Fifty years ago this summer, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon. Their “giant leap for mankind” was a venture that could only be accomplished with the might and funding of the U.S. government.
Today, space continues to be the new frontier, but the pioneers are increasingly being found in the private sector. Once considered to be a niche market for major aerospace companies, commercial space transportation is quickly becoming a mainstream sector of aerospace.
The energy and enthusiasm for commercial space transportation was apparent this week at the Paris Air Show, where I was asked to participate on a panel that looked at the opportunities and challenges ahead.
When it comes to commercial space in the United States our approach is simple. Safety must always come first, but it’s clear that public-private partnerships have become a key part of America’s future in space.
The facts speak for themselves: 33 successful launches in 2018, up from 23 in 2017. This year, as many as 41 launches are on the planning calendar.
More than 370 FAA-licensed space activities have occurred since the first commercial launch in 1989, and no one in the public has ever been injured. We believe it is possible to maintain that safety record while enabling innovation.
This administration, with the leadership of Transportation Secretary Chao, wants to make sure regulatory requirements don’t keep rockets tied to the launch pad. We’re jettisoning rules that have outlived their usefulness, are duplicative, or are unnecessarily burdensome. We’re cutting two regulations for every one we create. To date, we’ve taken deregulatory actions that will save $64 million.
In February, we released a proposed a rule that would make future regulations less burdensome. These new regulations will be performance-based, not proscriptive. This means the next groundbreaking technology can be nurtured into reality without requiring us to rewrite the rules.
In addition to streamlining the regulations, the Vice President’s National Space Council proposed several directives that will help make the U.S. commercial space sector even stronger.
Through the Council’s direction, we established a rulemaking advisory committee to enlist the help of the best and brightest in the commercial space community to improve oversight of FAA-licensed spaceport launch facilities. A similar group is examining how we can better integrate the increasing pace of commercial space activities with daily aircraft operations.
By the beginning of next year, we will be underway with a plan to make the FAA’s newly reorganized Office of Commercial Space Transportation more attuned to the commercial space operators’ needs.
As we do with aviation, we also are working with partners around the world. For example, a U.S. company is conducting launches from New Zealand, and we expect similar activities to occur in other parts of the world.
Commercial space transportation, like aviation, is a global business that harnesses the imagination and turns it into reality. I’m confident that in another 50 years, our grandchildren will look back on our efforts with the same pride as we do about that time we shot for the moon and made it.
Daniel K. Elwell is acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.
WASHINGTON — Blue Origin has performed the first hotfire test of the engine it plans to use on its Blue Moon lunar lander.
Company founder Jeff Bezos tweeted June 19 that the test of the BE-7 engine took place the previous day at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The 35-second test went as expected, he said. “Data looks great and hardware is in perfect condition,” he wrote in the post, which included a video of the test.
First hotfire of our #BE7 lunar landing engine just yesterday at Marshall Space Flight Center. Data looks great and hardware is in perfect condition. Test went full planned duration – 35 seconds. Kudos to the whole @BlueOrigin team and grateful to @NASA_Marshall for all the help! pic.twitter.com/cTjjrngumY
The company announced the BE-7 engine during a May 9 event here where Bezos unveiled the updated design of the company’s Blue Moon lander. That lander will be able to carry 3.6 metric tons of cargo to the lunar surface, with a “stretch tank” version increasing that capacity to 6.5 metric tons. That larger version of the lander could also carry an ascent stage to enable crewed missions to the lunar surface.
Blue Moon will be powered by a single BE-7 engine, capable of producing 10,000 pounds-force of thrust and deeply throttleable. The engine uses liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants, leveraging the company’s experience on the larger BE-3 engine used on its New Shepard suborbital vehicle and upper stage of its New Glenn orbital rocket.
At the May event, Bezos said the company selected liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for the BE-7 because of their high performance. In addition, it allows the lander to potentially make use of in situ resources on the moon in the form of water ice that could be converted into hydrogen and oxygen. “Ultimately, we’re going to be able to get hydrogen from that water on the moon, and be able to refuel these vehicles on the surface of the moon,” he said then.
“We’ve been working on this for three years,” he said at the event. “We’re going to hot fire it for the first time this summer. The only reason we can do that is we’ve been working on it for three years.”
