What’s Happening in Space Policy February 18-24, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy February 18-24, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of February 18-24, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

The week begins tomorrow (Monday) with a federal holiday — Presidents’ Day — celebrating the birthdays of Presidents Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22). Some just call it Washington’s Birthday even though it usually falls on a day other than February 22.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA)

The House and Senate are in recess. The Senate was long scheduled to be out both last week and this week, and the House this week, but it’s crunch time for appropriations and things are getting a little nerve-racking. Not only is there a sense of urgency about the national security supplemental to provide support to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, but discretionary funding for the U.S. government is running out soon. Instead of dealing with any of this, the House left early last week (on Thursday instead of Friday) and won’t be back until February 28, the middle of next week. That’s just three days before the Continuing Resolution (CR) expires for departments and agencies in four of the regular FY2024 funding bills, including the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Money for the rest, including DOD, NASA and NOAA, expires March 8.

Punchbowl News reported on a fractious House Republican meeting that took place on Wednesday that underscores the split within their caucus on what to do and the rough road ahead. As a reminder, not only is there a shutdown threat if they do nothing, but under last year’s Fiscal Responsibility Act, if all 12 regular bills are not enacted there’s an additional 1 percent across-the-board cut that goes into effect on April 30. That’s a 1 percent cut to the FY2023 levels in the CR, assuming they pass another one. The language was supposed to be an incentive to get all the bills passed individually in a comparatively timely manner, but the dysfunction in the House Republican caucus — including the three weeks it took to find a new Speaker after ousting Kevin McCarthy — made that all but impossible. Congress can always undo that extra cut, but according to Punchbowl’s reporting some of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus members want exactly that outcome.

None of that will get resolved this week, but it’s important to bear in mind with March 1 less than two weeks away.  In addition to the March 1 and March 8 CR expiration deadlines by the way, President Biden will give his State of the Union address on March 7 and plans to send Congress his FY2025 budget request on March 11.

The big event THIS week is another attempt at a lunar landing. Launched on February 15, Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 is scheduled to land Thursday, February 22. IM hasn’t said what time, only that it’s in the afternoon. Last month’s attempt by a different company, Astrobotic, failed when the spacecraft experienced a propulsion anomaly, but IM-1 is doing well so far.  Yesterday IM released four spectacular images IM-1 took after separating from the Falcon 9 second stage. Here are two. The others are on the company’s website and X (@Int_Machines) where they are providing regular updates.

Credit: Intuitive Machines
Credit: Intuitive Machines

If successful, IM-1 will be the first U.S. spacecraft to soft land on the Moon since Apollo 17 and the first commercial lander. So far only governments — the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s; China, India and Japan more recently — have successfully soft landed on the Moon. Not that all government attempts succeed. India’s first try in 2019 failed as did Russia’s in 2023. As for non-government efforts, a Japanese company, ispace, and an Israeli non-profit, SpaceIL, tried but failed as did Astrobotic. All the landers have been robotic except for the six U.S. Apollo crews between 1969 and 1972.

If all goes well, IM-1’s lander, Odysseus, will set down in the Malapert-A crater about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the South Pole, closer than any previous spacecraft. That’s the area NASA is targeting for Artemis III, the first human landing on the Moon since Apollo, currently expected in 2026.

Another big event this week is the FAA’s annual Commercial Space Transportation conference Wednesday-Thursday at the Ronald Reagan building in D.C. As usual it has a really top-notch group of speakers from government and industry. Government officials include Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) who chairs the space and aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee (there’s a “congressional outlook” panel at the end of the second day, too, but the speakers aren’t listed); Michael Whitaker, FAA Administrator; Kelvin Coleman, FAA Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation; Pam Melroy, NASA Deputy Administrator; Cathy Koerner, NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development; Col. Shannon DaSilva, Deputy Director of Operations, U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command (SSC); Col. Richard Kniseley, Senior Materiel Leader in SSC’s Commercial Space Office; and Sandy Magnus, Chief Engineer, Office of Space Commerce (and former astronaut). An international panel on Wednesday includes representatives from the U.K., Italy, Sweden and Brazil.

Private astronaut Jared Isaacman is one of the speakers at this week’s Commercial Space Transportation conference in D.C.

As a special treat, the Washington Post’s Christian Davenport will moderate a fireside chat with two leaders in the private astronaut business — Jared Isaacman and Michael López-Alegria. Isaacman is the man behind Inspiration4, the first all-commercial astronaut mission, and the upcoming set of Polaris flights that will include the first commercial spacewalk. López-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut, now works for Axiom Space and just returned from commanding his second private astronaut mission to the ISS. He also used to be President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation that organizes this conference.

That barely scratches the surface of what looks like a superb conference. Unfortunately there’s no webcast, so only people who live in the D.C. area or can make the trip will be able to hear what this stellar group of speakers has to say.

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 or changes to these.

Monday, February 19

Tuesday, February 20

Tuesday-Thursday, February 20-22

Wednesday, February 21

Wednesday-Thursday, February 21-22

Thursday, February 22

Thursday-Friday, February 22-23

Friday, February 23

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