Trump Forgets Congress Exists, Orders Creation of Space Force

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

Earlier today, Donald Trump bragged about the booming economy, defended his policy of separating refugee parents from their children, declared that one of his favorite places to visit is Alabama, and threatened to fire a new agency head if he screwed up.

In other words, a pretty standard rally speech he probably gave in Birmingham, Montgomery or someplace else in the Yellowhammer State (it’s a bird).

Only, in this case, he was in the White House at the third meeting of the National Space Council, whose agenda focused on space traffic management and how to leverage commercial activities in exploring the moon.

Trump didn’t disappoint here, either. Overshadowing the progress in these areas and the efforts of his vice president, Mike Pence, who chairs the council, Trump ordered the Pentagon to create an independent, separate but equal branch of the military: the Space Force. This new military service, which would be carved primarily out of the U.S. Air Force, would enable the America to dominate space, the president said.

Of course, Trump can’t simply order the Pentagon to do something so momentous; it will require the ascent of Congress, as Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) helpfully pointed out.

A similar message came from the office of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“Our Policy Board will begin working on this issue, which has implications for intelligence operations for the Air Force, Army, Marines and Navy,” spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement. “Working with Congress, this will be a deliberate process with a great deal of input from multiple stakeholders.”

So, stay tuned. The political fight has just begun.

Florida Governor to Challenge Bill Nelson for Senate Seat

Florida Senator Bill Nelson

Three-term Florida Sen. Bill Nelson — a major supporter of NASA and the space program — will face a challenge in November from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, The Hill reports.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced on Monday that he’ll challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D), setting up a marquee battle that could help decide which party controls the Senate.

Scott sought to paint himself as an outsider and vowed to “shake up Washington” if elected in November, without naming Nelson during his speech….

Scott’s long-awaited announcement ends months of speculation and sets up what is expected to be the costliest race of the cycle against Nelson, a three-term incumbent.

It will also serve as a test for President Trump given the White House’s efforts to recruit Scott for the race. Trump won Florida in 2016’s presidential contest by a little more than a percentage point.

Scott, who because of term limits cannot run for a third term as governor, is a close ally of Trump. While Trump carried the state, Democrats and even some Republican believe that his closeness to Trump could be a liability if the president’s approval numbers don’t improve.

Bridenstine’s Nomination Remains in Limbo in Senate

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

Nearly 15 months into Donald Trump’s term as president, NASA still lacks an administrator as the acting one prepares to retire in just 20 days. Meanwhile, the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) has been bogged down in the Senate for more than seven months.

USA Today reports the president is not giving up despite what appear to be long odds.

President Trump remains firmly behind his choice of Oklahoma GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine to be the next administrator of the space agency, even though he does not appear to have the votes for Senate confirmation.

“Senate Democrats should stop their pointless obstruction, and confirm our eminently qualified nominee immediately,” said Lindsay Walters, deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement to USA TODAY. “The President looks forward to Rep. Bridenstine’s swift confirmation by the Senate, and is confident he will ensure America is a leader in space exploration once again.”

Bridenstine’s critics say NASA should be led by a “space professional” rather than a politician, and it’s not just the Senate’s 49 Democrats who are blocking the president’s pick

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also has voiced deep misgivings.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is out of the Senate undergoing cancer treatments. If he were to return and support the nomination, Vice President Mike Pence could break a 50-50 tie.

NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot is set to retire on April 30.

A Closer Look at NASA’s FY 2018 Budget


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite a last minute threat of a veto, President Donald Trump signed an $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on Friday that boosts NASA spending by about $1.1 billion to $20.7 billion.

So, with the fiscal year nearly half over, let’s take a closer look at NASA’s FY 2018 budget, which the Administration had tried to cut. The table below lays out the numbers from the omnibus bill, the Administration’s request and the FY 2017 budget.

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Bridenstine Attempts to Soften Anti-Science Image with The Science Guy

Bill Nye in Washington. (Credit: Planetary Society)

Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (the Science Guy) is defending his controversial decision to attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address this evening as a guest of Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), whose nomination to serve as NASA administrator is facing a tough fight in the Senate.

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Aerospace Corporation Policy Paper Explores Regulations & Compliance for Nontraditional Missions

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (Aerospace Corporation PR) – The Aerospace Corporation’s (Aerospace) Center for Space Policy and Strategy today released a policy paper, Navigating the Space Compliance Roadmap for Small Satellites. The paper explores U.S. spaceflight regulations and how they apply to the increasingly common “nontraditional missions,” which do not match the historical norm of a single large government satellite on a launch vehicle. This paper provides roadmaps to help new mission planners obtain the proper approvals prior to launch.

The release of Aerospace’s analysis is timely, as Congress is considering new legislation, The American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act of 2017, intended to foster a “more favorable legal and policy environment for free enterprise.” Authors Barbara Braun, systems director, Space Innovation Directorate, and Eleni “Sam” Sims, project engineer, highlight significant opportunities to improve and streamline the current approval process for new space systems.

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Defense Act Calls for Upgrades to Eastern & Western Launch Ranges

SpaceX launched its 12th resupply mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:31 p.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. (Credit: NASA Television)

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandates the Department of Defense to undertaken a program to modernize the infrastructure and improve support services on the Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California. The measure, passed by Congress, awaits President Donald Trump’s signature.

