Rogers, Cooper to continue push for military space reforms in FY-19 NDAA

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The strategic forces subcommittee appears to have concerns about the Air Force’s path forward to move to a new generation of launch vehicles.

WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services subcommittees on Wednesday released their proposals for the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The language introduced by Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Ranking Democrat Jim Cooper (D-TN) includes many space-related provisions, mostly focused on the management of space activities in the Defense Department, modernization of satellites and national security launch capabilities.

There will be a subcommittee markup on Thursday and a full committee markup is scheduled for May 9. A bill should be on the House floor after the July 4 recess.

The language from the FY-18 NDAA calling for the creation of a separate Space Corps is not repeated in this year’s bill. Congress voted to allow the Pentagon to conduct an independent study, and that process has to run its course before the subcommittee moves any further on the issue. Nonetheless, Rogers and Cooper intend to continue to press the Air Force in the FY-19 NDAA to focus more attention and resources on space.

The bill calls for the secretary of the Air Force to establish a new numbered Air Force dedicated to space warfighting and reorganize the current 14th Air Force to a space support mission. It directs the deputy secretary of defense to develop a plan to establish a separate acquisition system for military space vehicles, ground segment and terminals. It requires an evaluation of the supply chain for protected satellite communications and Overhead Persistent Infrared Systems used to detect missile launches. And it directs DoD to provide a detailed report on the budget for space programs within 30 days after the president’s budget is submitted to Congress.

The subcommittee wants DoD to study the risks, benefits and cost savings of using small- and medium- size satellite buses for strategic and tactical payloads, and directs DoD to brief the committee on its plans to use commercial services for wideband communications.

Space industry consultant Mike Tierney told SpaceNews that Rogers and Cooper are diving deeper this year into DoD acquisition strategies and space capabilities, particularly national security launch vehicles.

The subcommittee appears to have concerns about the Air Force’s path forward to move to a new generation of all-domestically produced launch vehicles. The Air Force plans to select three potential Expendable Evolved Launch Vehicle (EELV) launch providers in the summer of 2018, and would make a final award for launch service procurement contracts by the end of fiscal year 2019.

“The committee is aware that full-scale flight tests of new space launch vehicles may not occur until after this award is made,” says the bill. It asks the secretary of the Air Force for a briefing on the “criteria and sufficiency of test data that the Air Force will use to make the final launch service agreement awards by the end of fiscal year 2019.” The briefing should include “criteria and incentives that the Air Force will use to ensure that the contractors selected maintain schedule and fidelity in line with their contract bids.”

Rogers and Cooper also want more information on what the Air Force is doing to develop launch vehicle upper stages to be used for the defense of U.S. space assets. “Advanced upper stages could increase the operational flexibility and on-orbit reusability of the holistic launch system while also allowing for greater delivery of mass to orbit,” says the bill. It asks the Air Force to provide a briefing on “next generation upper stage technology.”

The subcommittee noted that a plan for the use of allied launch vehicles was mandated in the FY-17 NDAA. The Air Force submitted a number of ideas “that have not been implemented” on how the United States and allies could share satellites, payloads and launch vehicles. “Additional capabilities may be needed to use allied launch capability in the event of an emergency and inability of U.S. launch providers to provide assured access to space.”

The bill commends the Air Force for funding a new program for “affordable, flexible launch services” for small payloads to low Earth orbit through geostationary transfer orbit. The subcommittee encourages more investment to “further operationalize integration of new small launch services into the space enterprise.” It also would like to see responsive launch become part of Air Force “Space Flag” training exercises.