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SpaceX Rocket Crashes

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, June 29 NASA Administrator Charles Bolden issued a statement on the loss Sunday of the SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission.

Administrator Bolden said, “We are disappointed in the loss of the latest SpaceX cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. However, the astronauts are safe aboard the station and have sufficient supplies for the next several months. We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight. The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system.”

Administrator Bolden said that, “A Progress vehicle is ready to launch July 3, followed in August by a Japanese HTV flight. Orbital ATK, our other commercial cargo partner, is moving ahead with plans for its next launch later this year.”

Bolden said that NASA has not lost confidence in SpaceX, “SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station, and we know they can replicate that success. We will work with and support SpaceX to assess what happened, understand the specifics of the failure and correct it to move forward. This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our ambitious human spaceflight program.”

On Sunday, June 28 the SpaceX CRS-7 mission was launched from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  The unmanned ship exploded shortly into its flight.

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Also on Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that SpaceX’s next Falcon 9 rocket launch on has been postponed.  The launch was supposed to deliver NOAA’s Jason-3 Earth observation satellite to orbit, and was scheduled for August 9th.

Until Sunday’s disappointment SpaceX has had seven successful missions to the International Space Station (ISS), including six official resupply missions for NASA,    

Meanwhile an Atlas V rocket is scheduled to launch the GPS IIF-10 for the U.S. Air Force on Wednesday, July 15, from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. 

The U.S. military uses GPS satellites to provide navigational assistance for U.S. military operations on land, at sea, and in the air. Civilian users around the world also use and depend on GPS for highly accurate time, location, and velocity information. The GPS IIF-10 is a next-generation GPS satellite which incorporates various improvements to provide greater accuracy, increased signals, and enhanced performance for users.  The launch will be the 55th for the Atlas V launch since the vehicle’s inaugural launch in 2002 and the 27th flight of the 401 configuration.  The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has come under fire from Congress for its reliance on Russian built rocket engines.

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On Friday, June 26 ULA CEO Tony Bruno testified that uncertainty in the National Defense Authorization Act could potentially eliminate competition and jeopardize assured American access to space.

CEO Tory Bruno testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces chaired by Congressman Mike Rogers (R from Saks).  Congress has wanted to move toward American built rocket engines and away from the Russian built RD-180.  Bruno said that the company needed more time to ensure a smooth transition to a domestic rocket engine. “To end use of the RD-180 engine and make commercial investments in a new engine and system that will meet our national launch requirements, ULA needs the ability to compete into the next decade.”  Bruno said, “The House has correctly addressed concern over the RD-180 engine by allowing ULA to use engines already on contract while prohibiting additional purchases, which reflects the original intent of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act.”

ULA has signed agreements with Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop American built engines for its next-generation launch vehicle, Vulcan.

Bruno warned however that a new engine requires six to eight years to develop, test, certify and prepare for operational missions.  Also the new engine would not be a direct replacement of the Russian RD-180 and would require significant booster redesign.  Bruno said, “One cannot just plug a new ‘form-fit-function’ engine into a rocket and expect system reliability.  Neither engine under development by our partners would automatically work as a one-to-one replacement.”

Bruno said that ULA fully supports competition in the launch industry, but warned against giving SpaceX a monopoly because of ULA’s inability to import RD-180s from Russia.

Bruno told Congress, “We welcome competition on a fair and level playing field. However, if the current law is not modified, America will not have assured access to space and competition will have been unintentionally eliminated, giving the new entrant a monopoly.”  “ULA would like to continue its stellar service to our nation’s warfighter and intelligence community, but can only do so if the replacement for the Atlas V is cost competitive.”

Burno said that ULA needs to be able to use all of the engines currently on contract with Russia to allow for a smooth transition to an American-made engine.  Bruno said that ULA plans to retire the Delta IV Medium launch vehicle to eliminate the costs of maintaining two infrastructures and develop an American-made engine that provides 35 percent greater performance over the RD-180

Bruno said, “I am optimistic about the future of space launch, what my company does for this nation, and the great things that come from investing in American ingenuity to advance our space needs.” “ULA is proud of the combined century of Atlas and Delta launch heritage, and we are transforming to continue to be the nation’s provider with a more capable, more affordable next-generation launch vehicle.”

ULA said in a statement that since its inception in 2006, ULA has launched 96 missions with 100 percent mission success. ULA said that the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets are the more powerful and reliable in the world and are the only rockets that fully meet the needs of the U.S. national security community.

Chairman Mike Rogers said in a statement before the hearing, “The clock is ticking – our reliance on Russian rocket engines for national security space launches is ending.  It is not the time to fund new launch vehicles, or new infrastructure, or rely on unproven technologies.  It is the time for the Pentagon to harness the power of the American industrial base, and move with purpose and clarity in order to swiftly develop an American rocket propulsion system that ends our reliance on Russia as soon as possible.”

The problems with the SpaceX launch are an unexpected boost for ULA’s case for their being allowed to continue to import Russian built rocket engines.  U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote a letter to Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman John McCain on May 11 asking that Congress amend federal law so the Pentagon can retain “assured access to space”.

Pentagon officials feared that if anything went wrong with the SpaceX rocket that the U.S. military will not be able to launch satellites into space, without a backup option.  They claim that the military will lose access to the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets without being allowed to continue importing the Russian rocket engines.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Boeing Co (BA.N).  SpaceX is owned by Elon Musk, who cofounded Pay Pal and owns Tesla Motors.

In September, SpaceX and Boeing was awarded a $2.6 billion contract to fly astronauts to the ISS and back.  Currently American astronauts have to hitch a ride with the Russians if they want to get into space.  SpaceX’s Dragon rocket was supposed to be the launch vehicle for the Boeing built capsule.  It is not certain at this point how the investigation into Sunday’s launch will affect final development of that manned program. 

The SpaceX/Boeing proposal beat out a proposal by Sierra Nevada to fly its Dream Chaser vehicle to the ISS.  The Dream Chaser is currently investigating using the Huntsville International Airport for its landings and either a ULA Saturn V rocket for launch or a very big plane……that hasn’t been designed yet to get it into space.  

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.

Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

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A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

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The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

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Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

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The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

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Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

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Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

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Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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