What’s Happening in Space Policy July 22-28, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 22-28, 2018

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of July 22-28, 2018 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It’s a busy week in Congress and elsewhere.

One highlight is a pair of hearings before the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee on Wednesday and Thursday about the new cost overruns and schedule delay for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). After the previous round of overruns and delay in 2010/2011, NASA assured Congress that it would cost no more than $8 billion for JWST’s development (not including launch and operations) and it would launch in October 2018.  Congress set $8 billion as a cost cap in law.  Since last summer, however, the schedule was delayed to 2019, then 2020, and now 2021.  The development cost now stands at $8.8 billion, a 10 percent increase, breaching the cap.  NASA placed most of the blame on “avoidable errors” at prime contractor Northrop Grumman.  An independent review chaired by Tom Young listed “human error” at the top of its list of causes.

Because of the breach, Congress now must reauthorize the program.  House SS&T is NASA’s authorization committee in the House. The committee will hear from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Northrop Grumman Chairman and CEO Wes Bush, and Young, a veteran of NASA and industry who is often called upon to chair reviews of government space programs that go awry.  Instead of having all three of them on the same panel, though, the committee has split them into two panels on successive days —  Bridenstine and Young on Wednesday, Bush and Young on Thursday — a somewhat unusual arrangement.  Bush is scheduled to participate in his company’s quarterly earnings telecon at noon on Wednesday, so perhaps it was just a schedule conflict.  The hearings will be webcast.

(That will be Northrop Grumman’s first quarterly earnings telecon since its acquisition of Orbital ATK closed, since it announced that Bush will step down in 2019, and since the JWST independent review came out, so could itself be interesting. It will be audiocast.)

House SS&T’s counterpart is the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.  It will hold a space hearing this week, too, but on a completely different topic — human exploration of Mars. The witness list does not include anyone currently working for NASA, although  former astronaut Peggy Whitson and former NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman will be there. (Newman returned to MIT after leaving NASA. One of her areas of expertise is designing spacesuits for use on Mars.)  Joining them will be Tory Bruno, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance, and Chris Carberry of Explore Mars Inc., which puts together the annual Humans to Mars (H2M) conferences.  The  hearing is on Wednesday afternoon and will be webcast.

Earlier that day, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on “The Race to 5G: Exploring Spectrum Needs to Maintain U.S. Global Leadership.”  That means the spectrum war that is shaping up as terrestrial wireless companies move to 5G networks at millimeter wavelengths to provide ever more and faster wireless services.  They want access to spectrum currently assigned to government and commercial satellites.  The terrestrial versus space spectrum battle has been going on for years, but is becoming even more intense in the nascent 5G era.  It looks like a really good hearing with representatives from the Satellite Industry Association (SIA); its terrestrial wireless counterpart CTIA; an equipment supplier (Qualcomm); and one of the largest cable system operators (Charter Communications).  That hearing also will be webcast.

On the national security space side, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has “possible” House consideration of the conference report on the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) listed on the House schedule this week.  The House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) are striving to complete conference negotiations on the bill this month, way earlier than usual.  If they succeed and even one of the two chambers passes the conference report by July 31, that will be feather in their cap. The House is scheduled to begin its 5-week summer recess after Thursday’s session so that will be the last chance to do so.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced a few weeks ago that he will keep the Senate in session for most of August so they could get it done before Labor Day, which would be quite an achievement.  One of the big issues, of course, is what, if anything, the conference report will say about a Space Corps/Space Force/Space Guard.  The interim report Congress commissioned in last year’s NDAA for a plan to establish a separate military department for DOD’s space activities is due next week (August 1).  Neither committee weighed in on that specific issue in their respective bills while waiting for that report.  With all the high-level attention it’s getting, though, the conference committee might address it.  HASC and SASC had very different views last year, which is why they decided to commission the study in the first place.

Several other very interesting events will take place in D.C. this week, but for the sake of brevity we will not address them in this narrative.  See the list below.  The BIG event outside the Beltway this week is the 7th annual International Space Station Research and Development (ISSRDC) conference where researchers discuss the experiments being conducted on ISS.  Discussions will also include commercialization and non-governmental use of ISS.   This year it is in San Francisco.  Organised by the American Astronautical Society for NASA and CASIS, portions will be broadcast on NASA TV and/or NASA Live, including talks by two astronauts who have spent a bit of time aboard ISS, Mark Vande Hei and Randy Bresnik.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our calendar.

Monday, July 23

Monday-Tuesday, July 23-24

Monday-Thursday, July 23-26

Tuesday, July 24

Wednesday, July 25

Thursday, July 26

Note:  This article was updated on July 22 to add the House SS&T markup on Tuesday, which the committee just added to its list of bills to be marked up that day.

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