What’s Happening in Space Policy December 12-18, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 12-18, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of December 12-18, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate and House are in session for at least part of the week.

During the Week

Congress did make progress last week on its “to do” list, but will be back this week to — hopefully — wrap things up for the year. Nothing is certain, of course.

The House passed the new “pre-conferenced” version of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) just hours after it was introduced. The Senate will take it up this week and it is widely expected to pass. Republicans got a lot of what they wanted, including $25 billion more than the President requested. In fact, more Democrats voted against it than Republicans, so it should be able to get sufficient Republican support in the Senate to pass even if some Senate Democrats or Independents vote no. The House vote was 363-70. Of the 70 no votes, 51 were Democrats and 19 were Republican.

Remember, that $25 billion plus-up is just a recommendation. The NDAA is an authorization bill that sets policy. Although it includes funding recommendations, only appropriators have money to spend. The FY2022 defense appropriations bill is stuck like all the others, with Republicans refusing to even negotiate with Democrats. House Appropriations Committee Democrats have begun regular tweets counting the days since their Republican colleagues have refused to come to the table. Appropriators usually work together quite well, so it’s a bit surprising.

Congress passed a new Continuing Resolution (CR) kicking the FY2022 appropriations can down the road to February 18. Until then, DOD and all the other departments and agencies funded in the 12 regular appropriations bills remain at their FY2021 levels. New programs cannot begin and old ones cannot end. Democrats are concerned Republicans are going to force the government into a full-year Continuing Resolution (CR). That would have profoundly negative effects on government programs, including DOD’s as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pointed out in a recent letter. Getting the NDAA passed by the Senate and signed by the President this week would be an achievement, but only part of the story.

The debt limit is another pressing issue. As we mentioned last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she needs it raised by December 15 to avoid a default on the government’s debt. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came up with an innovative one-time method for the Senate to pass a debt limit increase with only 51 votes instead of the usual 60. It required passing a special bill in the House and Senate. That happened last week, setting up a vote on the debt limit itself this week. They are crafting it so any future debt limit increases won’t be needed until after next year’s elections.

At the moment the House is scheduled to be in legislative session only on Tuesday to vote on the debt limt and a couple of other matters, but they may have to be there on Wednesday as well. The House had planned to adjourn for the year last Friday, as had the Senate, but that didn’t work out.

It’s not clear how long the Senate will be in session. Schumer wants a vote on the Build Back Better Act, with that $1.115 billion for NASA, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) remains stridently opposed to one provision (paid leave) in the House-passed bill, while other Senate Democrats just as strongly support it. Schumer needs Manchin’s vote to get the bill passed because no Republicans support it. Manchin is not showing any signs of relenting and sees no need to get the legislation done in a hurry. We’ll see what happens. Compromises suddenly appear out of nowhere (with the NDAA and debt limit as cases in point), so anything’s possible.

As long as the Senate remains in session, it may consider other legislation. Last week the House passed the Beyer/Babin bill (H.R. 5746) to extend NASA’s Enhanced Use Leasing authority, which will expire on December 31. Sen. Rubio has his own bill (S. 3303), which would extend it for just two-years instead of 10 as in the House-passed bill. Whether the two sides will reach agreement in time remains to be seen. If the Senate does not agree to the House bill as written, any modified version would have to go back to the House for another vote and they don’t plan to be here much longer.

Elsewhere, the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU’s) fall meeting takes place this week in New Orleans and online. The latest findings in planetary science are usually announced at this conference and NASA has a number of sessions planned including on Earth science satellite observations, updates on the Parker Solar Probe, 10 months of science from the Mars Perserverance rover, and the latest from the Jupiter-orbiting Juno spacecraft. NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) meets in conjunction with AGU. Note they just changed the day for that meeting from Friday to Thursday.

Earth observation satellites are a highlight of another major conference, too, but from the commercial standpoint.  World Satellite Business Week takes place in Paris and online Monday-Thursday with two major components:  Summit for Satellite Financing (Monday-Wednesday) and Summit on Earth Observation Business (Wednesday-Thursday). It also features sessions on Enterprise Connectivity & Universal Broadband and SmartPlane.

Congressional Research Service space policy and space law expert Eilene M. Galloway (1906-2009). Credit: NASA website (photo circa 2006, her 100th birthday)

The annual Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law is on Tuesday. It is virtual again this year instead of at the Cosmos Club in Washington, but has the same high caliber agenda and speakers as usual. The symposium begins with a keynote by Diane Howard, Director of Commercial Policy at the White House National Space Council. Then three panels on National Space Resource Extraction Laws, Coordination and Authorization of Space Activities, and Legal Issues Regarding Private Astronauts.

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch next week. Back in October, NASA issued a press release listing dates for various related briefings including a pre-launch briefing this Wednesday, December 15. At the time, launch was scheduled for December 18, but later slipped to December 22. The press release has not been updated to indicate if this briefing has also slipped. It does not appear on the NASA TV or NASA Live schedules at the moment, so we’re not sure if it is still on or not. Whatever information we get, we’ll add it to our calendar entry. [UPDATE, Dec. 13: this is now listed on the NASA TV schedule on Thursday at 11:00 am ET.]

Among the many other events, an MSBR webinar with Maryland’s Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford (Tuesday), a WSBR webinar on Wednesday with Space Force’s LTG Nina Armagno talking about “Progress to Date, Outstanding Challenges, and Role of Space Industry” as the Space Force comes up on its second anniversary (officially December 20), two NASA Advisory Council committee meetings (Tuesday, Wednesday), a Beyond Earth Institute webinar on recognizing property and ownership in space (Wednesday), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Space Summit (Thursday), and a Mitchell Institute webinar with perspectives from three of the Space Force’s Delta commanders (Friday).

And of course there’s always something happening on the International Space Station. Ten people are onboard right now — eight professionals (four NASA, three Roscosmos, one ESA) and two tourists from Japan (they and one of the Roscosmos cosmonauts will return next Sunday evening).

ISS Expedition 66 crew plus three Soyuz MS-20 visitors: front row, Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos), Yusaku Maezawa (Japan, visitor), Yozo Hirano (Japan, visitor), Alexander Misurkin (Roscosmos, visitor); second row, Kayla Barron (NASA), Thomas Marshburn (NASA), Matthias Maurer (ESA), Mark Vande Hei (NASA); back row, Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos), Raja Chari (NASA). Credit: NASA

ISS needs a lot of supplies to support all these people coming and going. The next SpaceX cargo mission, its 24th, will launch next week and NASA is holding a briefing this Tuesday to highlight the science experiments that will be delivered.

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-Thursday, December 13-16

  • World Satellite Business Week, Paris, France and online
    • Summit for Satellite Financing (Monday-Wednesday)
    • Summit on Earth Observation Business (Wednesday-Thursday)

Monday-Friday, December 13-17

Tuesday, December 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 14-15

Wednesday, December 15

Wednesday-Thursday, December 15-16

Thursday, December 16

Friday, December 17

Saturday, December 18

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