WASHINGTON – The White House is asking Congress to provide $7.75 billion for military space systems in 2018, a $1.3 billion increase over what the Pentagon sought for 2017.
The space portion of the Defense Department’s 2018 budget request includes $4.33 billion for research, development, testing, and evaluation, and $3.42 billion for procurement, according to Air Force officials. The numbers reflect the scope of defense space operations, with most programs under the purview of the Air Force, but includes outlays for other national security agencies including the National Reconnaissance Office.
“We’ve got to be able to find that sweet spot between capability, affordability, and resiliency,” said Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, the director of space programs in the office of the U.S. Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon May 24. “Budgets are tight and we can’t just continue to spend. We’ve got to be able to invest prudently, and focus our investments on the right kinds of capabilities to ensure we have the appropriate level of protection as well as capabilities in the future.”
With both Republican and Democratic lawmakers already declaring President Donald Trump’s broader budget request “dead on arrival,” the DoD portions of the annual spending request are likely to provide only rough guidelines for the spending bills House and Senate appropriators will be drafting in the weeks ahead.
Overall, Trump is seeking $574.5 billion for the Defense Department, a $52 billion increase over the 2017 budget. Trump is also seeking $64.6 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funding, a separate and often classified budget account that goes towards warfighting efforts including ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.
Military space only gets a passing mention in the introductory pages of the budget document, where Trump says his plan “recognizes the need for American superiority not only on land, at sea, in the air, and in space, but also in cyberspace.”
Here’s how some of the major Air Force space programs fared in the budget request:
SSA and Space Fence
With construction nearly complete on the Air Force’s ground-based radar station at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the service only requested $36 million in 2018 to start getting testing up and running before the station reaches its initial operating capability in 2019. That’s a big drop from the $168 million requested in 2017 to finish building the space situational awareness (SSA) facility.
A recent Government Accountability Office report recommended that the Air Force study setting up a second radar facility to aid with SSA, but Teague told reporters the service wants to get the first location up and running before it thinks about expanding the capability.
The Air Force is continuing its analysis of alternatives for what should follow the Wideband Global Satcom satellites the service began deploying a decade ago to replace the Defense Satellite Communications System and Global Broadcast Service satellites. The Air Force is requesting $95 million to fund the wideband AoA and final assembly and testing of WGS-10, right now the last planned satellite in the constellation.
The Air Force is also hoping the funding will lead to movement on the Pathfinder series of contract experiments meant to improve the way DoD buys commercial satellite services. The first Pathfinder contract was awarded in 2014 to SES. The Air Force leased Ku-band capacity from one of the company’s satellites over Africa.
Pathfinder Two was expected to be awarded in 2016, with the Air Force purchasing a transponder on a commercial communications satellite and then leveraging that investment for access to the rest of the fleet operator’s constellation. However, the program stalled over questions about whether government funding regulations permit this sort of barter arrangement.
The Air Force proposes to use a funding boost to get Pathfinder Two moving again and initiate three additional pilot projects.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is also looking to install new communications terminals designed to maintain contact in the event of nuclear disaster or similarly disruptive event. Known as the Family of Advanced Beyond Line of Sight Terminals, or FAB-T, the $172 million funding request would install the terminals on nuclear-equipped bombers like the B-52 Stratofortress, reconnaissance aircraft like the RC-135 Rivet Joint, and tanker aircraft used for in-flight refueling.
The Air Force’s next-generation global positioning system constellation — GPS 3 — is seeking a big boost, with the Air Force requesting $329 million, a $116 increase over what was requested for 2017. Lockheed Martin is currently building the first 10 GPS 3 satellites, but long delays have led Air Force leaders to move toward reopening competition for the next 22 satellites in the constellation. Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are all vying for the job under production readiness contracts the Air Force awarded a year ago.
Regardless of which company winds up building the satellites, the extra funding will help ramp up full production of the satellites, planned to start in 2019, the Air Force said.
Meanwhile, GPS 3’s troubled ground-control segment, known as OCX, is getting a $119 million boost, bringing the funding up to a requested $511 million for 2018. Congress, however, could potentially give the service a lot less than it asked for, as many lawmakers have openly discussed withholding funding for the program until long-standing issues are fixed.
The program is “not out of the woods yet,” Teague said, but noted that quarterly reviews are showing progress following OCX’s 2016 Nunn-McCurdy breach – a formal declaration that indicates costs have grown more than 25 percent over initial projections and exposes the contract to potential cancellation.
The Air Force is expected to complete a full program review of OCX in June, which will inform decisions about when the ground system will be ready — or if the contract should be rebid.
With increasing concern about missile threats from North Korea and Russia, missile warning and detection is getting one of the largest chunks of the space budget. The Air Force’s Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) constellation could see $1.3 billion in funding if Congress goes along, an increase of $862 million over what was requested last year.
The money provides support for the launch and operation of SBIRS GEO 4 — scheduled to lift off in November — as well as funding production of SBIRS GEO 5 and 6. The money will also lay the groundwork for a potential SBIRS 7 and 8, though there is not an official acquisition strategy yet for those satellites.
Some of the money is also being earmarked for SBIRS software updates and cybersecurity improvements.
Looming gaps in Air Force weather-monitoring capabilities have lead DoD to request an increase of $22 million in 2018, bringing the requested total to $142 million. In 2015, Congress barred the Air Force from launching a surplus Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite that spent years in storage, leaving the Air Force to focus on gap fillers while working on a next-generation Weather Satellite Follow-on.
