What's Happening in Space Policy December 1-5, 2014

What's Happening in Space Policy December 1-5, 2014

Here is our list of space policy-related events coming up in the next week, December 1-5, 2014, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

First, it is important to note that two meetings we mentioned in our last edition have been postponed:  the NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee and the NAC Human Exploration and Operations Committee.  Both were supposed to take place this week, leading up to the meeting of the full NAC next week, but that also has been postponed.  NASA said in its Federal Register notice that senior agency officials were tied up with other activities, including the Orion Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) launch on December 4.  (Two other NAC committee meetings this week–Aeronautics, and Technology, Innovation and Engineering–are still on track as far as we know.)

The Orion EFT-1 launch certainly will be one of the highlights this week.  It is scheduled for Thursday, December 4, at 7:05 am EST from Cape Canaveral.  NASA is pulling out all the stops in terms of media activities and even has Sesame Street characters involved. Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover and Slimey are sharing what item they would pack to go to Mars, describing what the journey to Mars would be like as a crew member, and using their ABCs to better understand the Orion spacecraft.  Elmo will be present at the launch, NASA says. The EFT-1 mission lasts only about 4.5 hours from liftoff to splashdown in the Pacific. The launch window is 2 hours 40 minutes long, dictated by the need to have daylight to observe various events during the launch and for recovery operations in the ocean.  December 5 and 6 are backup dates if needed.

Before that, however, another significant launch is expected — Japan’s Hayabusa2 is currently scheduled for launch on Tuesday, December 2, at 11:22 pm EST (Wednesday, December 3, 1:22 pm local time in Japan).  The launch has been postponed twice in recent days due to weather, and could slip again, but whenever it occurs, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to provide live video coverage.  This is Japan’s second asteroid sample return mission and will reach its target, asteroid 1999JU3, in mid-2018, returning the sample at the end of 2020.

The European Space Agency (ESA) will hold a critical “ministerial meeting” on Tuesday in Luxembourg.  The meeting brings together the ministers of each of ESA’s 20 member countries who oversee their country’s participation in ESA.  Ministerial meetings typically are held every three years, but this one is taking place just two years after the last one.  The ministers will make formal decisions on three resolutions regarding:

  • access to space (the future of Ariane and Vega);
  • space exploration strategy for ESA’s “three destinations (low-Earth orbit (LEO), Moon and Mars” including funding ESA’s ISS exploitation activities for the next three years (through 2017); and
  • evolution of ESA itself.

A press conference is expected after the meeting concludes about 18:30 Central European Time (CET), which would be about 12:30 pm EST.  It will be streamed live on ESA’s website.  (Note:  an earlier version of this article incorrectly showed the end time as 16:30, rather than 18:30 CET, which also changes the time in EST to 12:30 pm)

Those are just a few of the many activities on tap this week.  Here is what we know about as of Sunday afternoon.

Monday, December 1

Tuesday, December 2

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 2-3

Wednesday, December 3

Thursday, December 4

Friday, December 5

Correction:  An earlier version of this article stated that the ESA ministerial meeting would decide whether to continue participating in ISS through 2020.  The situation with regard to ISS is complicated.  At the December 2 meeting, the ministers will be deciding on funding ESA’s ISS exploitation activities through 2017.  They decided — in principle — to support ISS through 2020 at their last meeting (in 2012), but did not commit to the associated funding and therefore it was not a definitive commitment.

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