What’s Happening in Space Policy December 5-11, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 5-11, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of December 5-11, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Good news! Congress checked off one box last week, passing a new Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government funded through February 18, 2022. CRs aren’t great because they hold agencies to their current funding levels and do not allow new projects to begin or old ones to end, but it’s better than closing the government. So everyone can relax for 11 more weeks.

Still on the to-do list before the end of the year is dealing with the debt limit and, ideally, passing the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Despite all the political turmoil over the past six decades, the NDAA has passed every single year since the first in 1961 though there have been a few times it didn’t quite get done by December 31.

The House passed its version in September, but the Senate is still in the midst of debating its bill, which is bogged down in a variety of disputes over amendments. Ordinarily each chamber would pass its version and the two sides then would meet in conference to work out a final deal. The NDAA finds itself in a complex political situation that is beyond the scope of this missive to explain, but the point is that this week the House plans to pass a new version of the bill and send that one to the Senate. It is what the House considers a pre-conferenced text reflecting a compromise. The Senate might substitute this bill for the one it’s currently debating to move the ball forward more quickly. If the Senate makes changes (as is likely), the bill would go back to the House and if there are more changes, back to the Senate, and back and forth and back and forth — ping-ponging from one chamber to the other — until the final text is agreed to in lieu of a conference committee. The ping-pong method of reaching agreement on any bill is much more common than conference committees these days. The NDAA has been an exception most years. Nothing is certain yet. We’ll see what they do.

Janet Yellen, Secretary of the Treasury.

As for the debt limit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she would exhaust her available temporary measures to keep paying the government’s debts around December 15. Democrats agreed to raise or suspend the debt limit three times during the Trump presidency without fanfare, but Republicans are not following suit now that a Democrat is in the White House and are making it a major political issue. It was tense when they did it in October and is even more political this time. [Politifact has a summary of when the debt limit has been handled as a bipartisan versus a partisan issue over the decades.] Raising the debt limit is necessary to pay the bills the United States has already incurred and Democrats point out a lot of that debt was incurred during the Trump Administration due to his tax cuts and COVID relief. It is not about approving new spending. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has it on the agenda this week for “potential consideration.”

The House and Senate schedules actually show this as the last week in session for 2021. With all that remains to be done (including Senate consideration of the Build Back Better Act), it would be surprising if they did not return next week. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a holiday deadline to encourage compromise.

The House this week also will take up a Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) bill to extend NASA’s Enhanced Use Leasing (EUL) authority, which expires on December 31. It allows NASA to enter into arrangements to lease underutilized areas on NASA property to the private sector, state and local governments, and universities, and use the money for facilities maintenance, capital revitalization, and real property improvements. Congress extended the EUL authority for two years back in 2019, so it’s time to do it again. Beyer’s bill (H.R. 5746) would extend it for 10 years, to December 31, 2031. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced an EUL bill last week (S. 3303), but it would be another two-year extension. Something else for them to work out.

So it will be an exciting week on Capitol Hill and there’s lots going on elsewhere, too.

On the human spaceflight front, NASA will introduce a new class of astronauts tomorrow (Monday, watch on NASA TV).  Then eight more citizen astronauts will join the growing ranks of everyday people flying into space. Russia will launch another space tourist duo, Japan’s Yusaku Maezawa and Yozo Hirano, along with professional cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin to the International Space Station on Soyuz MS-20 early Wednesday morning and they’ll dock about six hours later (watch on NASA TV).

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

Blue Origin will launch six space tourists including Alan Shepard’s daughter, Laura, and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan, on Thursday (livestreamed by Blue Origin). The company’s New Shepard rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space. He made a 15-minute suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. This one will last about 10 minutes and land back on terra firma in Texas rather than in the ocean like his Mercury-Redstone 3 flight, Freedom 7. (Shepard also walked on the Moon during the 1971 Apollo 14 mission.)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard-19 passengers (L-R): Top row – Lane Bess and his child Cameron Bess, and Evan Dick; Bottom row – Dylan Taylor, Laura Shepard Churchley, Michael Strahan. Credit: Blue Origin

Two other launches of special interest also are on tap. The United Launch Alliance will launch DOD’s STP-3 mission tomorrow (Monday), a delay from today due to a problem with ground support equipment. STP-3 is carrying DOD’s STPSat-6, which has nine payloads including NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD), and a rideshare payload LDPE-1. The launch is at 4:04 am ET and NASA TV begins at 3:30 am ET for all the early-risers out there. [UPDATE SUNDAY AFTERNOON: The launch has been scrubbed again. Newest date: December 7. Same time.]

SpaceX will launch NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimeter Explorer (IXPE) even earlier on Thursday morning — 1:00 am ET. IXPE is a joint project with the Italian Space Agency that will measure polarized X-rays from exotic cosmic objects, such as black holes and neutron stars, to better understand these types of phenomena and extreme environments. NASA will hold a payload briefing and a pre-launch briefing on Tuesday.

Lots of conferences and webinars as well.

Former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

On Thursday, the Secure World Foundation will hold a webinar on “10 Years of the Wolf Amendment: Assessing Effects and Outcomes,” which should be really interesting. Charlie Bolden, who was NASA Administrator in the Obama Administration, will be there. Jim Bridenstine, who led the agency during most of the Trump Administration, is still listed as “invited” rather than confirmed, but it will be especially interesting if he participates. The two former Administrators would provide an interesting juxtaposition. Also participating are Scott Pace from George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute (he was Executive Secretary of the National Space Council in the Trump Administration), Marco Alberti from the European Space Policy Institute (ESA cooperates with China on some activities), CNA China expert Kevin Pollpeter, and CSIS’s Makena Young.

The amendment is named for former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) who first put it into law when he chaired the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and Bolden was Administrator. The Obama Administration wanted space cooperation with China, but Wolf adamantly objected because of China’s human rights violations and other transgressions. The amendment places very strict restrictions on bilateral (not multilateral) U.S.-China space cooperation and has been included in every NASA appropriations bill since even though he retired in 2015. So it clearly has substantial congressional support, but is it effective in changing China’s behavior or is it just stymieing space cooperation, like data sharing, that could be beneficial to the United States? That’s what the webinar will address.

Among the many other events are a brief meeting of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel tomorrow morning; a Space News awards webinar tomorrow afternoon where Space Development Agency Director Derek Tournear will give a keynote address and the award winners (most of whom have not been revealed yet) and Space News journalists will discuss how 2021’s influx of space capital is creating new opportunities and challenges; a Space Policy and History Forum on the Past and Future of Making Megascience–the James Webb Space Telescope on Thursday; and a two-day ESA workshop on Space-Based Solar Power for Net Zero 2050 on Thursday and Friday.

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

Monday, December 6

Monday-Wednesday, December 6-8

Tuesday, December 7

Tuesday-Thursday, December 7-9

Wednesday, December 8

Thursday, December 9

Thursday-Friday, December 9-10

Friday, December 10

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