The Air Force is looking to the budget to fund awards for a microwave-equipped satellite to monitor ocean surface vector winds and tropical cyclone intensity, as well as funding the launch of the ORS-6 Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer satellite in partnership with the Pentagon’s Operationally Responsive Space Office.
The service is also hoping to fund a future similar satellite, ORS-8, which would focus on cloud characterization.
SpaceNews will update this story as more information becomes available.
LOS ANGELES — The Founder Institute plans to attract would-be space entrepreneurs to its worldwide network of incubators with generous financial incentives and mentorship from industry veterans.
“This is an international call for anyone working in space or passionate about space to launch a company,” said Adeo Ressi, co-founder and chief executive of the Founder Institute, a business incubator based in Palo Alto, California. “Our goal, which admittedly might be a bit of a stretch goal, is to have 500 new space and space-exploration companies launched by 2025.”
Since it was founded in 2009, Founder Institute has established operations in 180 cities and become one of the world’s largest incubators for technology startups, helping to establish nearly 3,000 companies. How many have been space-related? “Zero,” Ressi told SpaceNews. “There is definitely a pipeline problem in space entrepreneurship today. We want to fix it with these incentives.”
Starting May 24, anyone interested in starting a space-related business can apply for the Foundation Institute’s new Star Fellow Program, which Ressi and Steve Jurvetson, partner in the Menlo Park, California, venture capital firm DFJ, announced May 24 at the Founder Institute’s bi-annual FounderX event. For anyone accepted into the Star Fellow Program, the Foundation Institute will waive the thousands of dollars in fees it usually charges for an intensive three-and-a-half-month curriculum designed to turn promising ideas into successful businesses.
Star Fellows will be paired with mentors including Will Marshall, Planet co-founder and chief executive, Bob Richards, Moon Express co-founder and chief executive, and Eric Anderson, co-founder of Space Adventures Ltd. and Planetary Resources.
The Institute will support Star Fellows once they graduate from the incubator. “We will continue to support you through your first funding, which could be nine to 12 months after graduation,” Ressi said. “The thought process is that entrepreneurship itself is very hard and space entrepreneurship is orders of magnitude harder because you have all the complexities of space itself and you have all the unusual market dynamics of the space industry. Making these companies successful is a longer and harder process that will take more than three-and-a-half months.”
In addition, Star Fellows will have an opportunity to present their business plans to venture capital firms including DFJ, an early backer of SpaceX and Planet, and a Star Fellow Program partner. “We will add more partners over time,” Ressi said.
Sean Casey, Silicon Valley Space Center cofounder and managing director, said the Star Fellow program is a positive step for the industry. “We want to see a lot of entrepreneurs with a lot of ideas and a lot of venture capital to build on the growing space industry supply chain being provided by companies like NanoRacks and Spaceflight.”
Ressi’s interest in promoting space exploration dates back to a trip he took in late 2000 with his University of Pennsylvania roommate Elon Musk. The two men were driving to New York from Ressi’s parents’ home in Long Island along a particularly dark stretch of the Long Island Expressway when they began to question why rocketry was so hard and why humanity was not focusing on space exploration. After the trip, Ressi joined the board of the X Prize Foundation and Musk founded SpaceX.
“A lot of the hopes I had for space exploration are starting to come true,” Ressi said. “I believe that within the next few years humanity will start exploring space again proactively. It’s an effort that was somewhat abandoned for a number of years and has been rekindled only recently.”
Ressi credits people like Marshall and Musk with helping to show the world that entrepreneurs can create viable entrepreneurial space businesses.
“But they can’t do it alone,” he said. “If we really are going to explore space as a species, we need massive innovation around life support, food production and materials. The amount of innovation needed is beyond the capacity of a small collective of innovators. We need a large collection of innovators.”
The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft would include an orbiter and a lander, with that lander carrying a rover.
The mission will launch on a GSLV Mark 2 rocket.
