HASC Missile Defense Mark Authorizes SM-3 IB Multiyear, Pushes Boost Phase and Space Sensors
The House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces markup of its portion of the FY ’19 defense authorization bill focused on SM-3 IB multiyear procurement, requiring the director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to begin a program to develop boost phase intercept capabilities and space-based sensors.
The committee’s mark, reported to the full committee on April 26, would authorize the Defense Department to enter into one or more multiyear procurement contracts for the Raytheon [RTN] Standard Missile-2 Block IB missiles. The missiles are deployed on U.S. Aegis Arleigh Burke-class ballistic missile defense destroyers, Japanese Kongo-class ships, and the Aegis Ashore site in Romania. The mark also declassifies MDA's flight test plan.
Relatedly, the bill would require the Secretary of the Navy to include ballistic missile defense ship requirements in all future force structure assessments. (FSA).
Another section of the bill would require the director of the MDA to begin a program to develop boost -phase intercept capabilities in 2019 that are air launched or ship-based, cost effective, and include a kinetic interceptor. The boost-phase is a ballistic missile’s first phase, as it rapidly accelerates and rises to exit the Earth’s atmosphere.
As part of the effort, the subcommittee directs an independent feasibility study for delivering an initial or demonstrated boost-phase capability by the end of 2021. The study would be conducted by a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) covering using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and kinetic interceptors.
The mark allows the MDA to enter into kinetic boost phase intercept partnerships with the Defense Ministries of South Korea and/or Japan and provides support for the agency to keep developing directed energy (DE) efforts that contribute to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) boost-phase intercept in FY ’19.
The subcommittee also gets the ball rolling on a space-based sensor layer for missile defense. It directs the director of MDA to work with the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Commander of Air Force Space Command, and Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to finish a plan and initiate development for a space-based missile defense sensor architecture in FY ’19.
The MDA’s FY ’19 budget request included $54 million to fund the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) satellite operations and sustainment and $16.5 million for the Space-based Kill Assessment (KSA) experiment.
In a Senate subcommittee hearing in March, MDA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves said the threat of hypersonic missiles from Russia and China is driving the MDA’s push for space-based sensors to work in concert with the ground-based ones.
However, the bill limits funding expenditure or obligations to start the space-based program until the plan is submitted to Congress. The mark also requires the MDA director to submit a report to the congressional defense and intelligence committees by January 2019 on options to use other transactional authorities (OTAs) to accelerate development of the architecture.
Another part of the mark requires the under secretary of defense for research and engineering to transfer all research and development efforts and programs that have not reached Milestone B to the MDA if they are expected to be incorporated into the missile defense system or have explicit ballistic missile or hypersonic defense applications. The same section requires the Defense Secretary to notify the defense committees before any unique acquisition authorities in MDA are changed. It also prohibits changing the missile defense requirements generation process managed by STRATCOM.
Notably, the bill would also require the MDA make the quarter and fiscal year execution of planned flight tests unclassified.
“Together with the release of each integrated master test plan of the Missile Defense Agency, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency shall make publicly available a version of each such plan that identifies the fiscal year and the fiscal quarter in which events under the plan will occur,” the subcommittee wrote in the mark.
In February Inside Defense first reported that the agency would no longer announce a public calendar of upcoming missile tests because of a need to “safeguard critical defense information,” aside from a week’s warning to pilots and boat captains. The information was regularly made public before the decision.
The strategic forces subcommittee’s mark also covered limited testing of the Redesigned Kill Vehicle (RKV) and MDA unfunded priorities.
The subcommittee would prohibit any lot production decision for the Redesigned Kill Vehicle until after at least one successful flight intercept test.
The RKV is being developed to replace the Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV) atop the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system’s Ground-Based Interceptors. The bill would allow the Secretary of Defense to waive this requirement in the case of a national security interest, determining the missile threat is advancing so fast the U.S. requires extra capacity in the GMD system by 2023, or the Secretary determines it is appropriate to make a lot production decision in light of an assessment conducted by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).
The bill also requires the MDA Director to submit a report to the congressional defense committees, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the agency’s unfunded priorities list for FY ’20 and ’21 within 10 days of the submission of a budget request to Congress for those years.
Bridenstine Takes Reins Of NASA
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) formally became NASA’s 13th administrator April 23, four days after his controversial nomination narrowly cleared the Senate.
During a swearing-in ceremony at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Bridenstine paid homage to several of his early and recent predecessors and pledged to build on their work.
“I will do my best to serve our storied agency to the utmost of my abilities as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind,” Bridenstine said.
Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, administered the oath of office. He praised Bridenstine, who served on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, “as one of Congress’ most dedicated champions of American space leadership.”
Bridenstine will usher in “what we believe is a new chapter of renewed American leadership in space,” said Pence, who reiterated the Trump administration’s goal of returning humans to the moon by the late 2020s.
The ceremony audience included Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s space panel, and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Bridenstine was confirmed by the Senate April 19 on a party-line 50-49 vote. Democrats said he is too partisan and lacks the management and technical expertise needed to lead a large agency like NASA.
At his confirmation hearing in November, Bridenstine said he has worked with Democrats on space-related issues, such as weather forecasting legislation, and that he would pursue a "consensus agenda" at NASA. While in Congress, he also promoted lunar exploration, small satellites, lightweight launch vehicles, and government purchasing of commercial data and services.
Bridenstine, who resigned his congressional seat a few hours before taking the NASA helm, replaces Robert Lightfoot, who was acting administrator for 15 months.