“The program….shall include investments to improve operations at the Eastern and Western Ranges that may benefit all users, to enhance the overall capabilities of ranges, to improve safety, and  to reduce the long-term costs of operations and maintenance,” the bill reads.

The act also includes measures to improve processes across both ranges to “minimize the burden on launch providers” and “improvements in transparency, flexibility, and, responsiveness for launch scheduling.”

The NDAA allows the DOD to consult with current and anticipated users of the two ranges and to pursue partnerships if appropriate. The DOD is given 120 days after enactment of the act to submit a report on planned improvements to congressional defense committees.

The commanders of the U.S. Air Force space wings that run the ranges have said they need more funding to maintain and upgrade aging infrastructure as they cope with a surge in commercial launches. The failure of Congress to pass budgets in time for the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 and automatic budgets mandated under sequestration have also hindered long-term planning, the commanders said.

The Eastern Range, which handles launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, was recently closed for two weeks to tackle 85 high-priority maintenance projects. The western range at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California uses radar systems that were built in the 1950’s.

A Tale of 2 Launch Ranges: The Best & Worst of Times

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the MUOS-4 mission lifted off from Space Launch Complex 41. (Credit: ULA)

America’s Eastern and Western launch ranges in Florida and California are struggling to keep up with increasing demand from the nation’s booming commercial launch industry while dealing with budget uncertainties in Washington, U.S. Air Force officials said last week.

The Eastern Range has been dealing with a surge of flights this year from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as SpaceX has increased its launch cadence. Elon Musk’s company and rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) has launched 18 times from Florida thus far, with two more SpaceX flights on the schedule for later this month.

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What Might Happen to NASA’s Earth Science Programs Under Bridenstine?

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Imagine the following scenario: NASA’s Earth Science division gets its budget cut with key missions focused on climate change canceled.

The new NASA administrator then announces the division will be dismantled, with various programs divided among other federal departments, in order to better focus the space agency on exploration. The bulk of the programs end up at NOAA, which the NASA administrator says is a much more appropriate home for them.

NOAA, however, is already reeling from spending cuts. Struggling to perform its own forecasting duties on a reduced budget, the agency has little bandwidth to take on any additional responsibilities. And the funding allocated for the NASA programs that were just transferred over is woefully inadequate for the tasks at hand.

The result is a bureaucratic train wreck in which America’s Earth science and climate research programs gradually wither away due to mismanagement, neglect and lack of funding. The ability of the nation — and the world — to understand and address the changes the planet experiencing is greatly reduced. At some future date, another administration will have to rebuild a program in shambles that was once the envy of the world.

Sound far fetched? Think again. It could very well happen if the Trump Administration and the man it has nominated to lead NASA get what they want out of Congress.

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Bridenstine’s ASRA Bill Proposed Radical Changes in NASA’s Goals, Structure

NASA LOGORepublished from April 25, 2016

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA would be given a mandate to pioneer the development and settlement of space and a commission dominated by Congressional appointees to oversee those efforts under a bill proposed by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).

The measure’s basic premise is that NASA’s problems stem from unstable presidential commitments to space exploration as opposed to Congress’ tendency to support expensive programs that bring funding into particular states and districts.

“Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer,” according to a statement on a website devoted to the measure. “Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.

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Bridenstine Proposed Radical Restructuring of NASA Oversight Last Year

Rep. Jim Bridenstine

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Donald Trump’s nominee to become administrator of NASA proposed a fundamental overhaul of how the space agency would be run last year.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s (R-OK) American Space Renaissance Act (ASRA) proposes the establishment of a 21-member board to oversee the space agency, giving the NASA administrator a five-year term, and the creation of 10- and 20-year strategic plans.

The overarching goal of these proposals is to insulate the space agency from changes in direction each time a new presidential administration takes over.

ASRA was a catch-all bill that contained proposals for broad changes to the nation’s civil, military and commercial space efforts. Bridenstine did not intend the ASRA to be passed as a single bill but as a series of individual measures. Congress has not taken up any of the NASA management reforms included in bill.

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Space Weather Research & Forecasting Act Introduced in House


WASHINGTON, DC (Ed Perlmutta PR) — Today, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-7) introduced the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act.  This bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (OK-1) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), is the House companion to S. 141 introduced by Senators Gary Peters, Cory Gardner, Cory Booker, and Roger Wicker which passed the Senate earlier this year.

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AIA Policy Recommendations for Improving U.S. Space Competitiveness


Engine for Growth:
Analysis and Recommendations for U.S. Space Industry Competitiveness

Aerospace Industries Association
May 2017
[Full Report]

Policy Recommendations
for Strengthening U.S. Space Competitiveness

1. Level the Playing Field

Provide a responsive regulatory environment for commercial space activities. The list of commercial space activities is varied and growing, ranging from traditional applications such as satellite telecommunications to emerging ones like space resource utilization. At the same time, the U.S. space industry is governed by multiple federal agencies with disparate regulatory interests, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration and Departments of State and Commerce. These agencies often suffer from funding and staffi ng shortages, a situation that creates bottlenecks in licensing processes and slows responsiveness to technological and market changes. The new Administration should work closely with Congress to ensure that the appropriate space regulatory agencies are fully resourced and staffed.
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House Passes Weather Forecasting Bill


WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR – The U.S House of Representatives today unanimously approved the Senate amendment to H.R. 353, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act, introduced by Science, Space, and Technology Committee Vice Chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). This legislation directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to prioritize its research to improve weather data, modelling, computing, forecasting, and warnings.
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