The mission will come after a private Indian venture, Team Indus, expects to launch its own lunar lander and rover at the end of this year to compete for the Google Lunar X Prize. [Business Standard]
The White House’s detailed fiscal year 2018 budget request, released Tuesday, provided more information on planned cuts to NASA Earth science and education programs. The request, which offers $19.1 billion for NASA, cuts $191 million from Earth science through the cancellation of five spacecraft and instruments. The Radiation Budget Instrument, under development for a future weather satellite, was added to four projects previous slated for cancellation. Flat budgets in future years, including no adjustment for inflation, also affect NASA’s exploration and planetary science programs, such as delaying the Europa Clipper launch to the mid to late 2020s. NASA officials pitched the budget as a “very positive” request despite those constraints, although one key senator said he expected Congress to take action to restore cuts and other underfunded programs. [SpaceNews]
Rocket Lab’s CEO said the company remained patient as weather again delayed the company’s first launch. An attempt late Tuesday was postponed for the second straight day because of triboelectrification concerns linked to high-altitude clouds. CEO Peter Beck said in an interview that the company wouldn’t rush to carry out the launch in marginal conditions, despite the delays, citing the importance of launching in good conditions to maximize the data that they collect. The launch is the first of three test flights of the Electron rocket that Rocket Lab plans before beginning commercial missions. [SpaceNews]
Astronauts successfully replaced a faulty computer outside the International Space Station during a spacewalk Tuesday. Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson spent 2 hours and 46 minutes outside the station during the “contingency” spacewalk, replacing the multiplexer-demultiplexer electronics box on the station’s truss that had failed Saturday. The cause of the failure isn’t known, and the box showed no signs of external damage. Astronauts also installed wireless communications antennas on the Destiny module during the spacewalk, a task postponed from a spacewalk earlier this month. [CBS]
Eutelsat plans to order two more Quantum communications satellites that give the company the flexibility to reconfigure services. The first Quantum satellite, being built by Airbus Defence and Space, is scheduled for launch by SpaceX in 2019. A Eutelsat executive said last week that, based on customer interest in that first satellite, the company was planning at least two more to provide global coverage. The Quantum satellites feature phased array antennas and an advanced beam-forming assembly to reshape the coverage and power levels of its beams to meet changing requirements. [SpaceNews]
Canadian company MDA said its planned acquisition of DigitalGlobe is a hedge against a market downturn. MDA, whose work on communications satellites fell in the first three months of 2017, said that combining with DigitalGlobe will allow the company to diversify its revenue sources, tapping more into the Earth-observation market. That deal, announced in February, is still on schedule to close in the second half of this year. [SpaceNews]
A California woman has been arrested in charges of smuggling sensitive space technology to China.Si Chen, also known as Cathy Chen, was arrested Tuesday after a grand jury indicted her of shipping devices used in space communications to China, falsifying export paperwork to inidcate their value was just $500 versus more than $100,000. Chen faces up to 150 years in prison if found guilty of all charges in the case. [Reuters]
The trial has started in a lawsuit filed by a former SpaceX employee against the company. Jason Blasdell, a former technician, alleges that the company fired him for complaining about the failure of the company to follow its testing and safety protocols for developing its Falcon 9 rockets. Opening statements took place Tuesday, with the trial expected to take two weeks. The judge in the case ruled that jurors will not judge the technical merits of Blasdell’s arguments but instead whether his firing was unjustified. [Bloomberg]
China has established a fund to support research using four space science satellites. The National Natural Science Foundation of China and Chinese Academy of Sciences jointly established the $23.3 million fund for research involving spacecraft studying dark matter, quantum communications and space life sciences. The two organizations are equally funding the effort, which will run through 2020. [Xinhua]
WASHINGTON — As weather continues to delay the first launch of its Electron rocket, Rocket Lab’s chief executive said the company remains patient until conditions are right to attempt a flight.
Rocket Lab postponed its third attempt to launch the Electron rocket from its launch site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula May 23, citing concerns about “triboelectrification,” or electrical discharges as the rocket passed through high-altitude clouds. Similar concerns postponed a launch attempt the day before, and high winds delayed the initial launch attempt May 21.
“Similar to yesterday, high altitude cloud created a risk of triboelectrification. Our team were able to fuel the vehicle and prepare it for flight, but worsening weather conditions meant we were forced to delay,” Rocket Lab Chief Executive Peter Beck said in a statement after the latest postponement. “The team did a great job today, and our operations are running smoothly.”
In a telephone interview earlier May 23, Beck was optimistic that weather would improve for the launch attempt. “It’s expected to clear at the beginning of our window, so we’re looking good,” he said. In the later statement, he said a weather front moved quicker than expected.
Beck said the team has had no technical issues during launch preparations. “We’re working no issues with the vehicle. From that perspective we’re really good,” he said in the interview.
He said that the company wouldn’t try to press its luck launching in marginal weather conditions despite the repeated delays. “The most important thing is that we get the data and learn from the vehicle. After four years of hard work, it doesn’t make sense to launch in such conditions,” he said. “We’ll just wait until another day.”
The company has a four-hour launch window each day through June 1. That’s driven by the demands of the support services for the launch, including U.S. government agencies providing regulatory oversight. “If we get through this window, we’ll hope to open a new one relatively soon,” he said.
The company has faced some criticism for lack of coverage of the launch. There are no nearby public viewing areas, and the company elected not to provide a live webcast. “We’re groaning at the seams for bandwidth with our own telemetry and equipment,” he said.
“As much as I’d like to livestream this one, I just wanted the team, without that additional pressure, get on with their jobs,” he said, acknowledging that the lack of a webcast was the “number one asked question” about the flight. Beck said that future Electron launches would be webcast.
This test launch does not carry a satellite payload but instead instruments to measure the launch environment. “Our payload is basically a giant laboratory,” he said. He said two future test flights might be able to carry commercial payloads before regular commercial launches begin, citing demand from customers.
The vehicle for the second Electron launch is completed and sitting in the company’s factory in New Zealand. It would launch after a review of the data collected in the first launch, regardless of its outcome. “I would expect it would be at least a month or two before we would attempt another one, to give us enough time to learn everything we need to learn,” Beck said.
Rocket Lab hopes to begin commercial launches later this year, which Beck said would take place only after the company had concluded it had learned everything it needed from those test flights and no longer needed to “experiment” on the rocket. At least one company, Moon Express, is counting on Rocket Lab to hold to that schedule: its lunar lander needs to launch on an Electron by the end of this year in order to qualify for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize.
This story was updated May 24 at 10:45 a.m. EDT to include revised information from Eutelsat.
