Report from Washington, D.C.

Report from the Hill

Written by: developer

by Natalie Nehme, Space Foundation Intern, and Jillianne Pierce, Space Foundation Government Affairs Associate

The morning of Jan. 27, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing entitled, "Military Space Launch and the Use of Russian-made Rocket Engines." Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) questioned Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall III about the need to focus on developing American rocket engines to end dependency on Russian technology. Secretary James and Mr. Kendall stressed the importance of competition in the space community.

The following week, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held a hearing about expert perspectives on "NASA's Human Space Exploration Proposals." The three witnesses were: Dr. Paul Spudis, Senior Scientist for the Lunar Planetary Institute, Mr. A. Thomas Young, former Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and Dr. John C. Sommerer, Chair of the Technical Panel for the Pathways to Exploration Report. Through much discussion, it was advised by all expert witnesses that NASA would need to focus on either a lunar mission or a mission to Mars; however, both could not be done simultaneously. Dr. Spudis and Dr. Sommerer expressed that the best way to guarantee a safe mission to Mars is to gain experience through multiple lunar missions.

On Feb. 24, the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology held a hearing entitled, "Unlocking the Secrets of the Universe: Gravitational Waves," which delved into the recent discovery proving Einstein's theory that gravitational waves do in fact exist. The gravitational waves were caused by two black holes colliding, and the four expert witnesses -- Dr. Fleming Crim, Dr. David Reitze, Dr. Gabriela Gonzalez and Dr. David Shoemaker -- shared confidence that this is indeed the discovery they have been awaiting for 40 years. Data, questions and answers and teaching materials are available for the public and can be found on

Quickly following was another hearing on Feb. 25: "The Space Leadership Preservation Act and the Need for Stability at NASA." Representative John Culberson, former NASA administrator Michael Griffin, former NASA astronaut Col. Eileen Collins and Christina Chaplain, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management at GAO, all served as witnesses to discuss the importance of keeping NASA on track with regard to its human spaceflight program. It was agreed that before the U.S. begins flights to Mars, there must be multiple lunar flight programs to ensure safety when attempting human spaceflight to Mars.

On Feb. 24, the House Armed Services Committee, Strategic Forces Subcommittee "U.S. Strategic Forces Posture" hearing touched on space briefly, as follows:

Congressman Lamborn (R-CO) and Congressman Coffman (R-CO) were both curious about the Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center (JICSpOC). ADM Cecil Haney, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, stated that although there is not yet a "discrete" timeline for when the JICSpOC will be operational, the Department of Defense (DoD) is working to provide refined concepts of operation, and is encouraged by progress made thus far in the experimentation process. ADM Haney feels that he has all of the authorities and budget necessary at the present time to continue to move the capability into the field. He also said that the key to integrating the interagency approach is the order in which to share and move information in a timely manner, and how to have a more synergistic approach moving forward with assets. Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, DoD, stated that the JICSpOC is an "operational experiment" focusing on SSA and coordination between the DoD and the intelligence community, and that the department is working on series of vignettes to understand operations and how to integrate and with the private sector and allies.

Congressman Bridenstine (R-OK) cited previous testimony from Gen. Raymond that space is getting more contested and congested and asked whether planned constellations of hundreds or thousands of commercial communication satellites in low Earth orbit would continue to grow the burden for the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC). The JSpOC is the entity currently tasked with issuing conjunction analyses and reporting for the DoD, as well as for commercial and foreign operators. ADM. Haney agreed that as activities in space continue to grow, so will the burden on the JsPOC, but also said that as the DoD, "we don't get a pass," as he stressed the importance for the DOD to continue to have a firm grasp of Space Situational Awareness. ADM Haney also said that automation and better fusion capabilities will be important moving forward.

This article is part of Space Watch: March 2016 (Volume: 15, Issue: 3).