Bezos tweeted about the test shortly after he appeared at a “Space Summit” June 19 held at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Interviewed on stage by Caroline Kennedy, Bezos didn’t mention the test but did briefly discuss the lander, including the decision to use liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. “One day, we’ll be refueling that vehicle on the surface of the moon from propellants made on the moon from that water ice,” he said.
“Okay,” Kennedy responded after a pause.
Bezos used that appearance to critique government’s role in space. He said that, on the one hand, the government is needed to enable a human return to the moon, with partners like Blue Origin. “It’s going to be difficult to put humans on the moon without government support,” he said. “It’s expensive, we need government facilities to do it, we need government know-how do it.”
“It has to be a team effort,” he continued. “It will be many companies, not just Blue Origin. It will be collaborative.”
Blue Origin is already working with NASA on the agency’s plans to return humans to the surface of the moon. The company was one of 11 that received contracts from NASA May 16 for studies and initial prototype development of lunar lander descent stages and transfer vehicles. The company is expected to participate in a separate call for proposals later this year for work on integrated lunar lander systems.
Bezos, though, was also critical of how government space programs have been historically run. “A lot of the big government programs get very protected by members of Congress,” he said. “Big NASA programs become seen as jobs programs, and that they have to be distributed to the right states where the right senators live, and so on.”
That approach, he said, will “change the objective” of such programs. “Now your objective is not to get a man to the moon or a woman to the moon but, instead, to get a woman to the moon while preserving X number of jobs in my district. That is a ‘complexifier’ and not a healthy one.”
“If I were a senior official at NASA, I would be very frustrated from time to time,” he said. Among those in attendance at the event was former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who appeared on a panel earlier in the day. “Charlie, don’t say a word,” Bezos said. “But he’s smiling, let the record reflect.”
WASHINGTON — President Trump made a “good choice” naming Army Secretary Mark Esper acting defense secretary following the resignation of Patrick Shanahan, said former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.
Wilson, who stepped down on May 31 and whose name had been floated as a candidate for defense secretary, praised Esper in a statement to SpaceNews. “He is calm, honest and experienced,” she said. “I enjoyed working with him. His understanding of, and respect for the role of the services and the Joint Staff will make him a better secretary of defense.”
Esper will become acting defense secretary on June 24.
In the wake of Shanahan’s resignation, speculation has swirled in the Pentagon about how the transition might affect efforts to stand up a Space Force and modernize military satellites and other systems. Shanahan was a staunch space advocate and personally oversaw DoD’s legislative proposal to stand up a Space Force. He also was the driving force behind the establishment of the Space Development Agency.
Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan told Military.com at the Paris Air Show on Wednesday that he does not expect the transition to affect the Space Force reorganization and that Esper supports the administration’s proposal.
During a news conference in October at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual symposium, Esper said the Army would be a “team player” in the space reorganization,
DoD sources told SpaceNews that Esper is likely to continue to advocate for space investments.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Esper served in the regular Army as an infantry officer for over a decade, including service in the 1990-1991 Gulf War with the 101st Airborne Division. He later commanded an airborne rifle company in Europe. Following active duty, he served in both the Virginia and District of Columbia National Guard, and Army Reserve before retiring in 2007. Before being tapped as Army secretary, Esper was Raytheon’s vice president of government affairs.
About 2,220 active-duty soldiers, reservists and civilians work in space-related jobs under the Army Space and Missile Defense Command. “The Army is a big user of space,” Esper said at AUSA. “We’re heavily reliant on it.”
Army space forces perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; missile warning; environmental monitoring; satellite communications; and positioning, navigation and timing, or PNT. More than 70 percent of the Army’s major weapons and equipment need satellites to function. Each Army brigade requires at least 2,500 PNT devices and 250 satellite communications terminals. The Army also deploys its own remote sensing satellites.
Space Development Agency
Shanahan approved the establishment of the SDA on March 12 and placed it in the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. In the months leading up to the standup of the new agency, Shanahan offered multiple explanations for why the SDA was needed. He said the traditional DoD procurement system was too slow and only a new organization could speed things up. He also said the SDA would help consolidate disjointed programs.