SINGAPORE and WASHINGTON — Global fleet operator Eutelsat is considering ordering at least two more Quantum-class satellites in order to achieve global coverage with satellites that can move capacity around in customizable beams.
Paris-based Eutelsat has one Quantum satellite under construction at Airbus Defence and Space UK, which began development on the Eutelsat Quantum payload under a 2015 contract. Speaking at Milsatcom Asia-Pacific in Singapore May 16, Willy Guilleux, Eutelsat’s senior vice president of global government services, said the operator has reservations for half of the capacity on the first satellite, and is now actively considering expanding Quantum into a new fleet.
“The idea is to expand the fleet as a minimum to three satellites to make sure we put complete coverage of the Earth,” he said.
Guilleux said Eutelsat is placing the first Quantum satellite at 12.5 degrees west, a geostationary position over the Atlantic Ocean with the ability to cover the Americas, Europe and Africa. The second satellite will likely go over Asia, he said.
Eutelsat Quantum is a software-defined, reprogrammable satellite with public support from the U.K. and European space agencies. Using a phased-array antenna from Airbus subsidiary CASA for the receive antenna, and an advanced beam-forming assembly from microwave component supplier Anaren for the transmit antenna, the satellite can reshape the coverage and power level of its beams, letting customers adapt the satellite based on their needs. Eutelsat signed a contract with SpaceX last year for a Falcon 9 launch of Quantum or another Eutelsat satellite. Eutelsat spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said May 24 that Eutelsat has not announced the launch provider for Quantum, which Guilleux said will launch in 2019.
Eutelsat and its partners have described Eutelsat Quantum as a breakthrough in the pursuit of “flexible” satellites. Most telecommunications satellites today have coverage areas, or “footprints,” with predetermined contours and signal power. Some satellites also carry steerable beams that can shift from region to region like a spotlight to areas of customer demand. Eutelsat Quantum has no permanent footprints.
Guilleux said the first Quantum satellite will have eight downlink beams that can range from a minimum diameter of 600 kilometers to a maximum of one-third of the Earth’s surface (the larger the beam, the more dispersed the signal power), and eight independent uplink beams. Customers can split any of those eight beams into smaller sub-beams and follow assets such as ships and planes, he said. O’Connor said the satellite will have a total of 3.5 GHz of capacity, from which any individual downlink beam could support up to 1 GHz. The first Eutelsat Quantum will function just in Ku-band, but Guilleux said future iterations could support other frequencies, including both military and civilian Ka-band. He estimated the next satellite would launch around 2020 to 2021.
Guilleux said many of Eutelsat Quantum’s features have military satcom roots, and those carry over now for commercial applications. He said Eutelsat Quantum’s phased-array antenna can identify jammers and sources of interference by geo-localizing the source directly onboard the satellite, rather than by triangulation as it is usually done today. The satellite can also blot out a jammer by nulling coverage over that location, or excluding the spectrum the jammer is transmitting on from use.
Military customers are a major market for Eutelsat in selling Quantum capacity. Guilleux said the operator would go as far as designing Quantum hosted payloads on future satellites for government customers who desired them. Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in the U.K. is providing the spacecraft platform for the first Eutelsat Quantum satellite.
WASHINGTON — MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates told investors May 23 that its pending acquisition of geospatial imagery and services provider DigitalGlobe will help offset the revenue peaks and valleys of MDA’s satellite manufacturing business.
Canada-based MDA’s satellite sales shrank by $71.2 million year-over-year for the first three months of 2017 to $332 million, the brunt of which the company attributed to fewer geostationary communications satellite sales. Total first quarter revenue stood at $494.3 million. Commercial communications satellite orders have averaged below the annual norm of around 20 worldwide for the past two years — a trend that has arguably affected MDA more acutely than competitors that also have defense satellite orders in tow.
DigitalGlobe of Colorado, by comparison, grew its first quarter revenue by 19.6 percent to $209.7 million, thanks to last year’s acquisition of geospatial firm Radiant Group for $140 million.
MDA and DigitalGlobe announced their intent to merge in late February, catalysing a $3.6 billion transaction split into $2.4 billion of cash stock and $1.2 billion in debt. MDA and DigitalGlobe revealed at the time that they had been quietly collaborating on a next-generation Earth-observation constellation called WorldView Legion that MDA-subsidiary Space Systems Loral will build in Palo Alto, California.
In an investor presentation May 23, MDA President and CEO Howard Lance, president and chief executive of MDA, said the top reason for the merger is “to diversify the company from being focused mostly on communications satellites more into the Earth-observation market,” followed by gaining the ability to “forward integrate from just providing satellites to providing data services and analytics, and the more steady flow of revenue and profit that comes with that much less cyclical business.”
New high-throughput satellites in geostationary, medium- and low-Earth orbit have caused operators to hesitate in procuring new platforms until they are sure to make the right bet on assets that could last two decades or longer. Lance said MDA is expecting telecom satellite operators to starting making up their minds on these platforms.
“We are right now for the last 18 months at the low part of the cycle as customers are evaluating the competing technologies. We think that’s going to lead to later in 2017 and 2018 to significant market rebound from the broadband part of the market,” he said.
Replacement satellites for the more stable direct-to-home television broadcast market will be in demand, too, he added.
