What’s Happening in Space Policy April 5-18, 2020

What’s Happening in Space Policy April 5-18, 2020

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, April 5-18, 2020, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess, except for pro forma sessions, at least until April 20.

During the Weeks

As COVID-19 continues to impact just about everything, when Congress will next meet for legislative business and how it will deal with appropriations and other legislation is up in the air.  At least one other committee (Senate Commerce) is following the lead of the Senate Armed Services Committee with “paper hearings.” The idea is that opening statements of the Chair, Ranking Member, and witnesses are posted online the day of the hearing along with written questions from members. The witnesses have one week to respond in writing and the answers also are posted.  So far none are about space activities.  The House Armed Services Committee’s leadership sent a letter to committee members saying they plan to have the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) ready for committee debate by May 1.  They said they will schedule a markup once the overall House schedule is decided, noting they cannot hold traditional hearings or classified briefings so informal events will have to suffice for drafting the bill. Appropriators are still dealing with COVID-19 relief (a fourth measure is under consideration). When and how they will address the FY2021 bills are question marks.

Meanwhile, the space program marches on as best it can under the circumstances.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent an uplifting message to the NASA workforce from his living room — which his wife has christened “NASA Headquarters” — filmed by his 12-year-old daughter on his iPhone. He’s focused on the future, this summer, when we are “on the back side of this curve” and launching astronauts into space from American soil for the first time since 2011 and the Perseverance rover to Mars. “That’s what we do at NASA, we persevere. … Keep your chin up and let’s keep working hard. Thanks for all you do.”  In an accompanying memo he noted that 75 percent of the workforce is working from home.  The other 25 percent are “mission-essential” and still working on-site at various locations.

NASA made a number of announcements last week, including the surprise reintroduction of the “worm” logo (in addition to, not instead of, the “meatball”).

The big NASA event this week is the launch of the next crew to the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA’s Chris Cassidy and his two Russian crew mates, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome early Thursday morning (ET) and arrive at the ISS when many of us on the East Coast are having our second (or third) cup of coffee.  They’ve been under more rigorous quarantine procedures than usual and their friends and families will not be there for a send-off, but otherwise the mission is proceeding as usual.  Cassidy will participate in a media telecon from the ISS on Friday along with NASA astronauts Drew Morgan and Jessica Meir who are getting ready to return to Earth next week (overnight April 16-17 ET).

NASA advisory committees are still meeting, albeit virtually.  Next week two NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committees will meet: Regulatory and Policy on April 15, and Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) on April 14-15.  The latter is especially eagerly awaited with the expectation of more details about NASA’s current thinking on how to execute the Artemis program.  It originally was scheduled for March 4-5, but postponed.  HEO Mission Directorate head Doug Loverro surprised many just after that by revealing that the agency no longer considers the Gateway as mandatory for the 2024 landing.  A NASA report to the National Space Council released on Thursday added little, so the committee meeting hopefully will be where we learn more.  NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) also meets virtually next week (April 15-17).

Military space activities similarly are moving forward. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett revealed last week the 23 military organizations that will become part of U.S. Space Force (USSF) over the next 3-6 months. Barrett also decided to move up Air Force Academy graduation by a month.  It now is scheduled for April 18, where 64 of the cadets will be directly commissioned into the Space Force. They will join the only other two members of the Space Force at the moment, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond and Chief Master Sergeant Roger Towberman, who was just sworn in on Friday. (The rest of the 16,000 personnel who were part of Air Force Space Command are assigned to USSF, but remain members of the Air Force.  Transferring them to the USSF will take some time.)

Nonprofits are still hard at work, too.  The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Secure World Foundation (SWF) released their separate, but related, reports assessing the growth of threats to U.S. space assets last week.  Tomorrow (Monday), they will hold a joint webinar to discuss them.  The Aerospace Corporation continues its “Space Policy Show” webinar series on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Space News also is holding a webinar on Tuesday.  This one is about the implications of OneWeb’s bankruptcy filing. OneWeb has been one of the companies deploying megaconstellations of small communications satellites to provide 5G services. Another, LeoSat, also folded recently, questioning the financial viability of these companies, including SpaceX’s Starlink. Of the dozen or more companies over the past three decades that attempted to provide mobile communications services using satellites in low- or medium-Earth orbits, few have survived, impacting not only communications satellite manufacturers, but launch services companies that had banked on growing demand. The best known, Iridium, itself went bankrupt and only succeeded after being bought for a fraction of its cost and winning DOD contracts to keep it going long enough to gain a footing in other markets. The webinar features Chris Quilty of Quilty Analytics, Claude Rousseau of Northern Sky Research, Janice Starzyk of Bryce Space & Technology, and Space News’s own Brian Berger and Caleb Henry.  Should be fascinating.

Last but not least, the annual Yuri’s Night global celebration commemorating Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 spaceflight that opened the era of human spaceflight is still on, though virtually via YouTube.  Usually it takes place on April 12, the anniversary of the flight, but this year it is a day earlier ET, a Saturday night.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, April 5, are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

Monday, April 6

Tuesday, April 7

Thursday, April 9

Friday, April 10

Saturday, April 11

Tuesday, April 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, April 14-15

Wednesday, April 15

Wednesday-Friday, April 15-17

Thursday, April 16

Thursday-Friday, April 16-17

  • Soyuz MS-15 Return to Earth, Kazakhstan: undocking, April 16, 9:53 pm ET, landing; April 17, 1:17 am ET.
    • NASA TV coverage of undocking begins April 16, 9:30 pm ET; of deorbit burn and landing, April 17, 12:00 am ET

Saturday, April 18



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