Shanahan told reporters in October that his determination to create the SDA was partly shaped by conversations with Army Futures Command’s Lt. Gen. John Murray. Ground forces have huge demands space services like communications, timing, navigation and early warning of missile launches. Shanahan said the Army should have some say in the “space architecture,” such as how future constellations are designed and constructed. “If the Army is first in developing a component of our space architecture, how do we get everybody to hold hands and say the Air Force is going to adopt the same thing?” Shanahan asked. The SDA also would help address equipment problems on the ground, such as the compatibility between satellites and radios.
Esper has not publicly weighed in on the SDA. DoD sources said the agency might not get the same level of support it got from Shanahan and that there are still factions in the Pentagon that don’t see a real purpose for the SDA and view it as duplicative of what other organizations do in the Air Force.
“Most people kept their heads down in the building because Shanahan wanted this but now the question is, ‘does it fall apart?’” a defense official told SpaceNews.
The SDA has an ambitious agenda to design a large constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit using commercial products. To get started, it needs Congress to approve a $149 million request for fiscal year 2020 but the SDA also was counting on Shanahan to approve reprogramming of funds from other accounts. In the March 12 memo that created the SDA, Shanahan said the undersecretary of defense for R&E would work with the DoD comptroller to reprogram funds during fiscal year 2019.
“I don’t see anyone pulling the levers to shift money on this in the wake of Shanahan’s departure,” the official said.
If the SDA is successful at developing an internet in space for military communications, the Army would be a major beneficiary. “Army leaders have been supportive of DARPA’s Blackjack program, but are starting to grow more cautious about the SDA’s enthusiasm for a new more complicated architecture,” an Army official told SpaceNews. In the Blackjack program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing a LEO constellation to test the concept. There is talk in the Army, the official said, that they will seek to block SDA projects “if they get too far off track or don’t provide real capability to the warfighter.”
WASHINGTON — U.K. Export Finance’s $325 million loan to Turkey this April is the most the agency’s has ever provided for a space industry deal.
Adam Harris, head of civil, infrastructure and energy activity at U.K. Export Finance. Credit: UKEF
Britain’s export credit agency has long discussed more involvement in the satellite industry, but didn’t have any major deals to show for it until now.
Adam Harris, head of civil, infrastructure and energy activity at UKEF, says the agency’s ability to support not just manufacturing but also launch and launch insurance has triggered increased demand for its financial services.
The Turksat-5A and -5B satellites are under construction by Airbus Defence and Space, which is building the satellites in the U.K. and France. Airbus’ contract, worth nearly $500 million, includes a ground station, launch services and in-orbit delivery.
The U.K. finds itself at a crossroads, having established the goal of growing the nation’s industry to comprise 10 percent of the global space economy by 2030, but also battling industry fears that Brexit will cost British companies access to European Union space programs. While the U.K.’s Harwell Space Cluster has attracted companies such as Oxford Space Systems, NanoAvionics and most recently hiSky, space software company Scisys left England for Ireland to preserve business within EU programs like Galileo and Copernicus.
Whatever the challenges, Harris says UKEF is ready now more than ever to support the British space industry.
How much space sector financing does UKEF do annually? Is that amount rising or falling, and why?
UKEF support for exports in the space sector varies due to the level of demand from U.K. exporters. Demand has risen in recent years, in part due to UKEF’s ability to offer guarantees for financing a complete “wrap” that incorporates manufacture, launch and launch insurance. Recent increases in demand also reflect the growing strength of the U.K. space sector.
UKEF is keen to develop its profile and role in this sector given the U.K.’s competitive strength, and the part that UKEF could potentially play in supporting its future growth.
How much of a satellite or space product must be built in the U.K. for UKEF to support it?
As for all sectors, UKEF is able to consider support for contracts where a minimum of 20 percent of the contract value is sourced from the U.K. However, UKEF has recently run a consultation on its foreign content policy to make it more flexible and ensure we recognise the full contribution of the U.K. supply chain – we will be publishing the government’s response in due course.
What percentage of U.K.-built satellites (in part or in whole) does UKEF support?
UKEF does not hold this data. As awareness of our offer increases over time we will be looking to strengthen that number though.