Lance said combining with DigitalGlobe will also address MDA’s challenge in generating international sales for its satellite radar imagery. As a single company, Lance said MDA will be able to leverage DigitalGlobe’s relationships with allied nations of the U.S. and Canada to increase its distribution.
MDA, which relocated its operations under a U.S. holding company last year, continues to fashion itself as a U.S. company to better compete for Pentagon contracts. Lance said MDA now has U.S.Defense Department authorization to compete for classified work within the U.S. space market, and still expects to be fully headquartered in the U.S. by the end of 2019. He said the merger completion remains on track for the second half of this year.
The MDA-DigitalGlobe merger brings greater stability to DigitalGlobe’s revenue forecasts as well. DigitalGlobe President and CEO Jeffrey Tarr said that 45 percent of the company’s revenue today comes from its EnhancedView contract with the U.S. National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, but will comprise 15 percent of the combined company’s revenue after the merger closes.
Tarr said that though the EnhancedView contract is scheduled to expire in 2020, DigitalGlobe anticipates the U.S. government will continue to need its services.
“There’s nothing that changes about the mission and the need for the U.S. government to maintain that kind of data to support warfighters, first responders, coalition partners, and a wide range of use cases,” he said. “And as we look at the marketplace, we don’t see anybody who is developing the capabilities that meet the requirements of the EnhancedView contract, so we feel very good about the long term future.”
DigitalGlobe’s WorldView Legion constellation is being designed to protect the company’s technological edge in a market that has grown increasingly crowded with new imagery providers. Executives from both companies remain tight-lipped on the details of the system, saying little more than that it will feature multiple satellites capable of revisiting areas of interest up to 40 times a day with high accuracy and high resolution. WorldView Legion will replace DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-1 and 2 satellites in orbit today.
Updated 5:30 a.m. May 24.
WASHINGTON — The White House’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal seeks to cancel five NASA Earth science projects and confirms plans to shut down the agency’s education office as part of more than $560 million in cuts from 2017.
The proposal, released May 23, offers $19.092 billion for NASA, $561 million less than what the agency received in a fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill enacted earlier this month. That amount matches values in a leaked spreadsheet last week, indicating cuts to NASA science, exploration, space operations and other major accounts.
“At $19.1 billion, we have a very positive budget that retains the same parameters we saw in March, and which reflects the president’s confidence in our direction and the importance of everything we’ve been achieving,” NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in a statement.
Lightfoot, in a “State of NASA” speech at NASA Headquarters May 23, emphasized in his address the overall continuity in the budget request, which continues major science and human spaceflight programs with modest funding changes. “What this budget tells us to do is keep going, keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said.
However, one key senator criticized the overall request. “The spending plan simply does not go far enough for NASA or for various space centers,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, during a statement at the beginning of a May 23 hearing by the committee’s space subcommittee on regulatory issues.
“There are some positive elements, like full funding for commercial crew, and some not-so-positive elements, such as the cuts to Earth science, education and to exploration,” he noted, saying that he expected members of Congress of both parties would work together “to make sure the agency gets what it needs.”
Earth science cuts
The budget proposal includes $1.754 billion for NASA’s Earth science program, a cut of $167 million from what it received in 2017. Administration documents noted that included a savings of $191 million by cancelling five Earth science instruments and missions deemed low-priority.
“The proposed termination of these five missions restructures the NASA Earth science portfolio within the available budget in a way that causes the least impact to NASA’s ability to execute a balanced, comprehensive Earth science program that meets the highest priorities of the science community,” the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a document outlining overall reductions in the federal budget request.
The White House identified four of the projects in its budget blueprint, issued in March: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) satellite, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 3 instruments for the International Space Station, and Earth-viewing instruments on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), launched in 2015.
The fifth project, not previously mentioned, is the Radiation Budget Instrument (RBI), which would have flown on a future weather satellite to measure the Earth’s reflected sunlight. The measurements RBI would have made can be provided by other existing and planned missions, the document stated, adding that RBI has also experienced cost growth.
“The terminations are due to budget priorities and the need to adjust agency’s budget to match the nation’s current fiscal position,” Andrew Hunter, the acting chief financial officer at NASA, said in a May 23 media briefing about the budget proposal.
Hunter didn’t specify why those particular missions were selected for cancellation, beyond the “schedule and technical difficulties” with RBI. “It becomes a matter of priorities, and it was a budget-related decision,” he said of the decision to cancel RBI.
Closing NASA’s Office of Education
The budget also includes plans to close NASA’s Office of Education, providing $37.3 million for closeout and transition costs. “The Office of Education has experienced significant challenges in implementing a focused NASA-wide education strategy, including challenges in providing oversight and integration of Agency-wide education activities,” the OMB document stated. It added that what data that was available about its activities “has been insufficient to assess the impact of the overall Office of Education portfolio.”
“There are still some hard choices that we had to make,” Lightfoot said in his address. “We just can’t do everything that we want to do, but we can do a lot.”
Hunter, in the media teleconference, reiterated the request’s criticism of the lack of focus of those education programs. “We have experienced significant challenges in implementing a focused NASA-wide education strategy,” he said. “I think this program was seen as vulnerable because it had some challenges in defining its outcomes for the dollars spent.”
Both Lightfoot and Hunter said that education programs would continue, but under a different organization. Hunter noted that education programs funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, to support its missions, received a $10 million increase in the budget request.
