Trump’s Call for Space Force Will Have to Wait


It looks as if President Donald Trump’s call for the establishment of a “separate but equal” space force as a sixth branch of the U.S. military will have to wait at least another year.

There is no mention of a space force in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2019 that was worked out by members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees (HASC and SASC, respectively) earlier this week.

Last year, the two committees commissioned a report on how a separate space force could be established. With an interim report not due until Aug. 1, the committee members avoided the subject in the FY 2019 NDAA.

A separate space force would largely be carved out of the U.S. Air Force, which handles most space-related military functions. However, units from other branches of the service would likely be folded into the new force.

The NDAA conference report did include a section calling for the Secretary of the Air Force to develop a space warfighting policy. The HASC released the following summary of that section.

Space Warfighting

Russia and China are developing capabilities to deny the United States the advantages we derive from operating in Space. Equally concerning is the inability of the organizations responsible for the nation’s national security-related Space activities to prepare for Space to become a warfighting domain and to adequately develop and/or acquire essential national security Space systems.

Efforts to reform the Department’s approach to Space issues can be summarized in four equally important elements: acquisition reform, resources, cadre development, and joint warfighting. The NDAA comprehensively addresses each one of these to ensure that our Servicemembers are ready to defend our vital national interests in Space. The conference report also ensures that the Department’s Space investments are being executed in a way to ensure increased agility, lethality, and accountability. The NDAA:

  • Directs the Department of Defense to develop a plan to establish a separate alternative process for Space-related acquisitions.
  • Directs the Secretary of the Air Force to develop a plan to improve the quality of the Space cadre within the Air Force.
  • Establishes a subunified command for Space under United States Strategic Command for carrying out joint Space warfighting.
  • Directs the Secretary of Defense to develop a space warfighting policy and plan that identifies joint mission-essential tasks for Space as a warfighting domain.
  • Supports the President’s request for Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared, Protected Satellite Communications, and the Air Force’s Space launch efforts.

McCain Relents on Russian RD-180 Engines

Capitol Building
The Senate has approved a defense measure that will allow United Launch Alliance to purchase 18 Russian-built RD-180 engines for use in Atlas V national security launches.  The number is twice that wanted by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ).

His committee unanimously passed a draft National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the military to buy nine more, and only nine, to help bridge the gap until an American-made replacement could be fielded. Today, McCain agreed to the double that number to the full 18 RD-180s requested by the administration and approved by the House.

McCain declared victory nevertheless because he won a provision not in the House bill: a deadline of 2022, after which the Pentagon could no longer buy RD-180s, even if some of the allotted 18 were left. That deadline would hold the Pentagon tightly to its goal of developing a replacement rocket by 2021 and certifying it for flight by 2022. If that schedule slips — as happens all too often on high-tech defense procurements — well, too bad.

“I supported this compromise because it contains a legislative cutoff date for the use of Russian rocket engines,” McCain said in a statement praising Flroida Sen. Ben Nelson for brokering the deal. “For the first time, Senate authorizers and appropriators agreed to a legislative cutoff date for the use of Russian rocket engines in national security space launches. As a result, no space launch contracts using Russian rocket engines may be awarded after 2022, and the number of Russian engines utilized could actually be lower than the 18 provided in the House bill.” (Emphasis on “could”).

Read the full story.

Space Angels Network Opposes Use of Surplus ICBMs to Launch Commercial Satellites

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)
A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit: NASA/Chris Perry)

The Space Angels Network has sent the following letter opposing the use of surplus ICBMs for the launching of commercial satellites to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

(more…)

Administration Objects to Senate Restrictions on Use of RD-180 Engines

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
S. 2943 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017

Multiple Provisions Imposing Restrictions on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Program: The Administration strongly objects to sections 1036, 1037, 1038, and 1611. Section 1036 would restrict DOD’s authority to use RD-180 engines, eliminate the Secretary’s authority to waive restrictions to protect national security interests, and —  with section 1037 — disqualify a domestic launch service provider from offering a competitive, certified launch service capability. Section 1038 would repeal the statutory requirement to allow all certified providers to compete for launch service procurements. Section 1611 would redirect funds away from the development of modern, cost-effective, domestic launch capabilities that will replace non-allied engines. The combined effect of these provisions would be to eliminate price-based competition of EELV launch service contracts starting in FY 2017, force the Department to allocate missions, inhibit DOD’s ability to maintain assured access to space, delay the launch of national security satellites, delay the on-ramp of new domestic launch capabilities and services, and increase the cost of space launch to DOD, the Intelligence Community, and civil agencies. The authorization to use up to 18 RD-180 engines is necessary and prudent to expeditiously and affordably transition to the new domestic launch capabilities currently under development.

Senate Armed Services Committee Limits ULA Engines

John McCain
John McCain

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday that limits United Launch Alliance (ULA) to purchasing nine Russian-made RD-180 engines for use in the first stage of the company’s Atlas V booster to launch national security payloads.

The move sets up a showdown with the House Armed Services Committee, which earlier put the number of engines ULA could purchase at 18. ULA and the U.S. Air Force support the higher number, saying the engines are needed to meet military launch needs.

(more…)

Administration Opposes Measure Limiting RD-180 Procurement

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

The Obama Administration is strongly opposing a Senate measure that would limit the number of RD-180 engines ULA could import from Russia. SpaceNews explains:

Under the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, ULA would have as few as five of the Russian-made RD-180 engines available for upcoming competitive rounds of the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. In a best-case scenario, the Denver-based company could have as many as nine of the engines, which are being phased out due to the downturn in relations with Russia.

ULA and Defense Department officials say the company needs 14 RD-180s to be able to go head-to-head with emerging rival SpaceX until its next-generation rocket, dubbed Vulcan, begins flying. The Vulcan, unveiled in April and featuring a U.S.-made engine, is expected to make its first flight in 2019 and be certified to launch U.S. national security missions by 2021.

The Office of Management and Budget fired back in a Statement of Administration Policy about the measure:

The Administration strongly objects to section 1603, which would place restrictions on the funds to eliminate the Nation’s use of non-allied space launch engines for national security space launches by 2019.  The Administration also strongly objects to moving Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) development funding into the more restrictive Rocket Propulsion System Development line item.  The Administration is committed to transitioning from non-allied engines; however, an engine-centric approach as laid out in this section would not preserve the Nation’s assured access to space.  While rocket engines are a major component of a launch vehicle, they are only one of many critical components.  These components must be designed and developed together to meet the ultimate cost and performance goals, not only for the launch vehicle but also for the support, operations, and production infrastructure as well.  Without a comprehensive strategy that ensures the availability of operational launch systems, the government risks investing hundreds of millions of dollars without any guarantee of ensuring assured access to space.