What’s Happening in Space Policy August 1-7, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy August 1-7, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of August 1-7, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week. The House is in recess except for pro forma sessions until mid-September, although there are committee work days before that.

During the Week

This week’s Big Event is last week’s Big Event — the launch of Boeing’s Starliner commercial crew spacecraft on its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission. NASA and Boeing postponed the launch, which had been set for Friday, because of the disruption caused by the docking of Russia’s Nauka (Science) module to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday.

To recap, about three hours after docking, a Russian “short-term software error” directed Nauka to undock and it started firing its engines to move away from ISS. But it was still docked so the entire space station started moving and lost its orientation (attitude). It took about an hour for ground controllers to get it back where it needed to be using engines on two other attached Russian spacecraft (the Zvezda Service Module and the Progress MS-17 cargo ship). NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, publicly downplayed the incident and stressed the seven-person ISS crew was never in danger, but a NASA Flight Director shared his more blunt views about the experience from the vantage point of mission control in Houston.

The ISS and commercial crew teams agreed that was not a propitious time to send yet another spacecraft to ISS. All is well now, though, and launch is scheduled for Tuesday, August 3, at 1:20 pm ET. If it goes as planned (the weather forecast is 60 percent “go”), a post-launch press conference will take place about 3:30 pm ET. Starliner OFT-2 will dock on August 4, with hatch opening on August 5, and undocking and return to Earth on August 9.

As it so happens, the annual ISS Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC) is taking place (virtually) Tuesday-Thursday. The schedule calls for NASA’s ISS program manager Joel Montalbano, Boeing VP and Program Manager for ISS John Mulholland, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to open the conference at 9:45 am ET on Tuesday. Hopefully that won’t change now that the OFT-2 launch is that afternoon. Check the conference’s website for any revisions to the agenda.

The entire three days is chock-full of really interesting sessions including “conversations” with National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins and astronaut Kate Rubins (Tuesday), and Under Secretary of the Smithsonian for Science and Research (and former NASA Chief Scientist) Ellen Stofan and NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen (Wednesday). Panels include “The Next Decade of ISS Research” moderated by Jeff Foust of Space News, “In-Space Production Applications in the Low Earth Orbit Economy” moderated by NASA’s Alex MacDonald, “Tissue Chips in Space” moderated by CASIS Acting Chief Scientist and VP Michael Roberts, “Investing in Space Startups: Opportunities and Challenges” moderated by BryceTech’s Carissa Christensen, “SBIRs in Space” moderated by CASIS Director of Investment and Economic Analysis Sven Eenmaa [that’s SBIRs as in Small Business Innovation Research grants, not DOD’s Space-Based InfraRed system!], and “Making Space for All in STEM” moderated by Emily Calandrelli of Emily’s Wonder Lab.

This week’s conference will be followed next week by three days of Technical Sessions for those who want more details on ISS research.

Incidentally, NASA is getting ready to launch another science-filled cargo mission, NG-16, to ISS next week and there’s a briefing tomorrow (Monday) on the science experiments that are aboard that will be audiocast on NASA Live. That is, we THINK it’s tomorrow at 1:00 pm. NASA issued a press release on July 26 with that date and time, and it was updated on July 27 with no change to that information, but the list of upcoming events on NASA Live does not show anything on August 2. If we learn anything new, we’ll add it to our calendar entry for this event.

Congress typically recesses for the month of August and the House has indeed left. The Senate is still in session, however, trying to reach agreement on infrastructure legislation. Expectations of success change moment by moment. When they either cut a deal or give up will determine when they begin their summer break. NASA Administrator Nelson remains hopeful NASA will get some money in whatever infrastructure bill finally clears Congress (he’s asked for $5.4 billion to pay for a second Human Landing System, $5.4 billion for physical infrastructure at NASA’s facilities across the country, and other funding for specific programs), so we’ll be keeping watch on what the Senate does. As of this morning, the bill is still being written so we don’t know what’s in it. And remember it still will have to pass the House, so has a long road ahead.

For those of you wondering how far the House got with the appropriations bills we discussed in last week’s What’s Happening, the answer is that it passed nine of the ten that were pending. Not bad, but the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA was not one of them. Word is it got side-lined due to debate over funding for police in the Justice portion. The Transportation-HUD bill that funds the FAA’s space office and the Military Construction-VA bill were included in the seven-bill minibus that did pass, but the space-related amendments to those bills that we wrote about did not get through the House Rules Committee so died on the vine.

The remaining three FY2022 appropriations bills — CJS, Defense, and Homeland Security — now have to wait for floor consideration until the House returns for legislative business on September 20. Defense and Homeland Security have not even been reported from the Hosue Appropriations Committee yet. Committees may hold hearings and markups on August 31-September 2, September 9-10, and September 13-14, but the House as a whole meets only in pro forma sessions due to the August recess plus the Labor Day holiday, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur.

Across the Hill, the Senate Appropriations Committee will start marking up its bills this week, but the three that affect space programs the most — CJS, Defense and THUD — are not on the docket. Military Construction-VA is. If we hear anyone’s trying to insert a Space Command Headquarters provision, we’ll let you know.

The annual Smallsat Conference officially begins Saturday and we list it below, but the conference sessions start on Monday, August 9, so we will wait till next week’s What’s Happening to highlight what’s going on there.

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.

Monday, August 2?

Monday-Wednesday, August 2-4

  • Sea-Air-Space Symposium (Navy League), Gayload National Resort and Conference Center, National Harbor, MD (one specifically space-related session is on Tuesday afternoon)

Tuesday, August 3

Tuesday-Thursday, August 3-5

Wednesday, August 4

Thursday, August 5

Friday, August 6

Saturday-Wednesday, August 7-12

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