What’s Happening in Space Policy December 16-31, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 16-31, 2018

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the rest of the year, December 16-31, 2018, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session at least part of this week.  As of today, both plan to be in recess the following week for the Christmas holidays, but that may change depending on the outcome of budget negotiations.

During the Weeks

Finalizing FY2019 appropriations remains in limbo.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) that is keeping NASA, NOAA and many other government agencies operating expires on Friday.  President Trump said this week he would be “proud” to shut down those parts of the government, and take responsibility for it, if Congress does not accede to his demand for $5 billion in FY2019 for his border wall. Congressional Republicans are not pleased at the prospect of being blamed for a Christmas shutdown, however.

Who will be affected if there is a shutdown?  Basically it’s all the Departments and agencies in seven of the 12 regular appropriations bills. The five bills that have been enacted, however, include DOD and other big spenders. Those five bills fund about 75 percent of discretionary spending.  The remaining 25 percent is in the seven bills still in limbo.  Here’s our list as a reminder.

Some of those agencies get money from sources other than appropriations, such as fees, so may not be as deeply affected. Government Executive has a good summary of who would get furloughed.  It estimates that 95.4 percent of NASA employees would be laid off since it relies primarily on appropriated funds. Some activities will be deemed essential and allowed to continue.  There were two shutdowns already this year: for three days in January, and a few hours in February.  A FAQ on how NASA deals with shutdowns is posted on its website.  Basically employees involved in operating spacecraft (including ISS) and processing space launch hardware who are necessary to prevent harm to life or property, or phasing down research activities where serious damage might result, are excepted from the furlough.

It really is anyone’s guess as to what will happen. Media sources that diligently follow Capitol Hill and the White House report agreement on only one thing — everyone is waiting for the President to signal if he intends to follow through on his threat.  Your SpacePolicyOnline.com editor knows better than to try and guess what Congress or the President will do.  It is worth noting, however, that this is basically a skirmish at the outset of the battle for the 2020 presidential election and therefore it seems logical to just pass another extension of the CR to bump the entire business over into the 116th Congress.  It will convene on January 3, 2019, just two-and-one-half weeks from now.  That way if no agreement can be reached, Republicans could blame the Democratic-controlled House instead of exposing their own divisions.  That is not a prediction, just an analysis.

With Christmas and the New Year fast approaching, one might expect everything to quiet down a bit, but not so this year.  In addition to whatever will be happening in Congress this week, two NASA advisory committees are meeting — Heliophysics (Monday-Wednesday) and International Space Station (Friday) — along with the first meeting of a new study committee of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board (Wednesday-Friday).  It will explore the relative advantages and disadvantages of observing Near Earth Objects (NEOs) in the infrared and visible wavelengths.

Also this week, SpaceX will launch the first GPS III satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday morning.  It’s such a big deal that Vice President Mike Pence plans to be there. GPS III is the long-awaited modernized Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite system for positioning, navigation and timing with much improved accuracy and anti-jam capability, among other upgrades.

Later on Tuesday, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) will try again to launch the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-71 spy satellite. The first attempt on December 8 was terminated 7.5 seconds before liftoff.  That’s a Delta IV Heavy launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.  SpaceX and ULA typically webcast their launches.

On Wednesday-Thursday Eastern Standard Time (EST), three ISS crew members will return home in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that underwent surgery last week during a dramatic spacewalk to allow Russian space officials to see the other side of the hole that was discovered from the inside in August. That segment of the Soyuz spacecraft is not designed to survive reentry — it is jettisoned after the spacecraft departs from ISS — so anything they wanted to know about that hole had to be discovered before undocking. Soyuz MS-09 will undock at 8:42 pm EST Wednesday and land in Kazakhstan at 12:03 am EST Thursday.  NASA TV will provide coverage.

If Congress reaches a solution on FY2019 funding by Friday, both chambers will be in recess the last full week of the year.  If there’s a shutdown, they most likely will be back in town.  Hoping for the best and a shutdown will be averted, the week of December 23-29 should be restful.

Which is good, because the final days of 2018 and first days of 2019 will be busy with OSIRIS-REx entering orbit around Bennu (December 31) and New Horizons flying past Ultima Thule (closest approach on January 1).  We have not seen anything about a media event for O-Rex’s milestone yet, but briefings are scheduled for the Ultima Thule flyby each day December 31-January 3.   And somewhere around that time, China’s Chang’e-4 is expected to land on the far side of the Moon.  China has not announced the date, but analysts anticipate that will happen in the January 1-3 time frame.  Not to mention that the 116th Congress begins on January 3.  Busy, busy, busy….

Those and other events through December 31 that we know about as of this morning (December 16) are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

We will not post a What’s Happening article next week unless something significantly changes.

Tuesday, December 18

Tuesday-Thursday, December 18-20

Wednesday-Thursday, December 19-20 Eastern Standard Time

Wednesday-Friday, December 19-21

Friday, December 21

Tuesday, December 25

Monday, December 31

Note:  This article has been updated.

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