No funding, though, would be provided for existing programs with the education office, such as Space Grant and the Minority University Research and Education Program. Hunter acknowledged that Congress may override that decision. “We anticipate that the Hill will appropriate back in ’18 something related” to those programs, he said. “We will find a way to manage it effectively within an account in NASA.”
ARM and Restore-L
The budget confirms plans to cancel the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), while retaining some of its key technologies. “While we ended the Asteroid Redirect Mission going forward, we will take those technologies, with solar-electric propulsion as probably the best example, and move forward with them and morph those into a different mission,” Lightfoot said in his speech.
The budget also provides no funding for Restore-L, a satellite servicing mission that received $130 million in the fiscal year 2017 omnibus spending bill. Restore-L planned to develop technologies that would initially be used to refuel the Landsat-7 satellite.
The program will continue, at a lower level, as part of a satellite servicing initiative in NASA. “NASA will transition the Restore-L project to reduce its cost and support a nascent commercial satellite servicing industry,” the budget request states, “In addition, the project supports technologies that will enhance and enable future science and exploration missions.”
Hunter said that new satellite servicing program would receive $45 million in 2018. “We are committed to the actual technology. We’re just doing it at a lower level,” he said.
Planetary increases and flat budgets
Other reductions in the budget request were planned. Declines in funding for the James Webb Space Telescope and commercial crew programs in the 2018 request match past projections for reduced spending for them as they approach completion.
Some programs got increases. Planetary science, which received a record-high $1.846 billion in 2017, would get $1.93 billion in the request. That includes $425 million for a Europa orbiter mission, but with the provision that the money not be used for a follow-on lander.
“The budget provides no funding for a multi-billion-dollar mission to land on Europa that was not in the last Decadal Survey and would send another flagship mission to Europa before analysis of the Europa Clipper data is completed,” a NASA budget document stated, referring to the 2011 planetary science decadal survey that did not identify a lander mission among its highest-ranked large, or flagship, missions.
Hunter said that work would continue on the Europa lander mission through fiscal year 2017, using the funding and direction provided by Congress. That includes a mission concept review in June and initial plans to solicit instruments for the mission. However, the administration is not seeking funding for the lander in 2018 or future years.
The budget request’s “outyears,” or projections for funding from fiscal years 2019 through 2022, are flat, keeping the agency at $19.1 billion with few changes within that budget among the various accounts. That constrains NASA’s ability to carry out some future missions, Hunter said. The budget, he noted, includes no funding for robotic Mars missions beyond the 2020 rover, such a proposed orbiter mission that would launch in 2022 and thus would need to be started soon.
The flat budget also would prevent NASA from launching the Europa Clipper mission in 2022, as mandated in previous appropriations bills. “We do not have the budget to launch it in 2022, especially due to flat budgets in the outyears,” Hunter said.
The NASA budget document states that flat budgets would instead support a Europa Clipper launch in the mid to late 2020s, but does offer a higher funding profile that would support a 2022 launch. In that higher profile, the mission would receive several hundred million more dollars in 2019 through 2022 to support the earlier launch.
Flat budgets, Hunter said, also affected NASA exploration plans, such as development of a Deep Space Gateway in cislunar space that the agency has proposed for the mid-2020s. “It’s one area where we are somewhat inhibited by a flat budget with no inflation,” he said. “For the next budget, my goal is to get some inflation built into it.”
Budget Proposal (values in millions of dollars)
|Account||FY17 Omnibus||FY18 Request||Difference|
|– Earth Science||$1,921.0||$1,754.1||-$166.9|
|– Planetary Science||$1,846.0||$1,929.5||$83.5|
|– Ground Systems||$429.0||$460.4||$31.4|
|– Exploration R&D||$395.0||$350.0||-$45.0|
|– Space and Flight Support||$835.0|
|– Commercial Crew||$1,184.8||$731.9||-$452.9|
|– Crew and Cargo||$1,683.2|
|SAFETY, SECURITY, AND MISSION SERVICES||$2,768.6||$2,830.2||$61.6|
Wind conditions at the company’s New Zealand launch site subsided to allow the rocket to roll out to the launch pad, but the company said concerns about “triboelectrification,” or static electric charges as the rocket passed through high-level clouds, led them to postpone the launch.
