U.S. Government Shutdown | Shutdown Won’t Affect Most Military Space Activities

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WASHINGTON — Less than 36 hours into a government shutdown, the U.S. Air Force reiterated that its space activities are crucial to national security and will continue during the stoppage.

“Satellite operations are essential to our national security and critical tasks will continue during the government shutdown,” Capt. Adam Gregory, a spokesman for the secretary of the Air Force, wrote in an email to SpaceNews Oct. 2. Day-to-day satellite operations, such as those for missile warning, secure military communications and navigation, are performed by the military, he said.

Gregory also said he did not expect the shutdown to delay any upcoming Defense Department launches or have any “significant impacts” to developmental programs. The Pentagon’s launch manifest for the remainder of the year includes the Air Force’s fifth GPS-2F positioning, navigation and timing satellite, which is slated to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket Oct. 23.

“We do not anticipate any impacts to upcoming National Security Space launches,” Gregory wrote. “Civilians involved with critical launch activities were exempted from the furlough.”

As a result of the shutdown, which is due to Congress’ failure to pass a spending bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, government employees deemed “nonessential” have been placed on unpaid furlough.

In shutdown planning documents prepared in September, Defense Department officials said activities such as “command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities required to support national or military requirements necessary for national security” would be exempted from the stoppage. 

Additionally, “activities required to operate, maintain, assess and disseminate the collection of intelligence data necessary to support tactical and strategic indications and warning systems and military operations requirements” would also be exempted.

Contractors working under a fully funded contract or one awarded prior to Oct. 1 may continue to provide services, whether or not the activities are exempted, the documents said. New contracts may not be executed unless they are specifically exempted.

“We do not anticipate significant impacts to developmental programs; however, we will continue to evaluate impacts depending on the length of the shutdown,” Gregory wrote.

Frank Slazer, vice president of space systems for the Aerospace Industries Association, an advocacy group here, said Oct. 1 he heard from members that many government offices were open but not fully staffed. The shutdown’s impact on the aerospace industry depends in part on how Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel classifies certain activities, he said.

In a statement Oct. 1, Jen Allen, a spokeswoman for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, the nation’s biggest space and defense contractor, said any effects on operations, subcontractors and their workforce would depend on individual contract terms.

“Lockheed Martin is disappointed that an agreement could not be reached to avert a government shutdown, and we are hopeful for a quick resolution,” the statement said. “Unless we are directed otherwise by our customers, our facilities will remain open, and our employees will continue to receive their pay and benefits.”

Lockheed Martin executives announced Oct. 4 the company had identified approximately 3,000 employees for furlough on Oct. 7 because of the impasse.

Leaders at the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado and at the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) at Los Angeles Air Force Base took to social media Oct. 1 to reassure employees during the shutdown.

“We remain committed to providing the best support we can for the SMC team and will do our best within the guidelines we’ve been given to maintain the high-level of service we take pride in providing,” a posting on SMC’s Facebook page read.