What’s Happening in Space Policy December 10-16, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 10-16, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of December 10-16, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This week was supposed to start off this evening (Sunday) with the Falcon Heavy launch of DOD’s X-37B military spaceplane, but inclement weather has pushed that to tomorrow. The launch will be at the same time, 8:14 pm ET, and the weather is forecast to be 70 percent favorable, which is a great improvement over today (40 percent).

The House and Senate are in the final stretch of the first session of the 118th Congress. This is their last week for the year and there’s a lot of work to do.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and House Armed Services Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) at the opening the House-Senate conference committee on the FY2024 NDAA. (Official U.S. Senate photo by Dan Rios)

From a space perspective, passing the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is at the top of the list.  Conferees completed their deliberations on Thursday and the Senate immediately voted to clear the first procedural step so the bill can receive a final vote this week. The House has the bill on its schedule, too. Speaker Johnson plans to bring it up on the suspension calendar so it can bypass the Rules Committee, but will require two-thirds of the House to vote to approve it instead of a simple majority.

The NDAA usually has broad bipartisan support, but as with so many topics this year there’s quite a bit of internal disagreement among Republicans.  The House Freedom Caucus opposes the bill (and other year-end legislation) and three Senate Republicans strongly object to omission of a provision to extend compensation to Americans exposed to nuclear testing and nuclear waste radiation. The Senate had passed it as part of their NDAA, but it was removed in conference by the House and Senate Republican leadership. Passage of the bill is likely, but not a sure bet.  As with everything in Congress, it’s not over ’til it’s over.

The fate of the national security supplemental that includes aid to Israel and Ukraine is very much up in the air, but not directly space-related, so we won’t discuss it here. Let’s just say it’s going to be a long week.

The House is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Thursday and the Senate on Friday. The House returns on January 9 and the Senate on January 8.

On Tuesday, the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on “The Mineral Supply Chain and the New Space Race.” We don’t recall this committee holding a space hearing in the past. Apparently they are worried foreign adversaries “notably China” may take the lead in mining celestial bodies. The hearing will be webcast.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy will testify to the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday. She also will speak at the AGU meeting about the science aspects of the Artemis campaign on Friday.  NASA photo.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Commerce Committee’s Space and Science Subcommittee will hold one last hearing this year and it’s about commercial space. “Government Promotion of Safety and Innovation in the New Space Economy” features four government witnesses:  Pam Melroy (NASA), Kelvin Coleman (FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation), Richard DalBello (NOAA Office of Space Commerce), and John Hill (DOD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space and Missile Defense).  The committee says “The hearing will address the Federal government’s role in ensuring the safety, viability and economic competitiveness of commercial space activities and discuss regulatory approaches for the rapidly evolving industry.” GAO just issued a report recommending that the FAA improve how it investigates space mishaps, which might come up at the hearing although it wasn’t written at the request of this committee.

One of the big conferences this week is the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco and online all week. The meeting is always chock full of the latest scientific findings in planetary science, solar and space physics, and earth science. NASA will have quite a presence there, including Pam Melroy talking up the science that will be done as part of the Artemis campaign. She’ll speak on Friday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time (4:00 pm Eastern).  It’s not on the NASA TV schedule as of today, so we don’t know if one must register for the conference to hear it.

The annual Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law takes place on Wednesday here in D.C. The agenda on their website doesn’t indicate who the speakers are, but the topics sound intriguing: “Innovation Outpacing Regulation: Updates on Legislative and Regulatory Reform,” “Governmental and Non-Governmental Cislunar, Lunar and Deep Space Activities,” “Sustainability and Resource Utilization,” “Cooperation Between Space and Terrestrial,” and “Space Security & Utilization of Commercial Resources.” It will be livestreamed.

Among the national security space conferences this week, the United Kingdom’s Space Command is holding a one-day meeting in London on Tuesday that has a virtual option. The topics on the agenda are much like those one would expect here — cross-government relationships to execute the National Space Strategy, unlocking industry innovation, diversity, and workforce. The Commander of UK Space Command, Vice Air-Marshal Paul Godfrey, is on the agenda twice, first for opening remarks at 09:30 GMT and then for a keynote at 16:15 GMT where he’ll give an update “on UK Space Command’s progress and roadmap for 2024,” which should be quite interesting. Subtract 5 hours for Eastern Standard Time.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Salzman is one of several top-level U.S. Space Force officials who will speak at the Space Force Association’s first Spacepower Conference in Orlando this week. (U.S. Air Force photo by Andy Morataya)

Back here in the States, the Space Force Association will hold its first Spacepower Conference in Orlando, “Preserving and Protecting Our Legacy in the Stars.” The agenda has a who’s who of national security space luminaries from the government and private sector. To mention just four of the U.S. Space Force’s top brass who will be there: Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman; Deputy Chief of Space Operations, Cyber and Nuclear Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt; Commander of Space Operations Command Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting; and Vice Commander of Space Operations Command and Commander of Combined Force Space Component Command, U.S. Space Command, Maj. Gen. Douglas Schiess.

Schiess was recently confirmed as Lt. Gen. and the agenda lists him with that rank although the SpOC website still says Maj. Gen. Air & Space Forces Magazine has a really helpful list of which Air Force and Space Force Generals are finally confirmed now that Sen. Tuberville (R-AL) lifted his blockade on promotions for everyone except four-star generals. The list also shows those who still are waiting. That includes Whiting’s nomination to replace Gen. James Dickinson as commander of U.S. Space Command. The magazine says the just-approved promotions for generals like Schiess will take effect on December 5, which was last Tuesday, so perhaps the SpOC website simply hasn’t been updated yet. Or perhaps he has to wait until Whiting is promoted.

In any case, the Space Force Association’s conference looks terrific. Lots of industry folks and, for a different perspective, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire private astronaut who bankrolled and commanded Inspiration4 and is in training for his next three “Polaris Dawn” private spaceflights. He posted on X the other day that he was at SpaceX testing spacesuits. He plans on becoming the first private astronaut to make a spacewalk. Not sure how his activities fit in with national security space, so perhaps we’ll find out when he speaks on Wednesday. He’s on a “Commercial/Private Spaceflight” panel with Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy, Military Deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition.

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, December 11

Monday-Tuesday, December 11-12

Monday-Friday, December 11-15

Tuesday, December 12

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 12-13

Tuesday-Thursday, December 12-14

Wednesday, December 13

Wednesday-Thursday, December 13-14

Thursday, December 14

Friday, December 15


Note: This article has been updated.

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