The launch window for the mission remains open until early June. [New Zealand Herald]
Astronauts have started a “contingency” spacewalk to replace an electronics box on the International Space Station. Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson started the spacewalk at 7:20 a.m. Eastern, about 40 minutes ahead of schedule. The two are expected to take two and a half hours to replace the multiplexer-demultiplexer unit, which controls solar panels and other external systems, after it failed on Saturday. They will also install wireless communications antennas on the outside of the Destiny module, a task deferred from a spacewalk earlier this month. [NASA]
Air Force officials are confident that new heavy-lift vehicles will be ready by the time the service retires the Delta 4 Heavy in 2023. The Air Force has purchased seven Delta 4 Heavy launches until 2023, at which point it expects new vehicles, such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy or Blue Origin’s New Glenn, to be available for payloads that require the Delta 4 Heavy. Gen. Jay Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command, told a House committee last week he was not concerned about a recent BE-4 engine test setback, saying that it confirms the Air Force’s strategy to have multiple engines under development to ultimately replace the RD-180. [SpaceNews]
Indonesian satellite operator PT Telkom is collaborating with Intelsat while planning a new line of satellites. The company said Sunday that it has moved its 12-year old Telkom-2 C-band satellite to the same orbital slot as Intelsat-5, a 20-year-old, C-band satellite, to expand its use of Intelsat services. PT Telkom executives also said they’re in the early stage of development of two high-throughput satellites to provide cellular backhaul services. [SpaceNews]
Australia’s military is planning to make more use of commercial satellite capacity despite being a partner on a U.S. military system. The Australian Defence Force expects to use commercial capacity for communications in addition to its share of the Wideband Global Satcom constellation, for which Australia funded one satellite. That approach is intended to give Australia’s military greater resiliency and redundancy through a mix of satellite communications options. [SpaceNews]
The Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center has a new commander. Lt. Gen. John Thompson formally took command of the center, known as SMC, in a change-of-command ceremony Monday in Los Angeles. Thompson was confirmed to the position by the Senate last fall. The former SMC commander, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, will become head of the Missile Defense Agency. [SpacePolicyOnline]
A former State Department lawyer is now the general counsel for an asteroid mining company. Planetary Resources announced Monday that it has hired Brian Israel, who had been in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser from 2009. Israel, in that job, was the lawyer responsible for interpreting and applying the country’s international legal obligations on space issues, including the contentious issue of ownership of space resources. In his new role, Israel will oversee legal, regulatory, and compliance functions for Planetary Resources, which has aspirations to extract resources from near Earth asteroids. [Planetary Resources]
A former NASA center director has taken an industry job. James Free is the vice president of the new Aerospace Systems Group of Peerless Technologies Corp., responsible for growing the agency’s civil and military space business. Free served for more than three years as director of the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland before taking a position at NASA Headquarters last year as a deputy associate administrator for human exploration and operations. He retired from the agency earlier this month. [Dayton (Ohio) Business Journal]
Two former astronauts were inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame over the weekend. Michael Foale and Ellen Ochoa were inducted in ceremonies at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, bringing the total number of former astronauts in the hall to 95. Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, flew on four shuttle missions and is now director of the Johnson Space Center. Foale’s career included long-duration missions on the Russian Mir space station and the ISS. [collectSPACE]
The birth of healthy mice on Earth is a promising sign for future human space settlement. In an experiment, Japanese researchers flew freeze-dried mice sperm on the ISS for nine months, where it was exposed to much higher radiation levels than found on Earth. Upon its return, scientists found that the DNA in the sperm had suffered damage from radiation, yet the sperm was able to fertilize eggs and give birth to 73 mice, roughly the same number as expected from an equivalent amount of normal sperm. Scientists believe the damaged DNA was repaired after fertilization and had no long-term effect on the mice. The finding is seen as welcome news both for astronauts who seek to have children after time in space as well as future settlement beyond Earth. [Science]
SINGAPORE — The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is planning to include commercial satellites as a necessary part of its communications architecture in the future, a defense official said May 15.
Group Captain Patrick Del Guidice, the ADF’s Chief Information Office Group director for J6 Capability Coordination, said that long-term planning for commercial satcom has not traditionally been the case, but will be for the agency’s future satcom plans, which start in 2019.
Del Guidice said Australia has about 507 million Australian dollars ($337 million) budgeted under JP 2008 for defense satellite communications between 2016 and 2019. Despite its name, JP 2008 is an almost three-decade-old umbrella program for Australia’s military satellite communications. From 2019 on, a new program called JP 9102 takes over until 2029, with 2 to 3 billion Australian dollars. Del Guidice described ADF’s spending on commercial satellite communications, or comsatcom, as largely an afterthought in the past, but said that won’t be the case going forward.
“We consider that commercial satcom capabilities will always be something we need moving forward,” he said. “So whatever we do, we are still going to have a requirement for commercial satcom capabilities moving into the future no matter what. It will be an important part of where we go.”
Australia leans heavily on on the U.S. Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) military satellite network for the bulk of its defense communications. In 2006, Australia funded the production of WGS-6, which launched in August 2013. Del Guidice said that gave Australia about 2.4 gigahertz of “assured access” to WGS X- and Ka-band capacity. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the U.S. and Australia, signed in November 2007, forms the basis of a WGS sharing agreement that stretches to September 2029.
Australia also relies on the Optus C1 satellite, an ultra-high frequency (UHF) hosted payload on Intelsat 22, and capacity from Inmarsat, ViaSat and SpeedCast, according to Del Guidice’s presentation.
But even with WGS as a long-term resource, Del Guidice said the ADF wants greater resiliency and redundancy, which means using a “hybrid solution” of satellite assets that ranges “anywhere from pure ownership, to leasing arrangements, to hosted payloads, to MOUs.”
“What we are trying to do is include consideration of commercial satcom moving forward as part of what JP 9102 would do,” he said, adding that this would help address rising bandwidth needs of the Royal Australian Air Force in particular. A final roadmap hasn’t been laid out yet, he said.
Del Guidice said that a pair of WGS ground stations under the JP 2008 program that are four years behind schedule are finally coming around to completion. The ADF contracted with BAE Systems in 2009 to build two anchor gateways, one at Harman, Southern New South Wales, known as Satellite Ground Station-East, and another in Geraldton, Western Australia, designated Satellite Ground Station-West (SGS-West). However, the contractor ran into issues that resulted in cost increases and schedule delays. In 2015, Australia’s Defence Materiel Organisation put the gateways on a national “Projects of Concern” list, placing greater scrutiny on the project.
