House Passes Infrastructure Spending Bill With Extra $1 Billion for NASA

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5376, the Build Back Better Act last week that includes billions of dollars in funds for NASA, NOAA and other scientific and technology agencies.

In addition to funding improvements to physical infrastructure, the measure puts a major emphasis on addressing climate change, a problem that the Biden Administration takes seriously. The previous president described as a Chinese plot to destroy American industry.

The bill now goes to the Senate where its fate is uncertain.

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Lucas, Babin Push Back Against NTSB Move to Expand Role into Commercial Space Accident Investigations

Part of SpaceShipTwo’s fuselage. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

WASHINGTON (Frank Lucas/Brian Babin PR) — House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas joined Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin in a letter to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) requesting information on their attempts to expand their role in commercial space accident investigations. Concurrently, Babin introduced a resolution to reiterate that commercial space launch is a developmental activity, rather than a mode of transportation.

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House Science Chairwoman Johnson, Ranking Member Johnson Ask OSTP Director Lander to Protect Spectrum Access

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – On Friday, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) sent a letter to Dr. Eric Lander, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, recommending that he issue a charge to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to report on strategies for protecting and enabling spectrum access and quality for science and operational applications. As demand for spectrum for mobile applications has increased drastically in recent years, spectrum-dependent scientific fields and operational functions such as weather forecasting are facing increasing threats to their spectrum equities due to harmful interference.

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House Infrastructure Bill Includes $173 Million to Improve Space Weather Forecasting

An artist’s rendering of the Space Weather Follow-on L1 satellite. (Credit: NOAA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The House Science Committee approved an infrastructure bill that provides an additional $173 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to accelerate the development and launch of the Space Weather Follow-On Lagrange-1 (SWFO-L1) mission. The spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2024, will monitor the solar wind and coronal mass ejections from the Earth-sun L-1 Lagrange point.

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Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas Call for Standards to Avoid Spectrum Interference

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) — Today, Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), along with Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK), sent letters to the Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressing concerns about out-of-band emission (OOBE) limits to protect the integrity of global weather forecasting, satellite-based climate measurements, and ground-based radio astronomy observations in the 23.6-24 GHz band.

“We urge the FCC to modify section 30.203 of its rules to fully conform its domestic OOBE limits for the 24 GHz band with the international limits articulated in Resolution 750,” said Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas in the letter. “We also ask that FCC pay particular attention to the docket filings by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, National Academies’ Committee on Radio Interference, American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, and National Weather Association on implementation questions that would have a significant impact on reducing the threat of harmful interference with passive earth science observations.”

The Chair and Ranking Member continued, “We thank you for examining these technical questions carefully in its efforts to craft a final rule that is adequately protective of Earth Exploration Satellite Service (EESS).  The issues associated with the 24 GHz band are not unique. The FCC is considering spectrum auctions that could affect other bands currently protected for scientific purposes and used by federal agencies.”

A copy of the letters can be found here:

Lucas and Babin Send Letter to Secretary Buttigieg on Encouraging Growth in Commercial Spaceflight Industry

WASHINGTON, DC (House Science Committee Minority PR) — Today, House Science, Space, and Technology Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX) sent a letter to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Peter Buttigieg regarding commercial spaceflight and the policies needed to keep the industry both thriving and safe. 

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Florida Member of House Science Committee is Severely Factually Challenged

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Florida Congressman Michael Waltz is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. In January, he completed a two-year on the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee. So, he should know what he’s talking about on space.

Alas, he is severely factually challenged about the very thing he is supposedly an expert. Here is the assessment he gave to Fox News the other day about NASA and the U.S. space program:

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House Science Chairwoman Says GAO Report “Wake-up Call” on Artemis Moon Program

SLS Core stage for Artemis I mission removed from the test stand at Stennis. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, “NASA Lunar Programs: Significant Work Remains, Underscoring Challenges to Achieving Moon Landing in 2024”. The report was the result of an Appropriations request for GAO work on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) lunar programs. NASA has initiated eight programs as part of its goal of returning humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024. The report evaluated NASA’s progress on its lunar programs, including the goal for a human landing in 2024, and its challenges in managing the programs.