UKEF hasn’t been that active in the space industry compared to the export credit agencies of France, the U.S. and Canada. What are you doing to change that?
It is true that UKEF has not previously been a major player in the financing of satellites. The recent support provided reflects our determination to develop the U.K. space sector more widely, and the sector’s growing international success. Our project finance capability means that we are well placed to address some of the higher value and more complex structures we are now seeing in this sector.
The U.K. has several small launcher startups vying to do business. Will UKEF support them?
UKEF has a compelling offer for [small to medium enterprise] businesses covering credit insurance, working capital and buyer financing, and we welcome discussions on ways we can support launcher start-ups.
Does UKEF have a preference or responsibility to support small businesses, like the U.S. Ex-Im Bank, or does size not matter?
UKEF’s mission is to ensure that no viable U.K. export fails for lack of finance or insurance from the private sector. UKEF helps U.K. companies, whatever their size to win, fulfill and get paid for export contracts.
Now that the U.S. Ex-Im Bank has a full board again, will business that could have come to the U.K. instead go to the U.S.?
UKEF’s mandate remains the same, and we will continue to work with U.K. companies to ensure they win, fulfill and get paid for export contracts. We have a long history of working with U.S. Ex-Im to support projects in which there is both U.S. and U.K. supply, so [we] look forward to that collaboration continuing.
At least one British space company, Scisys, redomiciled in Ireland to stay in EU space programs. What would you tell other British space companies worried about losing business because of Brexit?
UKEF is working closely with other departments across government, in particular with the Department of International Trade, to ensure the transition for businesses is as smooth as possible. UKEF’s mission is one that is good for all weathers: to ensure that no viable U.K. export fails for lack of finance or insurance.
UKEF’s $325 million loan to Turkey’s Ministry of Treasury and Finance is the agency’s biggest space-industry loan. Will you do bigger than that?
We will consider all requests for our support on their merits! But certainly, there’s no upper limit on our support provided it fits within our risk appetite.
Would UKEF support a broadband megaconstellation? Or is that too risky?
Again, we will consider all requests on their merits!
WASHINGTON — A new report from the Government Accountability Office found that the prime contractors for the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft received hundreds of millions of dollars in award fees despite continued issues that will likely lead to further delays in the programs.
The June 19 report, which included an unusually strong response from NASA, concluded that the agency should use upcoming contract negotiations with Boeing for the SLS, and Lockheed Martin for Orion, to find different ways to structure award fees “to incentivize contractors to obtain better outcomes.”
“NASA’s award fee plans for the SLS stages and Orion crew spacecraft contracts provide for hundreds of millions of dollars to incentivize contractor performance, but the programs continue to fall behind schedule and incur cost overruns,” the report stated.
Boeing, for example, received $271 million in award fees over the life of its SLS contract, the report noted. That includes $146 million since NASA established formal cost and schedule baselines for the program, 81 percent of the total that Boeing could have earned.
Boeing received evaluation scores of “excellent” or “very good” since 2014, with the exception of the most recent period included in the report of October 2017 through September 2018, when it received a lower score of “good.”
During that time, though, the schedule for the first SLS launch has slipped by several years. The GAO noted in its report that the program won’t meet a planned June 2020 launch date because of ongoing issues, particularly with the development of the rocket’s core stage. NASA officials have said there is six to 12 months of “risk” to that launch date, meaning it could slip to as late as June 2021.
Dennis Muilenburg, the president and chief executive of Boeing, didn’t address the report in a June 19 speech at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston where he discussed the company’s various space activities, including SLS. “The first launch is next year, an uncrewed launch,” he said.
At a meeting of a NASA Advisory Council committee May 28, Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA, said the agency was still trying to carry out the first SLS launch in 2020 even if decides to retain a “green run” static-fire test of the core stage. “Obviously, everything has to go perfectly” to maintain that 2020 launch date, he said, “but there’s a shot.”
The GAO report suggested that NASA and Boeing were blaming each other for the delays in the SLS development. NASA said that Boeing didn’t hire enough technicians to work on the core stage, initially assigning 100 people before eventually increasing that to 250. Boeing countered that NASA provided new estimates of the loads the stage would experience after critical design review, changes significant enough “that they invalidated legacy systems Boeing had planned to use, which required rework.”
