Congress, NASA, Pentagon

Hearings hearings hearings

If you like Congressional hearings (and who doesn’t?), then today’s your day. The most obvious space-related hearing is the one by the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee on the NASA budget. NASA administrator Mike Griffin is the sole witness scheduled to testify; it will be his first opportunity to discuss the FY08 budget request, and perhaps the effects of the final FY07 budget on NASA, before Congress.

(The same subcommittee also has a couple hearings of interest scheduled for next month: one on Earth sciences research on March 7 and one on “Transitioning to a Next Generation Human Space Flight System” on March 28.)

There are, though, a couple of other hearings today with tangential space policy relevance. This morning the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the Air Force FY08 budget, with the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff scheduled to testify; there may be questions about military space programs and/or the effects of the China ASAT test.

Wednesday afternoon the new Antitrust Task Force of the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Competition and the Future of Digital Music”. What does that have to do with space? One of the witnesses will be Sirius Satellite Radio CEO Mel Karmazin, who will be asked about his company’s plans to merge with rival XM Satellite Radio; the hearing was announced in the wake of last week’s merger news. Some see the XM-Sirius merger effort as a pathfinder for a much bigger space business deal: a second attempt at a merger between satellite TV companies EchoStar and DirecTV. If the XM-Sirius merger founders on antitrust worries (there is also a separate, and perhaps bigger, FCC regulatory hurdle that merger has to overcome), then it seems unlikely a DirecTV-EchoStar deal would pass muster. If XM-Sirius does go through, though, don’t be surprised to see a DirecTV-EchoStar merger deal, with better odds of passage than their effort several years ago. That would have ripple effects on the industry, including satellite manufacturers and launch service providers as well as their component suppliers, further down the road.

10 comments to Hearings hearings hearings

  • Today’s space subcommittee hearing will be broadcast on NASA TV at 14:30 ET.

  • Thanks, ciclops!

    Regarding the Sirius / XM merger, I think this is hardly “tangental,” and has major negative implications for both the media and the space industry. As a shareholder in both companies, and a customer of Sirius (with subscriptions for my partner’s car, home, work, and my partner’s ranch), I see very little advantage for anyone.

    I like having the choice, and it’s clear the services are different. (The majority of people who have a choice by not getting it with their car choose Sirius.) If one company were to drop the BBC, for example, I could go to the other one. Also, as pointed out in Av Week, if the services combined, they would probably go with XM’s newer satellites (which will last longer), and may abandon Sirius more effective constallation (which, by looking straight down on the United States requires far fewer repeaters and works better in truly rural areas).

    More importantly for us, such a combination would reduce the market for both satellites and launch vehicles.

    Since both companies have stated up front that they are viable separately (and I see no reason to doubt that), they should remain separate.

    — Donald

  • anonymous

    I’m also a Sirius subscriber, and from a subscriber’s perspective, I’d prefer to have one service with more channel choices and content, rather than be forced to choose between two unique sets of sports, comedy, shock jock, and music offerings (although some of these channels will inevitably get consolidated in the merger). The red-blooded sports fan should be able to get both MLB (or NHL) and NFL (or NASCAR) coverage without having to subscribe to two different services, for example. Same goes for the degenerate shock listener who has to choose between Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony and the all-American female listener who has to choose between Martha Stewart and Oprah.

    From a financial perspective, neither company is near bankruptcy, but neither company is profitable or predicting profitability soon. Unless there’s a merger, it appears that one or the other company will eventually be driven out of business. Again, as a subscriber, I’d prefer to retain most of my current service’s content in a merger rather than risk losing it all in a bankruptcy a couple years down the road.

    Same goes for any capital I have in either company as an investor (although I’m not an investor in either company). I’d much rather be an investor in a profitable cable company with local monopolies, for example, than in a satellite radio business with two, near-equal, non-profitable competitors who are knocking each other and my stock value senseless with new customer acquisition costs.

    No doubt this will mean fewer comsats and launches in the near-term, but this business was always going to be a small fraction of the overall comsat market. Over the long-term, one, healthy, merged satellite radio company will probably provide greater opportunities for network and coverage expansion (e.g., international expansion) than one bankrupt loser and another, near-bankrupt survivor.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for head-to-head market competition. But sometimes the market just doesn’t support it and a different market model is needed. After many futile years of chasing profitability at both companies, I think that’s the case here.

    My 2 cents… FWIW…

  • I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree again. The two companies appear fairly evenly matched, so neither is likely to disappear in the immediate future, and I don’t think the profitability picture is quite as grim as you do. More importantly, the intense competition between the two companies is part of what’s driving the intense innovation in both receivers and (to a much lessor degree) content. Also, if their were a real prospect of greater niche programming, I’d be more receptive, but why do we need sixty chennels of rock music instead of thirty? — which I think is the probable outcome.

    Ultimately, I’m a believer in competition (far more so, I sometimes think, than some of the folks here on the political right), and I see few benefits and many dangers in the advent of ever larger corporations and the consequent reductions in variety and competition.

    — Donald

  • anonymous

    On the NASA budget hearing, not surprisingly, Griffin & Co. are staying the course on Ares 1, with a 4-6 month slip in Ares 1/Orion operability, almost certainly to 2015. Senators Hutchison and Nelson asked Griffin for estimates to alleviate that slip (or even bring it further to the left). But this is authorizations, and both Senators also expressed interest in additional Shuttle flights to better outfit the ISS. So it’s far from clear that their requests will result in larger appropriations for Ares 1/Orion. It will be more relevant to the eventual 2008 budget outcome to see what the appropriators ask about in their hearings.

    Perhaps most telling was Griffin’s statement to the effect “I’m not worried about the Moon right now. I’m worried about replacing the Space Shuttle.”

  • anonymous

    “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree again.”

    Just to be clear, I wouldn’t pretend to handicap whether the regulators will approve the merger. I have no insight into that world, and this deal is rather new territory anyway. Your preferred scenario may very well win out in the end.


  • anonymous

    “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree again.”

    Just to be clear, I wouldn’t pretend to handicap whether the regulators will approve the merger, or what conditions the regulators will attach to the merger. I have no insight into that world, and this deal is rather new territory anyway. Your preferred scenario may very well win out in the end.


  • Anonymous: I wouldn’t pretend to handicap whether the regulators will approve the merger, or what conditions the regulators will attach to the merger

    Me neither!

    BTW, here is a good anthology site for information about the Satellite Radio industry.

    — Donald

  • Breaking News !

    Rome Burns! Space Policy Neros Fiddle!

  • satellite radio is cool coz you can have a signal anywhere,’,

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