What’s Happening in Space Policy December 30, 2018-January 12, 2019

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 30, 2018-January 12, 2019

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, December 30, 2018-January 12, 2019 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session part of this week and next week.  Note that on Thursday, January 3, at noon, the 115th Congress ends and the 116th Congress begins with Democrats taking control of the House while Republicans remain in control of the Senate.

During the Weeks

The partial shutdown of the U.S. government, including NASA and NOAA, continues.  It began when the last Continuing Resolution (CR) expired at midnight on December 21 and will continue until Congress passes and the President signs a new appropriations bill.

When that will happen is anyone’s guess.  It is a matter of the House, Senate, and White House negotiating a compromise and there has been little action on that front over the past week.  The state of play is that on December 19 the Senate passed a “clean” CR to extend funding to February 8, 2019 with President Trump’s support.  The next day Trump changed his mind and insisted that $5 billion be included for his border wall.  The Republican-led House thereupon passed an amended version adding $5.7 billion for the border wall and $7.8 billion for disaster relief.  Because the bill was amended, it now must go back to the Senate for approval, but the added funds are very controversial there.  The House needed a simple majority to pass the bill, but the Senate needs 60 votes and there are only 51 Republicans.

The Senate must pass the House bill or some other appropriations bill before the 115th Congress ends on Thursday at noon or the bill will die (as will all other legislation introduced but not enacted during the Congress).  The Senate is scheduled to meet for legislative business on Wednesday, January 2, the last full day of the 115th Congress, but there is no indication agreement has been reached.

If no bill is enacted by the end of the 115th Congress, the process will have to begin anew in the 116th Congress with Democrats in control of the House.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on CBS’s Face the Nation today (Sunday) that the situation is at a “standoff” and urged everyone to “move away from the blame game …. and get back to doing what we’re sent there to do, to fund the government. …  If we blame each other this could last a long, long time.” He added: “It’s not a question of who wins or loses. Nobody’s going to win this kind of game. … Nobody wins in a shutdown. We all lose and we kind of look silly.”

Washington political dynamics will change with Democrats in control of the House, but whether that helps end or prolong the shutdown is unknown. The shutdown reflects high stakes politics over immigration, an issue both sides believe is critical to their party winning the 2020 presidential election. At what point politicians decide that the detrimental effects on NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce (including NOAA), Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Treasury, and Transportation, and the economy in general, warrant political compromise is known only to those in power.

Once more, here is our chart of where the appropriations bills stand.  It is the departments and agencies in the seven bills that have not cleared Congress that are affected by the shutdown. DOD is NOT affected.  It and the other departments and agencies funded by the five appropriations bills that were enacted in September are conducting normal operations.

If the shutdown persists, participation by NASA, NOAA and NSF employees in two key science conferences could be negatively impacted.  The American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) each have their major annual conferences the first full week of January.  The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) also has its annual SciTech Forum and Exposition that week. The meetings will take place as planned, but be forewarned that any session that involves government employees may change.

Out in space there is happier news.  OSIRIS-REx enters orbit around Bennu for the first time tomorrow (Monday) and New Horizons makes its closest approach to Ultima Thule at 12:33 am ET on Tuesday. The New Horizons team has several media events scheduled each day from tomorrow through Thursday.  Operations for those and other spacecraft, including the International Space Station, are essential and may continue despite the shutdown.

NASA TV and NASA’s social media accounts (e.g. Twitter) ordinarily are not exempted from shutdowns, but NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine found a way to keep them up and running for OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons (@OSIRISREx and @NASANewHorizons).  You can follow them even without NASA, though. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab (UALPL) is the Principal Investigator (PI) for OSIRIS-REx and the spacecraft is operated there. Follow on the web and/or Twitter (@UALPL).  Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute is the PI for New Horizons, which was built and is operated by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (JHUAPL).  The media events are being broadcast on JHUAPL’s YouTube channel and it has its own website for the mission and Twitter account @JHUAPL. Stern has another Twitter account for the mission: @NewHorizons2015.  Lots of ways to keep up with what’s happening.

Sometime this coming week, China’s Chang’e-4 lunar farside lander/rover should become the first spacecraft ever to make a soft landing on the far side of the Moon.  China has not said exactly when, however.  Xinhua reported today that Chang’e-4’s orbit was just lowered to prepare for the landing, with a perilune of just 15 kilometers. “The control center will choose a proper time to land the probe on the far side of the moon according to the [China National Space Agency].”  Unofficial estimates are that it will take place in the January 1-3 time frame when the far side becomes sunlit.  (Like the near side that is visible from Earth, the far side gets 14 days of sunlight and 14 days of darkness.)  Xinhua and CGTN are providing limited news.  Andrew Jones of gbtimes.com (@AJ_FI) is keeping close watch.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) again postponed the launch of NRO’s spy satellite, NROL-71, on a Delta IV Heavy.  The new launch date is January 6.  It was supposed to be part of the December 18 space launch bonanza, but was postponed to December 19 due to winds, then to December 20 due to a hydrogen leak, then to December 30 and now to January 6.

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, December 31, 2018

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

To Be Announced

  • China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft expected to land on the far side of the Moon in January 1-3, 2019 time frame

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Saturday-Sunday, January 5-6, 2019

  • ExoPAG, Washington State Convention Center, Seattle, WA (Available by Adobe Connect)

Sunday, January 6, 2019

  • Joint NASA Program Analysis Groups (PAGs) Meeting, Washington State Convention Center, Seattle, WA, 1:30-3:00 pm Pacific Time/4:30-6:00 pm Eastern (Available by WebEx)
  • COPAG, Washington State Convention Center, Seattle, WA, 3:15-6:00 pm Pacific Time/6:15-9:00 pm Eastern (Available by WebEx)
  • NROL-71 Launch, Vandenberg AFB, CA, webcast (time TBA)

Sunday-Thursday, January 6-10, 2019

Monday-Friday, January 7-11, 2019

Thursday, January 10, 2019

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