The GAO also criticized NASA for underestimating the cost increases in the SLS program. According to the agency, the cost of SLS development has grown by a little more than $1 billion, or 14.7 percent, above its baseline cost estimate of $7.021 billion. The report noted, though, that during a replanning effort in late 2017 NASA shifted some costs associated with getting SLS ready for its first launch to later in the program. That in effect reduced the baseline cost by $782 million, making the effective cost increase now 29 percent. That is close to the 30 percent threshold for cost overruns where a program must be formally reauthorized by Congress.
The report identified problems as well with the Orion program as well as Exploration Ground Systems, which includes the mobile launcher and other equipment and services needed to support SLS/Orion launches. Lockheed Martin has earned $294 million in Orion award fees over the course of its contract, including $88 million, or 93 percent of the total available, since its confirmation review.
“The Orion program is not on schedule to meet the June 2020 launch date for the first mission,” the report stated, in part because of delays in the European-built service module. The spacecraft’s crew module, though, is “nearly [on] the critical path” because of component failures in its avionics system found during testing.
In an eight-page letter included in the report as NASA’s response, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, vigorously defended the agency’s handling of SLS, Orion and ground systems.
“The GAO report does not acknowledge NASA is constructing some of the most sophisticated hardware ever built,” he wrote. As he has done in the past, he said that the problems NASA and its contracts have encountered “are commensurate with first-time production programs on a large scale and should not be unexpected.”
“The GAO report repeatedly projects the worst-case scenario outcome,” he wrote later in the letter, adding that NASA “does take exception to the unnecessarily negative language used in the report title and section headings and the lack of acknowledgement of progress the Agency has made.”
Despite that criticism, Gerstenmaier said that NASA concurred, partially or entirely, with the four recommendations that the GAO made, ranging from adjusting the SLS cost baseline to reevaluating strategies for incentive awards to its contractors.
The GAO, which usually limits its reaction to agency responses to how they accepted the report’s recommendations, included several additional comments regarding the NASA letter, including one about the use of worst-case scenarios. The GAO responded that senior NASA officials told them a June 2020 launch was “unlikely” because of development issues.
“It would be misleading for us to continue to report the June 2020 launch date when we were told there was substantive risk to that date,” the report stated. “We then used the information NASA provided us to report that the first launch may occur as late as June 2021, if all risks are realized.”
Viasat says that supplier issues are delaying the first launch of its ViaSat-3 satellite.In a filing with the FCC this week, the company asked for an extension of the deadline for bringing that satellite into service until the end of 2021, citing problems with an unnamed vendor for the satellite’s payload. In contrast to most satellite operators, Viasat is building its own payloads rather than tasking a manufacturer. That first of three ViaSat-3 spacecraft will serve the Americas and transoceanic routes. [SpaceNews]
Several former executives of a satellite operator have started a new satellite manufacturer.Saturn Satellite Networks will build satellites ranging from 600 to 1,700 kilograms, and already has a customer order. The company’s executive chairman is Tom Choi, former CEO of satellite operator ABS, and two other former ABS executives are also in key positions at Saturn. The company is targeting as customers those nations who want their own satellite but for which a traditional multi-ton spacecraft is too large. [SpaceNews]
Five Indonesian connectivity services providers have chosen Hughes Network Systems’ Jupiter ground infrastructureto support the rollout of internet access and cellular backhaul sites across the country. The five providers won bids from Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Information to expand connectivity using more than 7 gigahertz of satellite capacity across multiple satellites. Hughes said the providers, which include Lintasarta, Teleglobal and satellite operators Pasifik Satelit Nusantara and Telkom/TelkomSat, each chose its infrastructure independently. [Hughes]
WASHINGTON — Boeing announced June 19 it will move the headquarters of its space division from the Washington, DC area to Florida as a number of its major programs shift from development to operations.
Dennis Muilenburg, chief executive and president of Boeing, announced the headquarters move from Arlington, Virginia, to Titusville, Florida, in a speech at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston that kicked off a day-long “Space Summit” at the library commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
“This is a major transition for us as a company as we set up our headquarters in the Florida Space Coast region,” he said. “The momentum and energy along the Florida Space Coast, the amount of investment that is happening, is extraordinary. So we’re honored to be part of that energy and momentum, and we hope to add to it with this relocation.”