Del Guidice said the ADF is now expecting initial operating capability “around the end of this year” for SGS-West, followed by SGS-East “somewhere around the early 2020s.” Additionally, he said ADF is moving SGS-East from Harman to Kapooka, located in New South Wales between Melbourne and Sydney. Del Guidice added that Australia has another MOU with the U.S. to support a second gateway at Geraldton, which would also go live around the turn of the decade.
WASHINGTON and JAKARTA, Indonesia — In the midst of a continuing fleet expansion, Indonesia’s state-owned telecommunications company PT Telkom is collocating one of its satellites with an Intelsat satellite over the Asia-Pacific region.
Speaking at the APSAT 2017 conference in Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta on May 17, PT Telkom’s Chief Strategy Officer David Bangun said the company is in the early stages of developing two high throughput satellites (HTS) for its constellation, which currently consists of three satellites: Telkom-1, Telkom-2 and Telkom-3S.
Intelsat and PT Telkom, in a joint statement released May 21, said that PT Telkom has moved the 12-year old Telkom-2 C-band satellite to the same orbital slot as Intelsat-5, a 20-year-old C-band satellite at 157 degrees east. The companies said that the move “allows Telkom to efficiently manage its satellite fleet while expanding its use of Intelsat services to complement PT Telkom’s network.”
“Our collaboration with Telkom demonstrates the value we place on working with other satellite operators to optimize the potential of our services in the region,” Intelsat’s vice president of business development Jay Yass, said in a prepared statement. “As our Intelsat EpicNG high throughput satellites are introduced to the Asia region, with Intelsat 33e currently in service and Horizons 3e late next year, collaborations such as this are essential to bringing the best solutions to the region.”
The move signals a positioning by both operators to prepare new services in a region where HTS is exploding in popularity. Last week China Satcom and Indonesian operator Pasifik Satelit Nusantara both announced plans for new high throughput satellites for the Asia-Pacific. Additionally, Paris-based Eutelsat has a high-throughput Ku-band payload on Eutelsat-172b, a triple-payload satellite that also carries traditional C- and Ku-band capacity, launching next week on an Arianespace Ariane 5.
Bangun said that PT Telkom expects all three of its satellites, including the 42-transponder Telkom-3S satellite launched in February, will be “fully occupied in a short time,” and that more satellites are on the drawing board.
“Telkom currently is planning to have at least two HTS satellites in near future,” he said, adding that both satellites are “still in early phase of planning.”
PT Telkom has one satellite under construction today with Space Systems Loral, designated Telkom-4, which will be for fixed satellite services.
Cell phone users specifically are driving the need for HTS capacity, Bangun said. PT Telkom has an estimated 170 million mobile subscribers that are increasingly seeking bandwidth-intensive services.
“Mobile services will be the most optimum solution to deliver broadband services in Indonesia, and backhaul solutions will be the ‘killer application’ for HTS satellites in Indonesia,” he said.
PT Telkom and Intelsat hinted at future collaborative plans by saying they “will also analyze the potential to expand services at 157° East.” This could take the form of a condosat arrangement, where the operators agree to put distinct payloads on a shared satellite platform in space. In February 2015, Intelsat and Azerbaijan’s national satellite operator Azercosmos ordered a condosat from Space Systems Loral to build Intelsat-38 and Azerspace-2 on the same spacecraft bus.
Intelsat also has an Asia-Pacific HTS satellite, Horizons 3e, that the company ordered from Boeing in November 2015. The satellite, to be operated by a joint venture with Japan-based Sky Perfect Jsat, is to complete Intelsat’s global coverage with its EpicNG-branded HTS capacity.
Dianne VanBeber, Intelsat’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications, told SpaceNews May 22 that PT Telkom has been a customer of Intelsat since the operator became a commercial entity in 2001, and was a signatory on the creation of Intelsat back in 1964. She said Intelsat 5, manufactured by Hughes and launched in 1997, is expected to continue operating in an inclined orbit until at least 2020. Intelsat has no intention of trying to own Telkom-2, she added.
Bangun estimated that PT Telkom’s current fleet serves less than 10 percent the actual demand for bandwidth in Indonesia. Better transmission technologies will cause today’s latent demand to “increase exponentially,” he said.
Costs for satellite infrastructure, including that needed for cellular backhaul, need to come down as well, he said. Bangun said PT Telkom views fiber as its priority, and conducts 90 percent of the cellular backhaul within Indonesia’s urban areas using terrestrial infrastructure. Installing base transceiver sites (BTS) needed for satellite backhaul costs 50 percent more than fiber, he estimated.
Bangun said Indonesia’s obsession with smartphones has created demand that is stable enough that PT Telkom can use it as a metric for future business plans. That includes trying to figure out a price point for direct-to-home broadband internet — a service commonly cited as having high potential for HTS, but with few successful examples beyond Hughes, ViaSat and Eutelsat.
“Indonesian people, they’re willing to pay for smartphones — that’s why smartphone penetration is like 60 percent in Indonesia,” he said. “They are willing to pay for smartphones, but for the recurring billing, they limit themselves to $5, or $10. So if we deliver gigabits to homes, could the business plan be feasible with $10?”