What's Happening in Space Policy April 3-7, 2017

What's Happening in Space Policy April 3-7, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of April 3-7, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week (then will be in recess for the subsequent two weeks).

During the Week

THE BIG SPACE EVENT this week is, of course, the Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.  Between all the conference sessions and side events, the entire breadth of space activities — domestic and international — is covered.  There is far too much going on to summarize in this brief article, and the majority of activities require people to be on site, but one event that has been announced by the United Launch Alliance will be webcast and might pique some interest.  On Tuesday at 10:30 am Mountain Time (12:30 pm Eastern), ULA will have a panel discussion on its “vision of a self-sustained space economy within the confines of CisLunar space.”  ULA CEO Tory Bruno will be there along with representatives of AIAA, Made in Space, Offworld, and the Air Force Academy.   Other companies are likely to make big announcements at the Space Symposium, too, so stay tuned throughout the week!

Also in the western part of the United States and also on Tuesday, NASA/Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) will hold a press conference on the beginning of the end for the much-loved Cassini spacecraft that has been studying Saturn, its rings and its moons since 2004.  Cassini is running out of fuel and to ensure that it does not crash into and contaminate any of those moons — especially Titan or Enceladus where some scientists believe the conditions for life exist — JPL is commanding Cassini to “crash” into Saturn itself instead.  Saturn is a gaseous planet so “crash” isn’t the right word, but atmospheric forces should destroy it.  To get as much science as possible, Cassini will make 20 deep dives into the Saturnian atmosphere over the next several months collecting data on the unexplored gap between the planet and its rings.  The first is scheduled for April 26; the last on September 15.  The press conference will be webcast.

Meanwhile, back here in Washington, the House is scheduled to take up the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act (H.R. 353) again, this time to approve amendments added by the Senate before it passed that chamber last week.  The bill was largely written in the 114th Congress and the House made quick work of reintroducing it in the 115th Congress and passing it on January 9.  This latest iteration omits a controversial watershed study that held up passage last year and makes a few changes to the House-passed version. The provisions regarding NOAA’s weather satellite programs remain the same. The bill currently is on the House suspension calendar for Tuesday.  Bills on that calendar are expected to pass easily.

Behind the scenes, work will continue to determine the path forward for FY2017 appropriations.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) keeping the government open at the moment expires on April 28.  Since the House and Senate will be on spring break for the middle two weeks of the month, they have this week and the last week in April to decide what they’re going to do.  Although there is a Republican president in the White House now instead of a Democrat, budget politics have not changed very much — it’s just that now it is some Democrats threatening a shutdown instead of Republicans.  The arguments are the same — Republicans want to increase defense spending.  Period.  Democrats insist that if defense will get more, then non-defense also should get more and definitely should not be cut the way the Trump Administration has proposed for FY2018.  

The battle right now, however, is over the rest of FY2017, which began on October 1, 2016 so is half over already.  The appropriations committees had pretty much decided what to do with FY2017, but President Trump has submitted a FY2017 supplemental request for an additional $30 billion in defense spending and $3 billion for Homeland Security that would be partially offset by $18 billion in cuts to non-defense programs.  Since only 5 months will remain in FY2017 at the end of April, those cuts would have a dramatic impact since they would have to be absorbed in such a short period of time.  Bottom line?  It’s a familiar quandary.  Will they pass another CR through the end of the year or an omnibus bill that combines 11 of the 12 regular appropriations bills?  (One, and only one, FY2017 appropriations bill passed already — Military Construction/Veterans Administration.  It was incorporated into the first CR passed last fall.)  Or will they pass nothing and much of the government will come to a halt?  With the level of discord within the Republican Party not to mention between Republicans and Democrats, we’re not making any prognostications.

Funding the government through CRs is harshly criticized by everyone, which may come as a surprise considering how often it is done (because they can’t reach agreement on anything else).   The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) wants to emphasize just how bad another CR would be for DOD and is holding a hearing specifically on that topic Wednesday morning: “Damage to the Military from a Continuing Resolution.”  Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miley, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson are the witnesses.  A high-powered panel to be sure. 

The House passed a revised FY2017 defense appropriations bill in March, actually, and it is conceivable that bill alone could pass with the other 10 wrapped into an omnibus or extended by a CR.  Congress has a number of options to work with, the key is getting sufficient votes to pass one of them.  At the moment, the Senate still needs 60 votes to pass an appropriations bill (meaning at least 8 Democrat/Independent aye votes).  In the House, the Freedom Caucus objects to the total level of government spending, so the House Republican leadership may well need Democratic votes to get anything passed.  Which has been true for some time. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for any we learn about later and add to our Events of Interest list.   [For those of you wondering what’s happening with the postponed OA-7 launch we mentioned last week, a NASA official said at a NASA Advisory Council meeting that it will not launch before mid-April.  A specific launch date and associated dates for pre-launch briefings have not been announced.]

Monday-Thursday, April 3-6

Monday-Friday, April 3-7

Tuesday, April 4

Wednesday, April 5

Thursday, April 6


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