NOAA to create a commercial space weather data pilot program.

The Academies’ Space Weather Operations and Research Infrastructure Workshop, Part 2, continues tomorrow and Friday.

Reuters: Boeing Agrees to Independent Ethics Review in HLS Inquiry

Reuters is reporting today that Boeing has agreed to an independent review of its compliance and ethics practices in connection with allegations of wrongdoing in its Human Landing Systems (HLS) bid to NASA.

Joey Roulette writes that the agreement was signed in August with NASA and the Air Force.

Doug Loverro, who headed NASA’s human spaceflight program, resigned in May 2020 amid allegations that he had improper conversations with Boeing’s Jim Chilton about the company’s HLS bid.  The Wall Street Journal reported last month that federal prosecutors have opened a criminal probe. Roulette’s story today said several Boeing employees were fired including a company attorney.

Boeing did not win one of the HLS contracts.

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