“The GAO report released today should serve as a clear wake-up call both to NASA’s leadership and to Members of Congress that NASA’s Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is in serious trouble, and strong corrective actions will be needed if it is to succeed, “said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “It is particularly sobering that the problems highlighted by the GAO team are not primarily budgetary in nature, but reflect organizational weaknesses, reliance on immature technologies, an unrealistic timetable and acquisition approach, and lack of commitment to a rigorous systems engineering & integration capability, among other concerns. I urge Administrator Nelson to carry out an independent review of the entire Artemis initiative as soon as possible so that he can determine what will be needed to put this important national undertaking on an executable path. I want to see NASA get the resources it will need to carry out a successful Moon-Mars initiative, but Administrator Nelson first needs to take all necessary steps to identify and address the problems afflicting Artemis and develop an executable Moon-Mars plan, or we will not just be wasting money—we will be putting our astronauts and our nation’s standing at risk.”

“The Moon to Mars Artemis initiative enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress, and that Congressional support comes with the responsibility to ensure that this highly important national effort is carried out based on well-established management and technical processes,” said Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA). “Today’s GAO report raises questions about NASA’s current approach to managing Artemis. A national endeavor as critical as Artemis requires clear roles and responsibilities, defined management tools, cost and schedule oversight, and an organization focused on mission success. GAO’s report identifies the need for improvement in these areas in order to avoid further delays and costs, and to ensure a successful outcome. I want America to lead an international effort to land humans on the Moon in preparation for Mars and to do so as expeditiously and safely as possible. I look forward to working with Administrator Nelson and the Biden Administration on taking the necessary steps to put Moon to Mars on a path to success.”

House Science Committee Chairwoman Johnson “Disappointed” with NASA Human Landing System Award

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) — Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced it has selected SpaceX to continue development of the Human Landing System (HLS) that will transport astronauts to the lunar surface under the Artemis program.

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)  made the following statement.

“I am disappointed that the Acting NASA leadership decided to make such a consequential award prior to the arrival of a new permanent NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator. The decision to make the award today also comes despite the obvious need for a re-baselining of NASA’s lunar exploration program, which has no realistic chance of returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2024. While work continues on the upcoming Artemis-1 mission, it will be critically important for the new NASA leadership team to carry out its own review of all elements of NASA’s Moon-Mars initiative to ensure that this major national undertaking is put on a sound footing.”

Bolden Says SLS “Will Go Away,” Expects Few Other Changes at NASA if Biden Elected

Charles Bolden

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he expects the agency’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) will go away under during the next presidential term.

“SLS will go away. It could go away during a Biden administration or a next Trump administration … because at some point commercial entities are going to catch up,” he told Politico. “They are really going to build a heavy lift launch vehicle sort of like SLS that they will be able to fly for a much cheaper price than NASA can do SLS. That’s just the way it works.”

Congress will have something to say about the giant rocket designed to return astronauts to the moon under NASA’s Artemis program. Legislators have protected SLS and its two related programs, the Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems, despite large cost overruns and years of delays.

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Chairwoman Johnson Demands Cooperation from Department of Commerce on Hurricane Dorian OIG Report

Eddie Bernice Johnson

DALLAS (Eddie Bernice Johnson PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross regarding the July 1 memorandum sent to Secretary Ross by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General, Peggy Gustafson. The memo expressed concerns over the Department’s efforts to obstruct the publication of a completed Office of Inspector General (OIG) report, which was provided to the Department on June 26 and due to be published on June 29.

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House Science Committee Members Request GAO Review of ISS National Lab

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) – Today,  Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) along with Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Chairwoman Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX) sent a letter to Government Accountability Office (GAO) Comptroller Gene Dodaro requesting a broad examination of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space’s (CASIS) performance, management, and governance structure. CASIS is a non-profit organization that currently manages the International Space Station National Laboratory (ISSNL).

