What’s Happening in Space Policy December 13-19, 2020

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 13-19, 2020

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of December 13-19, 2020 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Here we are again at the start of another week when government funding will expire on Friday.  Congress passed a one-week extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR) just in time last week and it now will expire this Friday, December 18, at midnight.

The hold up apparently is not related to agreement on the 12 FY2021 appropriations bills themselves, but on the next COVID-19 relief package that the two parties have been fighting over for months. Last week there appeared to be movement on a $908 billion package (the Democrats had wanted $2.2 trillion, while Republicans wanted $500 billion), but that now, too, has stalled.  Although both sides insist they can’t go home for Christmas without a deal, what it will take to get that deal remains unclear. Since they are tying it to the appropriations bills, yes, it could mean yet another CR at the end of this week, but let’s hope not.

Another drama will play out with the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed the House and Senate last week with “veto-proof” majorities despite President Trump’s threat to do just that, veto it.  Trump has 10 days after receiving the bill to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, so it may be next week before we know what he’ll do. If he waits till the end of that period and Congress wants to vote to override, it could mean a short Christmas break. The 116th Congress ends at noon at January 3, so whatever is going to happen with any piece of legislation, including the NDAA, has to happen by then. The 117th Congress convenes at noon on January 3 and everything begins anew.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of the hyper-partisan 2020 presidential election process. The Electoral College meets tomorrow (Monday) where the electors chosen on November 3 cast their pledged votes for President and Vice President, which will formally make Joe Biden and Kamala Harris President- and Vice President-elect. While one might expect that to settle the matter once and for all, Trump made it clear yesterday he intends to keep fighting against the results. What he actually means remains unclear, but there is yet one more official step where Congress counts the Electoral College results on January 6. The Congressional Research Service has a useful report on that part of the process. What all this means to getting the work of the nation done, including for space programs, is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, we are coming up on the 1st anniversary of creation of the U.S. Space Force on December 20.  We are aware of only one event this week marking the occasion, but one might anticipate there to be others (check back during the week to see if we’ve added anything to our Calendar). The one we know about is a webinar by the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) on Wednesday when Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno, Director of Staff, HQ U.S. Space Force, will speak about the service’s achievements and future challenges. The Space Force Association has a webinar tomorrow with Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, Commander of Space Force’s Space Operations Command, but it doesn’t indicate if he’ll focus on the anniversary (though it wouldn’t be surprising).

Elsewhere, Space News will hold its annual awards event tomorrow, virtually of course. They’re not saying who the winners are, but the event will feature a panel discussion with four of them — Government Leader of the Year, Company Leader of the Year, and key executives of the Large Company of the Year and Startup of the Year — and Space News Editor-in-Chief Brian Berger and reporters Jeff Foust, Sandra Erwin and Debra Werner.  Should be terrific.

We don’t hear much about the Romanian space program even though the President of the Romanian Space Agency, Marius-Ioan Piso, is now the chairman of the U.N. Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).  George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute (SPI) and the Space Generation Advisory Council will hold a webinar on Tuesday with Piso; Romania’s first cosmonaut, Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, who spent a week on the Soviet Union’s  Salyut 6 space station in 1981 and chaired COPUOS himself a decade ago; the head of the student-led Romanian Space Initiative, Rares Bisag; and Alexandra Jercaianu. a project scientist at Euroconsult.  They will discuss the role of medium-size countries in the 21st Century space program with moderator George Leaua from SPI.  Romania joined ESA in 2006, FYI.

Speaking of ESA, the ESA Council is meeting this week. Among its tasks is formally choosing a new Director General to succeed Jan Woerner, who has been ESA DG since 2015. He is perhaps best known in space circles for his Moon Village vision, which some considered ahead of its time when he first started talking about it, but now is quite in keeping with NASA’s plan with international partners like ESA. He has big shoes to fill and Austria’s Josef Aschbacher, the highly respected head of ESA’s earth observation program, has been nominated to take it on. The Council is expected to ratify that choice. ESA will hold a press briefing at the end of the Council meeting on Thursday.  No word if it will be webcast, but we’ll post that information if we get it.

Also on the international scene, China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return spacecraft is expected home this week. The portion of the spacecraft that is bringing the sample capsule back to Earth departed lunar orbit yesterday (EST). The capsule will land in Inner Mongolia. China has not officially said exactly when the landing will occur (the closest we’ve seen is the Tuesday-Thursday time period), but experienced amateurs are estimating December 17, which could be December 16 EST depending on the exact time (China is 13 hours ahead of EST). This is the first robotic sample return from the Moon since the 1976 Soviet Luna 24 mission.

Back here in D.C, the annual Eilene M. Galloway Symposium on Critical Issues in Space Law is on Wednesday.  COVID-19 means it can’t be held at the Cosmos Club as usual, but this year’s webinar should be  as interesting as always.  The theme is “Space and the Challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic” with speakers from a number of countries.

As always, there’s a long list of other fascinating webinars this week, including NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine talking about the State of Space to the Greater Houston Partnership on Tuesday morning and, later that day, FAA’s Wayne Monteith chatting with the Space Foundation at one of its Space Symposium 365 events.  TechCruch is holding a virtual conference Wednesday-Thursday with a who’s who of government, industry and academic space leaders.  This also is the third and last week of the virtual AGU conference.

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.

Monday, December 14

Monday-Thursday, December 14-17

Tuesday, December 15

Tuesday-Thursday, December 15-17

Wednesday, December 16

Wednesday-Thursday, December 16-17

Thursday, December 17



Note: This article has been updated.

User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.