What's Happening in Space Policy November 30-December 4, 2015

What's Happening in Space Policy November 30-December 4, 2015

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of November 30-December 4, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Congress returns to work tomorrow (Monday) after a week off for Thanksgiving.   They have this week and next to reach agreement on a funding bill for the government.  The current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on December 11.   Optimism abounds that all sides can work out their differences on funding issues, but policy riders are something else entirely.   Several issues could derail an agreement — from resettlement plans for Syrian refugees to funding for Planned Parenthood.  Stay tuned.

The conference report on the surface transportation bill, H.R. 22, which includes reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, could come up this week. Reopening the Bank has most recently become enmeshed in Middle East politics according to Politico. The prevailing wisdom is that the Bank will be reauthorized even if Congress does include language requiring the Bank to consider whether a loan applicant opposes new European Union labeling requirements for goods made in what the EU considers to be Israeli-occupied territories like the West Bank.

Down at Cape Canaveral, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is scheduled to launch an Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday.  This is the first flight of a Cygnus, and an upgraded version at that, since the Antares launch failure in October 2014.   That launch was by Orbital Sciences Corporation and designated Orb-3.  Orbital merged with ATK in February and this one is OA-4.  The company names its spacecraft after prominent individuals.  Orb-3 was the S.S. Deke Slayton after the late NASA astronaut and space launch entrepreneur (one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, he did not get his chance to fly until 1975 because of a health issue and later founded Space Services Inc., which built the Conestoga rocket).  This one also is named after him — the S.S. Deke Slayton II.  (S.S. is for spaceship).  Orbital ATK is still working on returning Antares to flight, outfitted with different Russian engines (RD-181s instead of NK-33/AJ26s).  There will be one more Atlas V/Cygnus launch in the spring, and then an Antares/Cygnus launch from Wallops Island, VA in the May time frame.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James will speak at the National Press Club on Wednesday.   No way to know in advance how much she will address space activities, but with all the tumult on Capitol Hill about Russian RD-180s for ULA’s Atlas V, it would be surprising if no one at least asked a question about it.  The Air Force and powerful members of the Senate Appropriations Committees, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), want ULA to be able to obtain more RD-180s for national security launches than are permitted under the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act that President Obama signed into law a couple of days ago.  That language was championed by Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman John McCain (R-AZ) who wants to limit how much money the United States pays Russian President Vladimir Putin and his “cronies” and move forward expeditiously with building an American replacement for the RD-180 by 2019.  The Air Force and Shelby et al are convinced that more time is needed for that transition to occur and thus more RD-180s are required (ULA builds its rockets in Alabama, Shelby’s state). Strictly speaking, it is authorization bills that are supposed to set policy.  Legislating in an appropriations bill is not permitted, but that prohibition is rarely enforced.  A point of order can be raised against a bill that transgresses the official boundaries, but it is all very complicated politically. 

(Why, you may ask, is it all right for Orbital ATK to use Russian RD-181 engines for Antares when ULA is limited in how many Russian RD-180s it can use on Atlas V?   Because the limitation is on using Russian engines for national security launches.  Orbital ATK is not offering Antares for national security launches, just civil and commercial.)

RD-180 and other space issues could also come up as a SASC hearing on Tuesday where aerospace industry icon and former Lockheed Martin executive Norm Augustine will testify on the perennial issue of defense acquisition reform.

The NASA Advisory Council meets over three days (Tuesday-Thursday) at Johnson Space Center, TX.  NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden is scheduled to speak on Tuesday afternoon from 1:30-2:30 pm Central Time (2:30-3:30 pm Eastern) followed by Bill Gerstenmaier and Sam Scimemi on human spaceflight.  The public may listen in on the meeting via WebEx and telecon.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are listed below.  Check back throughout the week for additions to our Events of Interest that we learn about as the week progresses.

Monday, November 30

Tuesday, December 1

Tuesday-Thursday, December 1-3

Wednesday, December 2

Thursday, December 3

Friday, December 4

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