Late last night the Senate passed the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill, after the House approved the final compromise version of the bill last week. The giant bill covers a wide range of Department of Defense (DOD) policy issues, including some related to space.
One major military space policy issue included in the bill deals with the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office, a DOD office whose future has been uncertain in recent years as the Air Force sought to close it. The final bill keeps the ORS Office alive, setting side 50 percent of the funds for another program, a space-based infrared systems modernization testbed, “until the Executive Agent for Space of the Department of Defense certifies to the congressional defense committees that the Secretary of Defense is carrying out the Operationally Responsive Space Program Office.” The bill also requires the DOD to prepare a report no later than 60 days after its enactment to identify a “potential mission that would seek to leverage all policy objectives of the Operationally Responsive Space Program in a single mission.”
On a related topic, the bill requires the DOD to undertake a study on responsive, low-cost launch options, reviewing past and current efforts, a technology assessment for such systems, and the military utility of such systems. The report will also look at other “innovative methods” of achieving the goals of responsive launch, such as secondary payload opportunities on existing launch vehicles. That report is due in one year; the Government Accountability Office (GAO) will then perform a 60-day review of that report. This study comes at a time when DARPA is supporting two separate efforts to develop responsive low-cost launch systems, Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) and the new, larger Experimental Spaceplane 1 (XS-1) program.
The bill also addresses larger launch vehicles. A section of the bill requires the Secretary of the Air Force to develop a plan for allowing new entrants into the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, which the Air Force has already indicated a willingness to allow. The plan must include “a general description of how the Secretary will conduct competition with respect to awarding a contract to certified evolved expendable launch vehicle providers,” including cost, schedule, performance, and mission assurance attributes. The plans also must take into account the effect of other contracts potential contracts have, “including the evolved expendable launch vehicle launch capability contract, the space station commercial resupply services contracts, and other relevant contracts regarding national security space and strategic programs.”
Several other sections of the bill deal with Congress’s concerns about threats to US satellites. One section requires the head of US Strategic Command to provide notification to Congress within 48 hours of any “intentional attempt by a foreign actor to disrupt, degrade, or destroy a United States national security space capability,” with a more detailed report to follow 10 days after that attempt. Another section requires a study by the National Research Council on ways to deal with near- and long-term threats to national security space systems. And yet another section requires the Defense Department to prepare a report on its “space control mission,” including its existing and planned space situational awareness (SSA) sensors and SSA data sharing practices.
The commercial satellite communications industry also got something they have long sought in the bill. One section of the report directs the Defense Department to develop a strategy for multi-year procurement of commercial satellite services, including any changes in law required to make multi-year deals for such services. Currently the DOD procures commercial satellite communications bandwidth on short-term leases, typically at higher costs than if they leased capacity on a long-term basis. Many satellite operators had been pressing the DOD to make use of multi-year deals, arguing it saved the government money while lessening uncertainty for the operators, who don’t know how much capacity they should expect the DOD to buy from year to year. The bill would also look at greater use of government hosted payloads on commercial satellites.