The shift involves the Space and Launch division of Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security business unit, currently headquartered near the Pentagon. Boeing spokesman Dan Beck told SpaceNews the move will involve only a “small number” of people, led by current Space and Launch Senior Vice President Jim Chilton, his executive team and support staff. No changes are planned to the company’s space operations in other locations. The move is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
“Expanding our Boeing presence on the Space Coast brings tremendous value for our commercial and government space programs through focused leadership, strategic investment, customer proximity and additional contributions to the vitality of the region,” Chilton said in a Boeing statement.
In his speech and later question-and-answer session at the library, Muilenburg cited as a reason for the move the progress the company was making on several programs, including the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, Space Launch System and the Phantom Express experimental spaceplane being developed for DARPA that may launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
“Now, as we see all of these programs transitioning from development to operation, now is the right time for us to make that transition,” he said of the headquarters move.
Much of Boeing’s commercial crew work has been based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, using a former shuttle-era hangar that the company converted into an assembly facility for the spacecraft. Muilenburg said the first, uncrewed flight of the Starliner will take place later this summer with a crewed test flight to follow “before the end of the year.”
He also said that the Space Launch System, for which Boeing is the prime contractor, remains on schedule for a first launch next year on an uncrewed test flight. He did not address a Government Accountability Office report, published June 19, that warned that first launch could slip to the middle of 2021 as the vehicle’s cost continues to grow.
Muilenburg offered an optimistic assessment of the future of commercial spaceflight in general, with the company’s Starliner vehicle playing a key role. He said the company would make available one of the five seats on the spacecraft for commercial customers, with the other four used for transporting NASA and other government astronauts to and from the station. He said Starliner could fly as often as six missions a year to the ISS and other low Earth orbit destinations.
“We expect to see a viable space ecosystem, low Earth orbit ecosystem, evolve over the next decade,” he said. “This is a big point of transition for The Boeing Company, another defining moment for us.”
SANTA BARBARA, California — Problems with an unnamed component supplier are the reason the first launch of a ViaSat-3 high-throughput satellite won’t happen until 2021.
Carlsbad, California-based Viasat, which is building a trio of ViaSat-3 satellites with Boeing for global broadband connectivity, informed the U.S. Federal Communications Commission that it will need an extension of its market access rights for the first ViaSat-3 because of those delays.
The FCC had granted Viasat, whose satellites are licensed in the United Kingdom, permission to provide Ka-band communications services in the U.S. from an orbital slot at 88.9 degrees west, provided a satellite was launched and operational by June 18, 2019.
Viasat had in company earnings calls indicated that the first ViaSat-3 satellite had slipped to 2020 and could drift into 2021, but had not given a specific reason. In its June 17 filing, Viasat said issues with a “vendor” resulted in delays with the payloads needed for ViaSat-3. The name of the vendor was redacted.
Viasat asked to have until Dec. 31, 2021 to bring ViaSat-3 Americas into service, or to receive a waiver from the FCC’s deployment milestone.
In contrast to most satellite operators, Viasat is building its own payloads rather than tasking a manufacturer. Viasat said it builds the ViaSat-3 payloads at its own satellite manufacturing facility in Tempe, Arizona, using modular structures from Boeing.
Boeing is also providing the satellite chassis and integrating the payloads from Viasat.
Development and manufacturing of the first ViaSat-3 satellite will be more than 80 percent paid for by the end of this June, Viasat said. Modifications to the contract for the first ViaSat-3 to include enhancements also contributed to its delay, though Viasat didn’t specify by how much.
In the filing, Viasat said the first ViaSat-3 satellite “will be launched to serve the United States and the rest of the Americas, as well as trans-oceanic routes.”
Viasat said it expects the ViaSat-3 Americas satellite to launch by May 29, 2021, and be operational by Dec. 31, 2021. The other two satellites — ViaSat-3 EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and ViaSat-3 APAC (Asia-Pacific) would launch “subsequently,” with ViaSat-3 APAC launching last in the second half of 2022. Viasat has said in the past that ViaSat-3 EMEA will launch roughly six months after ViaSat-3 Americas.
