What’s Happening in Space Policy December 19, 2021-January 1, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 19, 2021-January 1, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, December 19, 2021 – January 1, 2022, and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess except for pro forma sessions. The Senate returns for legislative business on January 3; the House on January 10.

During the Weeks

The Senate left town for the holidays in the early hours yesterday (Saturday), 4:04 am ET to be precise. The parties could not reach agreement on approving a slew of nominations by unanimous consent so they had to be voted on individually, which took a long time. They were all confirmed. The House wrapped up its legislative business for 2021 earlier in the week, so Washington will be quiet until after New Year’s.

Since there’s nothing on the congressional agenda, we thought we’d give a brief recap of what did and didn’t get done space-wise in the first session of the 117th Congress before turning to what’s happening elsewhere, particularly the BIG EVENT on Friday.

The House passed the Build Back Better Act with that $1.115 billion for NASA, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had to give up on his quest to get it passed in the Senate by Christmas. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) not only remains intransigent on his demand that the paid leave provision be removed, but added another objection having to do with the child tax credit (the bill extends it for one year, but he argues Congress will continue extending it and wants 10 years, not one year, of its costs included in the cost estimate for the bill as a whole while insisting he will not support a bill with a higher pricetag). With roadblocks growing not shrinking, and Manchin’s support essential since no Republicans support the bill, Schumer conceded he will have to wait until next year.

Next year is just two weeks away, of course, so that’s not too long, but it is the beginning of the mid-term election season that often derails legislative initiatives as congressional attention turns to reelection battles.

Apart from confirming nominations for top space officials at NASA, NOAA, and DOD, Congress checked only two space-related boxes this year. It kept those agencies and the rest of government funded, albeit through Continuing Resolutions, and passed the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA cleared the Senate on Thursday and is awaiting signature by the President. The Space Force will celebrate its second birthday tomorrow, December 20, so perhaps he will sign it then, though we haven’t seen any announcement. If we do, we’ll add it to our Calendar.

The U.S. Space Force turns two years old on Monday, December 20, 2021. It was created in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Trump during a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on December 20, 2019.

Congress got close on the NASA Enhanced Use Leasing Extension bill (H.R. 5746), but not close enough. The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday, but with a Cantwell amendment substituting new text that would extend NASA’s EUL authority only until March 31, 2022. The Beyer/Babin version that passed the House on December 8 was a 10-year extension to December 31, 2031. Sen. Rubio’s bill (S. 3303) was for 2 years, so this is much shorter, perhaps to give the two sides time to reach agreement. But because the text changed, the bill must go back to the House and Wednesday was its last day and it was busy raising the debt limit and debating other matters, so nothing happened. NASA’s authority to enter into EUL agreements expires at the end of next week (December 31).

No NASA authorization bill made it this year. The Senate passed a bill in June, but nothing emerged from the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee despite the fact that space subcommittee chair Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) told us in May it was one of his top priorities. So was space situational awareness, but the House committee took no legislative action on that either. The Senate passed Sen. Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) space situational awareness bill (the SPACE Act) along with its NASA authorization act as part of the massive U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260).

Congress may be done for the year, but not the space program!

Those two Japanese space tourists (Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano) will return to Earth tonight (Sunday) from the International Space Station along with their Roscosmos commander (Alexander Misurkin). They will land in Kazakhstan at 10:18 pm ET in their Soyuz MS-20 spacecraft. You can watch hatch closing, undocking, and landing on NASA TV and the Roscosmos website.

Soyuz MS-20 crew: Yozo Hirano (Japan), Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin (Russia), Yusaku Maezawa (Japan). Credit: GCTC

On Tuesday, SpaceX will launch its 24th cargo mission to the ISS. SpaceX and NASA will hold a pre-launch press conference the day before and NASA TV will cover Tuesday’s launch and Wednesday’s docking live.

But of course the BIG EVENT this week is launch of the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope. JWST now is snugly encapsulated in the fairing of its Ariane 5 rocket in Kourou, French Guiana. Launch is targeted for Friday, December 24, at 7:20 am ET.

Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope in its deployed configuration in space. Credit: NASA

ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander said on Thursday that a Launch Readiness Review will take place three days before launch, which is December 21. NASA announced yesterday that it will hold a pre-launch press conference that afternoon.

Launch is just the beginning of the “29 Days on the Edge” as JWST unfolds itself and travels a million miles away from Earth to its destination at the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point-2 (SEL-2) where it will observe the universe.  We haven’t seen anything from NASA about how it plans to keep the public up to date during that time, but hopefully there will be many press briefings that we will add to our Calendar as soon as we learn about them. So while right now the Calendar peters out after the 24th, stay tuned for additions.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, December 19, are shown below. Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar, or changes to these.

Sunday, December 19

  • Soyuz MS-20 Return (watch on NASA TV)
    • Hatch closing, ~3:30 pm ET (NASA TV begins 3:00 pm ET)
    • Undocking, 6:50 pm ET (NASA TV begins 6:30 pm ET)
    • Deorbit burn, 9:18 pm ET (NASA TV begins 9:00 pm ET and continues through landing)
    • Landing, 10:18 pm ET

Monday, December 20

Tuesday, December 21

Wednesday, December 22

Friday, December 24

Friday, December 31

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