What’s Happening in Space Policy December 15-31, 2019

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 15-31, 2019

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, December 15-31, 2019 — the rest of this year.  The House and Senate will be in session this coming week and then break for the holidays, returning on January 7, 2020.

During the Weeks

Yes, you read that right.  This issue of What’s Happening covers the rest of the year, since there are only two weeks left.  On the one hand, how time flies.  On the other, it feels like forever since the year opened with a partial government shutdown that ended up lasting a record 35 days.

In an effort to ensure 2020 doesn’t start the same way, Congress will be racing to finish FY2020 appropriations.  Key House and Senate appropriators were all smiles at the end of last week, confident they have agreement on the 12 regular appropriations bills and a path forward to getting them passed by Friday when the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires. The plan is to group them into two or more packages called minibuses (as compared with an omnibus that would collect them into one), but which bills will be in which package is still being determined.

That doesn’t mean everyone can heave a sign of relief.  With an impeachment vote also expected in the House this week, politics could derail  appropriations at any point.  But the outlook is less gloomy than it was a week ago.

The Senate will take a procedural step (cloture) to pass the final version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) tomorrow (Monday).  Assuming it clears cloture, a final vote is expected very soon thereafter (but remember, never wise to count one’s chickens before they hatch) and President Trump has already tweeted that he will sign it.  The NDAA creates the Space Force as a sixth military service within the Air Force, similar to the Marine Corps, which is part of the Department of the Navy.  It does not provide any funding, of course.  It authorizes funding, but only appropriators actually have money to spend so we will have to wait to see the final Defense Appropriations bill to see how much it got.  The request was modest ($72.4 million) and that’s what was authorized.  The Senate version of the appropriations bill provided that amount, but the House version has only $15 million.  Some of the House concerns may have been remedied over the past several months as the details fell into place.

With the year winding down, very few other space policy events are on tap either this week or next.  The congressional staff group Space Advocates will have a briefing with NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry on Tuesday.  He will talk about the historic race to the Moon as the year-long celebration of the first Apollo missions to land on the Moon comes to a close.

Two National Academies committees are meeting this week.  The committee reviewing the report of NASA’s Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB) will meet at the Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  All of that meeting is closed except for a one-hour session (1:00-2:00 pm ET) tomorrow with Alan Stern, who chaired the PPIRB.  That one-hour session will be available remotely.  The Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space (CESAS) meets here in D.C. Tuesday-Wednesday.  Unfortunately no other meeting information is posted yet so we don’t know who will be speaking or which building they are meeting in. [UPDATE, Dec 16: The agenda is now available. We’ve posted a link to it in our Calendar entry for this event.]

The big, Big, BIG event this week is the launch of Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) of the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew system.  Launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket is scheduled for Friday morning and NASA and Boeing have a number of pre-launch and post-launch briefings planned for Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  All will be broadcast on NASA TV.

If the launch takes place as planned — always a big if in the space business — it will dock with the International Space Station on Saturday morning, remain for about a week, and land at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on December 28.  NASA TV will cover it all.

SpaceX completed its uncrewed test flight back in March.  It is getting ready for an In-Flight Abort test on January 4.  After that, both companies will be much closer to the crewed test flights they are required to conduct as part of their certification for operational missions.  That’s a story for next year, but all eyes will be on Boeing’s OFT over these two weeks.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our calendar.

Monday-Tuesday, December 16-17

Tuesday, December 17

Tuesday-Wednesday, December 17-18

Thursday, December 19

Friday, December 20

Saturday, December 21

Wednesday, December 25

Saturday, December 28

Note: this article has been updated.

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