Each ViaSat-3 satellite is expected to have more than a terabit per second of total capacity. Viasat said each will have more than four times the capacity of ViaSat-2, which has 260 gigabits per second, and will enable individual users to receive up to a gigabit per second internet connection.
Viasat has a launch contract with United Launch Alliance for an Atlas 5, one with SpaceX for a Falcon Heavy, and another with Arianespace that on June 17 was upgraded from an Ariane 5 to the next-generation Ariane 6 heavy-lift variant with four strap-on boosters. Viasat hasn’t specified which rocket will launch which satellite, but has lined up vehicles that are each capable of launching the heavy satellites closer than average to the geostationary orbit, enabling shorter orbit raising time.
Viasat told the FCC its diversity of launch contracts ensures the ability to launch ViaSat-3 Americas within a few months of it completing manufacturing.
WASHINGTON — An executive order calling for an across-the-board reduction in federal advisory groups could force NASA to shut down several of the committees that support the agency.
The June 14 order from President Trump instructed all federal agencies to review their existing committees that operate under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). That act, nearly a half-century old, governs the management of committees that provide advice to government agencies, including requirements for public meetings and reporting of their activities.
The order directs agencies to review their existing committees and, by Aug. 1, submit to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recommendations about what committees should continue to operate and which should be terminated. The OMB director will then forward a final list of committees that should be terminated to the president one month later.
“Each agency shall, by September 30, 2019, terminate at least one-third of its current committees established” under the relevant section of the FACA, the order states, with a particular emphasis on those that have achieved their goals, are obsolete, have had their work taken over by another organization or whose cost “is excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government.”
The order also prevents the creation of new FACA committees without a waiver from OMB if the total number of such committees across the federal government exceeds 350. A database maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages FACA activities across the federal government, identified 1,004 active committees in fiscal year 2018.
NASA currently has 12 FACA committees, according to the GSA database and the website of the agency’s Advisory Committee Management Division. Those committees include the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) and the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, as well as lesser-known committees such as the Applied Sciences Advisory Committee and International Space Station National Laboratory Advisory Committee. NASA also manages the Users’ Advisory Group for the National Space Council and the interagency National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board.
NASA hasn’t provided any details about how it will carry out that review, and whether any committees will be exempt from the review. The agency can also seek exceptions from the requirement to terminate at least a third of its committees if “it is necessary for the delivery of essential services, for effective program delivery, or because it is otherwise warranted by the public interest.”
“We will review the advisory committees at NASA in accordance with the executive order and report back to the White House later this summer on any efficiencies we believe are found as part of the internal assessment,” Bettina Inclán, associate administrator for the office of communications at NASA, said in a statement to SpaceNews. “Until then it would be premature to address any one specific committee.”
Retired Air Force Gen. Les Lyles serves on two of those 12 committees run by NASA. He is chair of the NASA Advisory Council and a member of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group. In a June 18 speech at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable luncheon, he said the council in particular was effective in providing advice to NASA.
Lyles cited a study mandated by Congress in a 2017 NASA authorization bill to examine the effectiveness of the council. That report, published in June 2018 by the National Academy of Public Administration, offered a favorable assessment of the council’s work. It provided a number of recommendations for the council, while noting that those recommendations “generally affirm current NASA practice.”
“For the NAC, I will say the jury is very positive about that,” he said, likening the report’s conclusions to a letter grade of A or A–.
He said it’s still too soon to assess the Users’ Advisory Group, which held its first public meeting one year ago and met twice since then, most recently April 8 in Colorado Springs. Lyles said he expects the group to, among other things, “take another deep look into” NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the moon by 2024, an analysis that would be in addition to reviews within the agency and by the NASA Advisory Council.
“We’re still feeling our way around a little bit as to what our role is going to be,” he said of the group. “I think it’s very, very clear that there is an opportunity for some good things to come out of the expertise that resides in that advisory group. We’re all anxious and ready to go.”
WASHINGTON — If the Space Development Agency can successfully design a constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit to support defense activities, it would fill a longstanding military need, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said June 18.
