What’s Happening in Space Policy April 11-17, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy April 11-17, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of April 11-17, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

After two weeks of a comparatively relaxed schedule, we’re back in the thick of things this week. Remember that our home page shows only the next 20 events and there are more than that this week. Click on “View All Events” to see them all or just keep reading.

Let’s start at Mars. NASA has postponed the first flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter from today until at least Wednesday. The final test on Friday didn’t go as planned, so the Ingenuity team is looking at the data to determine what happened and re-do the test before setting a date for the flight itself.  Earlier last week they successfully did a test spinning the helicopter rotors at 50 rpm. On Friday they wanted to bring them up to the full ~2500 rpm, but the test ended early when a “watchdog timer” alerted the system to a potential issue. Which of course is why they do tests. We’ll have to wait and see when Ingenuity is ready to fly.

Closer to home, crew rotations aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are continuing. Two Russians and an American launched to ISS last Friday on Soyuz MS-18, and a different set of two Russians and one American will return to Earth overnight (EDT) this Friday-Saturday on Soyuz MS-17. There are 10 people aboard ISS at the moment, a rather large group.  It’ll be back to seven by week’s end, but next week (April 22) four more launch on Crew-2, so then there will 11 until the four Crew-1 members come home on April 28.  NASA has TV coverage of it all and LOTS of media briefings in advance of the Crew-2 launch that begin this Thursday. The crew (two Americans, one Japanese, one European) arrives at Kennedy Space Center this Friday.

All this human spaceflight activity started exactly 60 years ago tomorrow with the launch of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961. By coincidence, April 12 is also the 40th anniversary of the first U.S. space shuttle flight (it was supposed to launch on April 10, but was postponed for two days at the last minute). The Gagarin anniversary is celebrated every year by the global Yuri’s Night, which is happening this weekend.  To commemorate this 60th anniversary, the Wilson Center will hold a webinar on Tuesday morning with Asif Siddiqi among the panelists. Asif is author of the seminal book “Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race 1945-1974″ and many other writings about the history of the Soviet space program. We haven’t heard of any events to commemorate the shuttle’s anniversary.

Here on terra firma (mostly in cyberspace, actually) there is a wide range of interesting webinars, a NAC Science Committee meeting, and a few congressional hearings that might touch on space topics though none directly about space.

President Biden released that initial look at his FY2022 budget request for discretionary spending on Friday. The $1.6 trillion request is split $753 billion for defense (of which $715 billion is for DOD) and $769 billion for non-defense activities.

NASA did quite well. The $24.7 billion request is 6.3 percent more than what was appropriated for FY2021. No hearings are scheduled on that yet, though.

NOAA’s satellite programs also got a requested boost. Overall, NOAA funding would increase $1.4 billion over FY2021 (to $6.9 billion) and $500 million of the growth is for satellites. The head of NOAA’s satellite programs, Steve Volz, will testify to the House Appropriations Committee’s Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee on Thursday on NOAA’s role in providing climate services. Volz is also the acting NOAA deputy for environmental observation and prediction and it may be the hearing is more about that broader viewpoint, but hopefully the satellite programs also will be discussed.

House Appropriations’ THUD subcommittee has a hearing later that day on the FY2022 request for the Department of Transportation (DOT).  It does not seem likely the FAA’s space office will come up, but one never knows. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg is the witness and he is a space fan (or at least a Star Trek fan).

The summary of the $715 billion DOD budget request doesn’t contain details about space, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has an unclassified hearing about worldwide threats Wednesday morning (followed by a classified hearing that afternoon) where space threats might get some attention.

Always tough to pick just one or two other events to highlight and this week is no exception. But here goes.

Tomorrow (Monday), the Atlantic Council will have a webinar to release its new report “The Future of Security in Space: A 30-Year U.S. Strategy.” Report co-chairs Gen. James “Hoss” Cartwright (USMC-Ret.) and former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, will be joined by former astronaut and former NASA Administrator Maj. Gen. Charlie Bolden (USMC-Ret.), and Scott Pace, Director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and former Executive Secretary of the Trump Administration’s White House National Space Council.  Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin is the moderator. That will be followed by an interview with NASA astronaut Col. Drew Morgan, and then another panel with Debra Facktor (Airbus U.S. Space & Defense), Ellen Chang (H4X Labs), Gregg Maryniak (XPrize Foundation), Matthew Daniels (Georgetown University), and Jana Robinson (Prague Security Studies Institute).  Jacqueline Feldscher from Politico moderates that panel. Really a stellar line-up!

The CSIS/SWF webinar on Thursday, “Defending Against the Dark Arts in Space,” also should be great. It follows last week’s webinar where the two organizations discussed their complementary reports with a 2020 update on what countries are doing to develop counterspace weapons.  This one will discuss how to defend against them and builds on CSIS’s February report “Defense Against the Dark Art in Space: Protecting Space Systems from Counterspace Weapons.” Panelists include Todd Harrison, the head of CSIS’s Aerospace Security Project; Frank Rose, now with Brookings and formerly the State Department’s assistant secretary for arms control, verification and compliance in the Obama Administration; speakers from India (Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan of the Observer Research Foundation) and the UK (David Edmondson, Policy Head, Space Security and Advanced Threats, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office); and SWF’s Victoria Samson in the moderator’s chair.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below. Check back throughout the week for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar, or updates on these (like the Ingenuity flight).

Monday, April 12

Tuesday, April 13

Wednesday, April 14


Thursday, April 15

Friday, April 16

Friday-Saturday, April 16-17

  • Soyuz MS-17 Return to Earth
    • Undocking from ISS, April 16, 9:34 pm ET (NASA TV begins 9:15 pm ET)
    • Landing, April 17, 12:56 am ET (NASA TV begins 11:30 pm ET April 16)

Saturday, April 17

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