Congress, NASA, Pentagon

Senate committees planning joint hearing on launch issues

A rare joint hearing of subcommittees of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Commerce Committee will examine American reliance on a Russian-manufactured rocket engine and other space access issues next week. The hearing, by Armed Services’ strategic forces subcommittee and Commerce’s space subcommittee, is scheduled for Wednesday, July 16, at 9:30 am. The Commerce Committee titled the hearing “Options for Assuring Domestic Space Access” and the Armed Services Committee calls it “Testimony on Assured Access to Space”; it will take place in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.

According to the Commerce Committee’s description of the hearing, it will “will consider the current state of the U.S. launch enterprise and the risks posed to U.S. space operations by relying on the Russian RD-180 rocket engine.” Also on tap is an examination of “civil, commercial, and national security launch requirements, as well as the potential cost and schedule implications of developing launch systems.”

The joint hearing will feature seven witnesses in two separate panels from government, academia, and companies, although noticeably absent are representatives of any launch providers, such as SpaceX or United Launch Alliance. The lineup:

Witness Panel 1

The Honorable Alan F. Estevez
Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics

General William L. Shelton
USAF, Commander
Air Force Space Command

Mr. Robert M. Lightfoot Jr.
Associate Administrator
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Witness Panel 2

Major General Howard J. Mitchell
USAF (Ret.), Vice President, Program Assessments
The Aerospace Corporation

Mr. Daniel L. Dumbacher
Professor of Practice
Department of Aeronautics and Aerospace Engineering, Purdue University

Dr. Yool Kim
Senior Engineer
RAND Corporation

Ms. Cristina Chaplain
Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management
U.S. Government Accountability Office

9 comments to Senate committees planning joint hearing on launch issues

  • Who is missing from this line up?

    Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “noticeably absent are representatives of any launch providers, such as SpaceX or United Launch Alliance”

    Then what’s the point of the second panel? To avoid actual launch companies so that we can listen to every single inexperienced pontificator on the periphery of the launch business? Do we really think that Dan Dumbacher, a long-time NASA manager who recently bailed on MPCV/SLS and now works in an ivory tower at Purdue, has more relevance to RD-180 replacement or national security launch issues than Michael Gass from ULA or Gwynne Shotwell from SpaceX (or someone from OSC/ATK)?

    Weird and goofy…

    • Dick Eagleson

      Yeah, I don’t have a good feeling about this either. Perhaps no one from SpaceX or Orbtial-ATK was invited for fear they’d say something useful. Given that both companies have launches scheduled just days before the hearing, there might also be reluctance on the part of certain MOC’s to schedule people to testify who each might have just done something useful and instructive by hearing time. Perhaps no one from ULA was invited for fear they’d say something embarrassing.

      I do wonder a bit, though, if maybe this is the first step toward Congress and the DoD taking over remaining RD-180 stocks and rationing Atlas V’s for critical payloads. Might be a few interesting things to see despite the high probability that most of the hearing will be cringe-worthy blather.

  • Crews Giles

    If I am correct in assuming this has to do with the injuction against ULA at the request of SpaceX as concerns the importation of the Russian motor, then the hearing is to discuss alternatives which manage domestic or allied strategic sources.

    I would suspect UAL and SpaceX are not represented because their veiws have to do with marketing advantages against the strategic weakness of the other. In this case, SpaceX will dominate.

    Imam reminded of an article yesterday about the the loss of redundant jet engine supply originally intende for the joint strike fighter, but which is now single sourced and resulting in grounded aircraft.

    • Neil

      Why then is NASA involved? They have nothing to add to this issue.
      Cheers.

      • Dick Eagleson

        Probably because NASA has been a long-time customer for Atlas V’s of various configurations and – barring that rocket’s increasingly probable imminent demise – would have continued to be. With a hat tip to DB9, it probably makes at least a bit more sense for someone currently with NASA to be there than it does for someone like Dumbacher who recently left and wasn’t involved in anything having to do with EELV’s anyway. Of course if the session gets to be about launch capabilities in general and is not specifically limited to EELV’s, Atlas V, RD-180′s and such, then the erstwhile Mr. SLS might have relevance as well.

  • Andrew Swallow

    Three members of Congress have written to NASA to ask about for information about the problems SpaceX has had. Similar problems for Atlas V and Delta IV were not on the list.

    • Dick Eagleson

      That’s because the two Congressmen are both from Colorado and one of them represents the district in which ULA is headquartered. This is obviously ULA calling on politicians to attack their competition as they try to deal simultaneously with the SpaceX lawsuit against the block buy and the likely end of the Atlas V’s RD-180 engine availability. Calling in political interference from U.S. Congressmen won’t be enough to make SpaceX go away and it certainly won’t help their Russian supply chain situation, but, hey, at least it’s something ULA knows how to do; unlike, say, design a new vehicle and engine in time to avoid corporate disaster.

  • Pieter Hoogstad

    I ask Elon Musk to make its rocket engine technology available to any competitor. To open source the SpaceX engine technology, to end this debate about developing a new engine and thereby wasting taxpayers money. Also, this will be hugely beneficial to SpaceX in that they will be the hero of congress, the house, the administration and what have you, not the least the US tax payer. By doing so, SpaceX will still be way ahead of its competition in reuseability and other technologies and its Dragen V2 spacecraft. It would be with the same reasoning as giving Tesla’s patents away. Seems like a darn good idea to me.

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