Military forces in the field need “ubiquitous communications” and other capabilities that could be provided by large networks of satellites, Selva told reporters during a breakfast meeting.
Selva will be retiring next month after a four-year tour as the second-highest ranking U.S. military officer. One of the duties of the vice chairman is to run the Joint Requirements Oversight Council that vets all DoD acquisitions and ensures they satisfy the demands of military commanders.
The SDA will attempt to fill a key requirement for global communications and space-based services, Selva said. The agency has special authorities to speed up the procurement of new hardware but also has a responsibility to make sure the equipment fulfills specific military needs, he said. The SDA “does not go around the requirements process.”
SDA Director Fred Kennedy insists that the answer to the military’s needs for global reliable communications is a “proliferated LEO” constellation, which is Pentagon-speak for large numbers of small satellites in low Earth orbit.
The Joint Requirements Oversight Council has to ensure programs meet military requirements, Selva said, but the JROC does not dictate what DoD should buy. “We don’t have a requirement for proliferated LEO constellations,” Selva noted. “That’s not what the JROC does. What the JROC says is that we must have the capacity for all our units to communicate at a sufficient amount of bandwidth to receive the information they need to prosecute the mission they were assigned.”
Kennedy has proposed developing a proliferated LEO constellation using commercial hardware to connect the military’s ground, naval and air forces, and provide other services like positioning, navigation and timing. Selva said the JROC would like to see the SDA deliver on its promises. “Proliferated LEO opens up opportunities,” he said.
Selva said it remains to be seen if the SDA can take advantage of its rapid acquisition authorities to bring a LEO constellation to fruition. DoD has long had a need for modern space-based communications, but what was missing was a “process that lets us very quickly experiment and rule out those things that are not useful,” Selva said. That is the gap the SDA will try to fill.
“I don’t care where you put the authority,” he said. “Just make sure somebody has it and the person or organization that has it is responsible for the outcome,” Selva said. Whatever the SDA develops will be inherited by a military service. “A service will operate the constellation, not the SDA.”
The SDA will develop the architecture and hand it over, Selva said. “That service is going to deploy those satellites, whether it’s the Air Force or the Space Force , that chapter has yet to be written by the Congress.”
Selva recalled a recent conversation at the Pentagon when somebody mentioned that DoD has no expertise building proliferated LEO constellations. Selva pointed out that the military and the intelligence community during the Cold War built hundreds of low-altitude remote sensing satellites. “But we abandoned our capacity to do it because we developed a new more elegant technology that was huge expensive satellites that could do multiple tasks,” he said. These large satellites were put in high orbits to perform tasks that are “exorbitantly more complex than what we used to do from LEO, which was take pictures,” he said. “How many aerospace engineering are still around that still remember when we built satellites en masse? The answer is very few.”
While government engineers became adept at designing huge and complex satellites, the private sector is now leading the way in LEO. Because of companies like Planet, SpaceX and others, Selva said, “there will be an industrial process that will support building economy-size satellites not school bus satellites.”
For the SDA, the challenge is to make sure that whatever satellites are deployed are useful to forces in the field. “And do I have the apertures on my ships, planes, trucks, tanks to access that network?” said Selva. Without all that, LEO constellations are just interesting projects that don’t serve any real purpose, he said. “That’s the conversation that is ongoing.”
As Selva nears the end of his tenure, he said he has been reflecting on his legacy and on what lies ahead for his successor (Strategic Command’s Gen. John Hyten has been nominated to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs).
Taking advantage of commercial space technology for military purposes falls into a “big bin of work yet to be done,” he said. “Constellations are being launched by civilians, there are companies that can build satellites for one and a half million dollars, that can do fairly significant surveillance of the planet,” he said. The other piece is data analytics. “One of my hard questions to the technology world is: As this data become more ubiquitous, we have it and our potential competitors have it, how do we get an advantage? How do we understand faster, decide faster and act faster than an adversary that has the same information?”
Data collected by satellites is available to everyone, and other countries are advancing their artificial intelligence and analytics capabilities, he noted. “We’re not the only people trying to do this. That has implications for how we operate in space, how we defend the things we operate in space, and what we believe freedom of navigation looks like in space.”