What’s Happening in Space Policy April 28-May 4, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy April 28-May 4, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of April 28-May 4, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House is in session Monday-Wednesday. The Senate is in session beginning Tuesday.

During the Week

It’s another busy week, though tame by comparison with last week. The big event is China’s launch of Chang’e-6, which will return samples from the farside of the Moon for the first time. That’s not till Friday, though, and there’s lots going on before that.

The action starts early this afternoon (Sunday) with the undocking of SpaceX’s CRS-30 cargo spacecraft from the U.S.-Russian-European-Japanese-Canadian International Space Station. Delayed from Friday due to bad weather in the splashdown area off the coast of Florida, NASA is eager to have it depart because they need the docking port. The CRS-30 Cargo Dragon is at the zenith port of the Harmony module, while the Crew-8 Crew Dragon is at the forward port. Boeing’s Starliner Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, scheduled to launch on May 6, needs to dock at the forward port. So Crew Dragon has to be relocated to the zenith port and can’t do that until Cargo Dragon is gone. The port relocation was supposed to happen on April 30, but has slipped commensurately to May 2.

Two SpaceX Dragon spacecraft docked at the ISS Harmony module.  At top is a Cargo Dragon at the zenith (space-facing) port; on the right the Crew-6 Crew Dragon at the forward port. Photo taken from NASA astronaut Woody Hoburg’s camera during a spacewalk June 9, 2023. Credit: NASA

China’s space station Tiangong-3 is a busy place, too. They are in the middle of a crew exchange. The Shenzhou-18 crew arrived last Thursday to replace Shenzhou-17, which has been aboard for about six months. Tang Hongbo, Tang Shengjie and Jiang Xinlin will return to Earth on Tuesday, landing at the Dongfeng landing site in Inner Mongolia. China hasn’t announced the landing time, but Bob Christy @OrbitalFocus calculates it to be about 09:45 UTC (5:45 am EDT). China’s CGTN network usually provides live coverage of crew launches and landings.

The Shenzhou-17 crew:  Tang Hongbo (center), Tang Shengjie (right) and Jiang Xinlin (left). Credit: Xinhua

Just as newsworthy will be China’s launch of Chang’e-6 on Friday morning on a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island. China is the only country to land a spacecraft on the farside of the Moon. Chang’e-4 with its Yutu-2 rover set down in the Von Karman crater in January 2019. (Chang’e is China’s mythological goddess of the Moon. Yutu is her pet rabbit.) The Moon’s farside always faces away from Earth, so the only way to communicate with a spacecraft there is via a relay satellite. The first Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) relay satellite was launched in advance of Chang’e-4 and continues to support its operations. A second, Queqiao-2, was launched last month in preparation for Chang’e-6.

China returned samples from the nearside of the Moon in December 2020, adding to those collected by U.S. astronauts on six Apollo missions and three Soviet robotic Luna probes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it will be the first to bring back samples from the farside. The goal is to return 2 kilograms from the Apollo crater in the South Pole Aitken Basin.

The Chang’e-6 lunar farside sample return spacecraft encapsulated in the Long March 5 rocket awaiting launch on May 3, 2024. Photo credit (April 27, 2024): Xinhua

Capitol Hill will be busy this week with space-related hearings.

U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman will testify to the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the House Science, Space and Technology  Committee will hear from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson about NASA’s FY2025 budget request and the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will address the request for the Department of the Air Force with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman.  On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hold its annual hearing on the request for national security space programs with DOD’s John Plumb, Air Force Space Acquistion and Integration Assistant Secretary Frank Calvelli, NRO’s Troy Meink, and NGA’s Tonya Wilkerson.  The House and Senate Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittees will hear from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg about DOT’s FY2025 request on Tuesday and Thursday respectively. It’s not clear how much the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation will factor into the discussion.

Diane Howard, National Space Council, is one of the speakers at the Meridian Space Diplomacy Forum on Tuesday.

Among the many other interesting events is the Meridian Space Diplomacy Forum on Tuesday. They have a very impressive line-up of speakers including Diane Howard from the White House National Space Council, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, NASA Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Affairs Karen Feldstein, Gabriel Swiney from NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce, Richard Verma and Valda Vikmanis-Keller from the State Department, former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Inspiration4 astronaut Sian Proctor, representatives from other countries (including Canada, India, Philippines, and Rwanda) and international organizations (Hague Institute for Global Justice, U.N. Office of Outer Space Affairs, and Space in Africa), Matt Ondler and Jared Stout from Axiom Space, and many more. Looks really interesting. A virtual option is available for those who register.

Also on tap this week is the release of the Oxford Handbook of Space Security at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, which is home to the Space Policy Institute whose professors wrote some of the chapters; a Brookings seminar on “Exploring Mars and the Moon” — an interesting title since it’s usually phrased as the Moon and Mars — that includes Professor Emeritus John Logsdon, the founder of GW’s Space Policy Institute; and a Mitchell Institute webinar with Maj. Gen. Gregory Gannon, U.S. Space Force’s Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Intelligence.

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 changes to these.

Sunday, April 28

Tuesday, April 30

Tuesday-Thursday, April 30-May 2

Wednesday, May 1

Thursday, May 2

Friday, May 3


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