In the letter, the Committee leaders express longstanding concerns regarding CASIS’s use of the its ISSNL resource allocation, its internal governance structures, and its transparency and accountability to NASA and Congress, including those identified in a recently released Independent Review Team report.  

“The unique environment offered by the ISSNL is an invaluable resource to facilitate research and development,” said the Committee Chairs and Ranking Members in the letter. “Congress has sought to encourage commercial and cross-agency partnerships as one path to the full utilization of this resource, but CASIS’s organizational struggles appear to have undermined progress. As Congress addresses broader questions surrounding the ISS, its ongoing mission, and the future of NASA-supported research and development in low Earth orbit, it is imperative to ensure that an effective and accountable entity is in place to manage the full range of activities conducted through the ISSNL.”

A copy of the full letter can be found here.

House Science Committee Leaders Johnson, Horn Criticize NASA Human Landing System Awards

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) — Yesterday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX have been awarded contracts to design and develop Artemis program human landing systems, one of which NASA plans to use for a 2024 lunar landing.

“I am troubled that NASA has decided to ignore congressional intent and instead press forward with Human Landing System awards to try to meet an arbitrary 2024 lunar landing deadline,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As the Apollo program showed us, getting to the Moon and back safely is hard. The multi-year delays and difficulties experienced by the companies of NASA’s taxpayer-funded Commercial Crew program—a program with the far less ambitious goal of just getting NASA astronauts back to low Earth orbit—make clear to me that we should not be trying to privatize America’s Moon-Mars program, especially when at the end of the day American taxpayers—not the private companies—are going to wind up paying the lion’s share of the costs. I want our Nation to pursue the inspiring goals of returning to the Moon and then heading to Mars, but we need to do it sensibly and safely while we also protect the interests of the tax paying public.”

“America’s human space exploration program has inspired generations and led to discovery, development, and innovation,” said Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK). “Returning humans to the Moon safely is an important and worthy endeavor for our nation. It is also a challenging one that requires significant investment of taxpayer dollars to achieve. I was disappointed to see that NASA’s decision on lunar landing systems development starkly contrasts the bipartisan House NASA Authorization bill and the advice of experts on minimizing risk and ensuring the highest likelihood of success in landing humans on the Moon.”

“Unfortunately, more than a year after their announcement to accelerate the Artemis program, NASA has yet to provide Congress a transparent architecture and technical and cost assessment, despite our repeated requests. The American taxpayer deserves to know their money is being spent wisely, especially if they are being asked to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a private lunar landing system. Our nation should dream boldly and pursue aspirational goals but we have to do so thoughtfully and intentionally. I look forward to working with NASA in good faith to steer our nation’s space program in a direction that allows our country to achieve inspiring goals and explore space in a responsible and measured way.”

House Members Ask FCC To Delay Action on Orbital Debris Rules

Distribution of space debris around Earth (Credit: ESA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Three leaders of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology have called upon the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay action on new orbital debris mitigation rules planned for Thursday.

“Given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, the immense effort undertaken to recover from the pandemic, and the potential for the FCC’s proposal to exacerbate impacts on U.S. industry and international competitiveness at a critical period in our nation’s history, we hope that you will agree to postpone future action,” the letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai read.

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Experts Say Much More Required to Avoid Satellite Collisions, Space Debris

Space debris

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Senate and House committees held hearings on consecutive days last week about space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM), i.e., the ability to accurately track objects in Earth orbit and to avoid dangerous collisions that could knock out satellites and even render entire orbits unusable.

The overall conclusion was that, although progress is being made, we’re not nearly as aware as we need to be as orbital debris poses an ever bigger problem and companies prepare to launch tens of thousands of new satellites.

“Near Earth space is geo-politically contested, it’s commercially contested and it’s in dire need of environmental protection because it is a finite resource,” said Moriba Jah, an associate professor of astronautics at the University of Texas.

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