What’s Happening in Space Policy December 9-15, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy December 9-15, 2018

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of December 9-15, 2018 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will be in session.

During the Week

It’s déjà vu all over again. What we said the last two weeks about FY2019 appropriations?  Same this week.  Memorial services for President George H.W. Bush disrupted the congressional schedule last week.  Consequently Congress passed and the President signed into law a two-week extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR), so everything stays as it is until December 21.  NASA, NOAA and the other agencies in the seven appropriations bills that have not cleared Congress yet remain open for business; a shutdown threat remains if Congress and the White House do not reach agreement before December 21.

With the 115th Congress winding down, few hearings are being held and none this week related to the space program, as least that we know of right now.

Space policy aficionados will still be busy this week, though.

The NASA Advisory Council meets in public session tomorrow (Monday) afternoon and Tuesday morning.  Administrator Jim Bridenstine is scheduled to speak at 1:45 pm ET tomorrow, followed by an exploration update from Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of human spaceflight at NASA, and then reports from the six NAC committees for the rest of the afternoon and Tuesday morning.

Across town at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) is holding its annual week-long fall meeting beginning tomorrow.  It is always chock full of fascinating news about planetary science (including the Earth, which is, of course, a planet) and the agenda this year looks as rich as ever.  A number of NASA briefings are scheduled throughout the conference that will be livestreamed.  A link to a list of them is in our calendar entry.

On Tuesday, the two Russian cosmonauts aboard ISS, Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Kononenko, will make a spacewalk to further investigate that hole in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft.  It is in a portion of the spacecraft that does not return to Earth, so any questions anyone has about how it got there need to be resolved before it undocks on December 19 (the crew lands on December 20 just after midnight Eastern Time).  It is apparent looking at it from the inside that it was drilled, but Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin does not accept that is was done inadvertently during manufacturing.  NASA’s ISS Director Sam Scimemi told a NASA Advisory Council committee last week that the cosmonauts will have to cut through micrometeorid and orbital debris (MMOD) shielding and thermal insulation to get to the hole’s location.  From the inside, the hole was sealed with gauze and then epoxy.  Scimemi said the cosmonauts will look to see how far out the epoxy reached and whether there is any other damage. Scimemi called the spacewalk “a big deal.”  The 6-hour spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 11:00 am ET.  NASA TV coverage begins an hour earlier.

On Tuesday evening, the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) is holding a 50th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 8 mission at the Washington National Cathedral. Among the speakers are Bridenstine, museum Director Ellen Stofan, and Apollo 8 crew member Jim Lovell.   The event is open to the public, but is sold out, so if you don’t have a ticket already, you can watch it on the NASM website, the NASM Facebook page, or NASA TV.

On Wednesday, NASA will have a press conference at Johnson Space Center with the crew of Soyuz MS-12, scheduled for launch in February.  The crew reunites Roscosmos’s Aleksey Ovchinin and NASA’s Nick Hague who didn’t get to orbit on October 11. Their Soyuz MS-10 mission came to a surprising end when one of the strap-on boosters impacted the Soyuz rocket’s core stage and destroyed the rocket about two minutes after liftoff.  Automated systems instantly separated the crew capsule and boosted it high enough that it could deploy its parachutes and land almost as though it was returning from orbit.  Ovchinin and Hague were safe and soon returned to the Baikonur Cosmodrome from which they had departed just a couple of hours earlier.  At the time, Rogozin assured them they’d get another chance to fly and, sure enough, they are.  This time they will be joined by NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch, who had been scheduled to fly to ISS in April.

Also on Wednesday, George Washington University’s (GWU’s) Space Policy Institute (SPI) will host the premier of a new documentary about Apollo 8 by Paul Hildenbrandt.  It will take place at SPI’s offices on the GWU campus. It is free, but advance RSVP is requested.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for news on when the Delta IV Heavy launch of the NROL-71 spy satellite will be rescheduled.  It was scrubbed at the last moment last night. The countdown appeared to be going perfectly until 7.5 seconds before liftoff.  The United Launch Alliance (ULA) said in a statement that it was due to “an unexpected condition during terminal count,” but it was much more exciting than that sounds.  As described by Bill Harwood of CBS News:

Instead, a flight controller called out “hold, hold, hold” as the countdown came to a halt. Flames from the hydrogen igniters rose from the base of the rocket as they continued to burn for a few moments, a somewhat scary sight given the 1.6-million-pound rocket was loaded with 465,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants. — Bill Harwood

Those and other events 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.

Monday-Tuesday, December 10-11

Monday-Friday, December 10-14

Tuesday, December 11

Tuesday-Thursday, December 11-13

Wednesday, December 12

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