What’s Happening in Space Policy April 7-13, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy April 7-13, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of April 7-13, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

There are so many candidates for “pick of the week” that we can’t possibly choose just one.

Our top four: the total solar eclipse tomorrow (Monday), the final Delta IV Heavy launch on Tuesday, the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs Monday-Thursday, and for die-hard policy nerds, the return of Congress with a Damoclean sword hanging over House Speaker Mike Johnson and imminent changes to the leadership of the House Appropriations Committee.

The solar eclipse will be awesome, literally, for those with clear skies. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is for a lot of clouds along the diagonal path of totality from Mexico through Texas to Maine and Canada.

The weather folks are leaving a ray of hope that it might be OK because clouds are difficult to forecast and the viewing could be better than expected. Time will tell. Here in the D.C. area it will take place 2:04-4:33 pm ET with maximum (89 percent) coverage at 3:20 pm ET. We’re expecting partly sunny skies. The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang has a very useful guide. (It says 87 percent coverage, but we’ve seen 89 percent elsewhere.)

Nothing compares to experiencing totality, true, but for the millions of us who can’t or don’t want to sit in traffic for hours, a partial eclipse is nifty, too. DON’T FORGET TO WEAR SPECIALLY DESIGNED ECLIPSE GLASSES. NEVER look directly at the Sun. Sunglasses are NOT sufficient. If you don’t have eclipse glasses, the Post has three clever ideas for other ways to safely view it, like making a pinhole projector using a cereal box, aluminum foil, tape, and a small nail or pushpin.

Also don’t forget NASA has citizen science opportunities for you to collect science data while you’re experiencing the eclipse. NASA will have a livestream of the eclipse on NASA+ beginning at 1:00 pm ET.

On Tuesday, ULA will make a second attempt to launch the final Delta IV Heavy. It’s taken them this long to fix the problem that scrubbed the first try on March 28 just 3 minutes and 58 seconds before the scheduled liftoff. They said at the time it was “an issue with a liquid pump failure on the gaseous nitrogen pipeline which provides pneumatic pressure to the launch vehicle systems.”  ULA has said very little since then except for a March 31 post on X by ULA President Tory Bruno that the  gaseous nitrogen (GN2) pipeline is operated by NASA for several pads, not only this one (SLC 37): “Not really a SLC 37 problem. NASA operates a GN2 pipeline as a service to several pads. And, yes, there is a ‘gas meter’ so companies pay for what they use. The issue is with pumps on that pipeline. They are working it hard right now.” They later set April 9 at 12:53 pm ET as the new date/time. The weather forecast is 85 percent favorable. Presumably they again have a four-hour launch window.

ULA’s last Delta IV Heavy waiting to launch NROL-70. Photo credit: ULA

The Delta IV Heavy, or DIVH, is launching a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office designated NROL-70. This is the last launch of a Delta rocket, which has evolved considerably since the first in 1960. ULA has a nice video tracing the history. ULA is replacing Delta and Atlas with the new Vulcan, which had its first launch in January.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy will give a keynote address at the Space Symposium on Tuesday that will air on NASA TV.

The Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium gets fully underway in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, too, though officially it starts tomorrow. Associated events began yesterday.

As always it’s a massive conference that brings together the civil, commercial and national security space sectors, both U.S. and international. There’s a paid virtual option for those who can’t make the trip.

Government and corporate officials use the occasion to make major announcements and highlight new initiatives. NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy will be there on Tuesday, for example, to discuss NASA’s “integrated approach to foster the long-term sustainability of the space environment.” Her talk (12:30 pm ET) and a panel discussion led by Associate Administrator Jim Free on Wednesday (5:45 pm ET) will be broadcast on NASA TV.  Melroy’s talk is scheduled for only 20 minutes, ending at 12:50 pm ET, so should be over just in time to switch on ULA’s Delta IV Heavy webcast for the launch 3 minutes later.

Lots and lots and lots of other luminaries will speak during the week. We’ll let you peruse the agenda yourselves to decide what’s of most interest.

As for Congress, the House and Senate return to work after a two-week spring break. They finally finished FY2024 appropriations before they left and now get to begin FY2025 deliberations in earnest. That’s in addition to all the other issues on their plate including the two supplemental appropriations bills that remain pending: the national security supplemental with aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and the domestic supplemental that includes money for NASA’s ISS deorbit tug.

However, the House is facing a rocky restart as continued Republican intra-party divisions threaten to bring the chamber to a halt once again.

As the House was getting ready to adjourn on March 22, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) took the first step in trying to oust Johnson as Speaker because, among other things, she objects to his working with Democrats to pass the FY2024 appropriations bills. A second step is needed before the House would have to take action on her “motion to vacate” and she declines to say exactly when she’ll do that, leaving the threat hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles. Her motion is the same mechanism the House Freedom Caucus used to remove Kevin McCarthy last fall which halted all action in the House for three weeks as they fought over who would replace him. Johnson eventually won and now could end up in the same position unless he acquieses.

One of Greene’s demands is that he not allow a vote on aid to Ukraine. The Senate passed their bill — the national security supplemental — on February 12 by a wide, bipartisan margin (67-32). Johnson does, in fact, refuse to bring that to the House for a vote, but is crafting one of his own. Reports that he plans to bring it up as soon as this week prompted a warning from Greene in an interview with CNN that if he does that might be the tipping point. Whether she will move forward and whether she has enough support to prevail are open questions, but it portends an arduous year ahead in the House, especially for appropriations.

Not to mention that the same day Greene filed her motion to vacate, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) who chairs the House Appropriations Committee told Johnson she’s stepping down from that role as soon as a successor is appointed. She’s retiring at the end of the Congress. Recognizing that the chances are pretty small that the appropriations bills will get done by then since this is a presidential election year, she wants her successor to start now and shepherd the bills through the entire process. The House Republican Caucus will choose a new chair and that could happen this week, but Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) is calling for a delay according to Roll Call. Another intra-party fight. Granger is still chair and they are holding hearings this week, but it’s another complication for the appropriations process.

U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Salzman will testify to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Tuesday about the FY2025 budget request.

Over in the Senate, appropriations proceeded in an orderly manner last year and hearings for FY2025 are underway there as well. On Tuesday morning, the Defense Subcommittee will review the request for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Space Force.  Witnesses are Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman.

Separately, the Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on the total DOD budget request at almost exactly the same time with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Comptroller Michael McCord, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. C. Q. Brown.

We’ll also mention that Japanese Prime Minister Kishida is making a state visit here Tuesday-Thursday. He and President Biden will hold a joint press conference on Wednesday. Last week, the head of NASA’s program to develop lunar rovers at Johnson Space Center, Lara Kearney, mentioned that an announcement was expected in “about a week” regarding Japan’s Lunar Cruiser pressurized rover being built by Toyota and JAXA. We’ll be keeping an ear out to hear if that’s on the agenda for this visit. CSIS will preview Kishida’s visit tomorrow morning with the U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and Japan’s Ambassador to the U.S. Yamada Shigeo, but we don’t know whether space cooperation will come up or not. It’ll be webcast.

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 7

Sunday-Monday, April 7-8 (continued from yesterday)

Monday, April 8

Monday-Wednesday, April 8-10

Monday-Thursday, April 8-11

Tuesday, April 9

Wednesday, April 10

Friday, April 12



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