After the swearing-in, Pence and Bridenstine spoke live with three NASA astronauts who are aboard the International Space Station.
Earlier in the day, Pence swore in Jeff DeWit as the agency’s chief financial officer. DeWit, a former Arizona state treasurer, was confirmed by the Senate by voice vote in March.
Lockheed Martin Awarded $145 Million THAAD Interceptor Contract
The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded Lockheed Martin [LMT] a $145 million modification on May 3 to produce additional Lot 10 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors and associated equipment.
This award increases the total contract to $1.43 billion. It also covers one-shot devices and associated product support efforts under the larger fix-price incentive-firm target contract.
A Lockheed Martin spokesperson confirmed this order covers 16 THAAD interceptors for the U.S. government.
Work is expected to be finished by August 2021 with full procurement funding obligated at award time.
Relatedly, the MDA awarded Lockheed Martin an $18 million modification options to produce additional Missile Round Pallets-Transportable (MRP-T) for the THAAD system.
This second award increases that separate parent contract value to $996 million. Work is expected to be finished by December 2021 and all procurement funds were obligated at award time.
House OKs Bill To Create One-Stop Shop For Commercial Space Activity
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a bill that would create a “one-stop shop” in the Commerce Department’s Office of Space Commerce to authorize private-sector space activity, including exploration and remote sensing.
The House passed the proposed American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act (H.R. 2809) by voice vote April 24. The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration.
Federal oversight of private space activities is now spread across several agencies, creating a burdensome and legally uncertain environment that has hampered the ability of U.S. firms to receive government approval of payloads, said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which approved the bill in June.
The bill, which Smith introduced, would streamline the approval process and "give space exploration a booster rocket," he said.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee’s ranking member, criticized the legislation, saying it would make more sense to house the regulatory authority in the Transportation Department, which has more space expertise than the Commerce Department.
Johnson also expressed concern that the bill’s “ambiguity” could hamper NASA, whose use of commercial services might face new oversight by another agency. If NASA indeed faces such a requirement, it "could adversely impact its ability to carry out its challenging initiatives," she said.
She expressed hope that the bill will be changed before becoming law.
DARPA Sees Strong Interest In Competition To Spur Rapid Space Launches
More than 20 teams have indicated they might participate in the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA’s) Launch Challenge, a competition designed to promote rapid access to space for the Department of Defense, the agency said May 7.
During the challenge, which is slated for late 2019, each participant will be expected to launch a payload into low Earth orbit (LEO) on days’ notice, then conduct a second launch to LEO days later from a different site. DARPA plans to award tens of millions of dollars in prizes to the top performers.
“The launch environment of the future will more closely resemble airline operations — with frequent launches from myriad locations worldwide," the agency said. "DARPA seeks to accelerate capabilities that are unconstrained to allow for flexibility and resilience, rather than one-of-a-kind, fixed infrastructure."
DARPA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which licenses commercial space launches, plan to brief potential participants on the challenge during a May 23 industry day in Los Angeles. More than 100 people have already registered to attend.
The challenge is not DARPA's only effort to promote rapid space access. Almost a year ago, the agency tapped Boeing [BA] to design, build and test the XS-1, an unmanned, reusable spaceplane that will fly 10 times in 10 days. The XS-1 is now called the Experimental Space Plane (XSP).
Moon Efforts Won’t Hurt Mars Goal, NASA Head Says
The Trump administration’s new push to return humans to the Moon will not come at the expense of efforts to send American astronauts to Mars, according to NASA's new leader.
While NASA recently released a draft solicitation seeking industry help in sending payloads to the Moon, that step should not be interpreted as a sign that the agency is deemphasizing Mars, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said May 9 at the Humans to Mars Summit.
“If some of you are concerned that our focus in the coming years is the Moon, don’t be,” he told the audience. “The president’s vision has emphasized that our exploration campaign will establish American leadership in the human exploration of Mars. We are doing both the Moon and Mars in tandem, and the missions are supportive of each other.”
Bridenstine said that returning to the Moon will prove out advanced technologies needed to go to Mars as well, including precision-landing systems, methane-fueled engines, orbital and surface habitation, surface mobility and long-duration life support.
The administration announced in October that it intends to send astronauts to the Moon to lay groundwork for manned missions to Mars and other deep-space destinations. NASA aims to dispatch humans to the Moon by the late 2020s and to Mars in the 2030s.
Bridenstine told the summit that NASA continues to pursue Mars-focused activities that will support manned missions to the Red Planet. For example, he noted that InSight, a recently launched Mars lander, is designed to provide a better understanding of the Red Planet by studying its seismic activity, wobbles and interior heat flows.
“InSight is going to help us better understand the risks to humans, so that when we go, we’ll be better informed and better prepared,” he said.
InSight, which Lockheed Martin [LMT] Space built for NASA, lifted off on a United Launch Alliance(ULA) Atlas 5 rocket May 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It is expected to reach Mars in late November.
NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is scheduled for a July 2020 launch, will also support sending humans to Mars. It will include the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE), “a critical human-mission precursor payload” that “will demonstrate for the first time our ability to process oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere," Bridenstine said.
Mars 2020, which will lift off on an Atlas 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will also include hardware to prepare for an eventual Mars sample-return mission. Returning Martian samples to Earth will aid human exploration of the Red Planet, Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine, a former congressman, became NASA administrator in late April, replacing acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot.