What’s Happening in Space Policy December 18-31, 2017 – UPDATE

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 18-31, 2017 – UPDATE

Here is our list of space policy events for December 18-31, 2017.  Congress will be in session at least part of this week, but will be in recess next week (between Christmas and New Year’s) assuming they reach agreement on funding the government.

During the Weeks

We’re combining the next two weeks since, except for Congress, everything is pretty quiet as the holidays approach.

Congress, however, still has a lot on its plate.  The House is scheduled to pass the tax reform bill on Tuesday and the Senate hopes to follow suit, but the illnesses of two Republican Senators (John McCain and Thad Cochran) may make that difficult.  To pass, the measure must get 51 votes.  There are 52 Republicans (no Democrats are expected to vote in favor).  If McCain and Cochran are unable to be present, all the 50 Republicans in the chamber would have to vote yes, with the Vice President casting the tie-breaking vote.  Several of the Senators who were reluctant to vote for the bill seem to have had their concerns satisfied, but it remains unclear whether all are on board (Susan Collins and Mike Lee reportedly were still on the fence at press time).

Whatever happens on tax reform, Congress must pass some sort of appropriations bill before midnight Friday to keep the government operating.  House Republicans want to pass another Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep most of the government funded through January 19, 2018.  The big exception is defense spending, which they want to approve for the rest of the fiscal year (through September 30, 2018). Democrats object because they do not want non-defense programs (e.g. NASA and NOAA) to pay the price for the substantial increase in defense spending Congress is set to approve.  No agreement has been reached to relax or repeal the budget caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA), but the appropriations bills approved by the House and by the Senate Appropriations Committee (none have passed the Senate) far exceed them.  The concern is that if Republicans get the increase in defense spending they want, the rest of the government will have to make up the difference.  Democrats are dubbing the Republican proposal “Puntagon” because it takes care of Pentagon needs while punting on the rest.  Unlike the tax bill, passing an appropriations measure under existing Senate rules requires 60 votes, so at least eight Senate Democrats would have to vote in favor for it to pass.

It is always risky to try and guess what Congress will do, but the idea of shutting down the government three days before Christmas seems quite unlikely meaning they will have to reach some sort of agreement this week.

Separately, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) has declared tomorrow (Monday) “Science Day in Congress” because the House will take up five science-related bills that were approved by the committee.  Three are STEM-related, one concerns fire safety, and the last supports U.S.-Israel space cooperation.  To be specific, they are:

  • H.R. 4375, STEM Research and Education Effectiveness and Transparency Act
  • H.R. 4323, Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act
  • H.R. 4254, Women in Aerospace Education Act
  • H.R. 1159, United States and Israel Space Cooperation Act
  • H.R. 4661, United States Fire Administration, AFG, and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act

They are all on the suspension calendar, meaning they are expected to easily achieve the two-thirds vote needed for passage under that procedure.

The civil space community has been waiting with baited breath since November for the Senate to take up Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s nomination to be NASA Administrator.  We have heard MANY rumors, but so far the only one that has proven true is that it is on hold waiting for a sufficient number of Republican Senators to back it (no Democrats are expected to vote in favor as we’ve been reporting).  Whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tries to get it done before the Senate leaves for the year is anyone’s guess.  Assuming that Doug Jones is certified to be the winner of the Alabama Senate contest and takes his seat in early January, the Senate will have only 51 Republicans rather than 52 next year, making it all the more challenging.  The illnesses of McCain and Cochran also could affect the outcome as explained above.

Meanwhile, not all the space conferences are over for the year.  There’s still the Next Generation Suborbital Users Conference (NRSC-2017) taking place in Broomfield, CO. beginning tomorrow.  Lots of the entrepreneurial companies are represented as well as some of the more traditional companies.  The website does not indicate if any of the sessions will be livestreamed.

Up at the International Space Station, the SpaceX CRS-13 (SpX-13) Dragon cargo resupply ship arrived early this morning soon after a new three-person crew launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in their Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft.  The three (NASA’s Scott Tingle, JAXA’s Norishige Kanai, and Roscosmos’s Anton Shkaplerov) will arrive on Tuesday, taking the 2-day instead of the 6-hour trajectory.  Docking is scheduled for 3:42 am ET.

Also on Tuesday, Space News will present its Awards for Excellence and Innovation and provide a year-end wrap-up at a Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) lunch in Washington, DC.

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

Monday, December 18

Monday-Wednesday, December 18-20

Tuesday, December 19

Friday, December 22

  • U.S. Government funding expires under existing Continuing Resolution

Monday, December 25

Monday, January 1


This article was updated on December 18.


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