What’s Happening in Space Policy February 11-17, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy February 11-17, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of February 11-17, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House is in session this week. The Senate’s schedule is uncertain.

During the Week

The Senate is supposed to be in a two-week recess, but they are in session this weekend, including today (Sunday). They are trying to pass the national security supplemental that funds aid for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific, having removed border security provisions at the insistence of Republicans who earlier had demanded they be included. This complex issue is not space-related, so we will not get into the details. The floor situation is fluid and how long it will take them to finish is an open question. They did take one more step towards passage this afternoon, but there are more to go. Whenever the Senate is in session, other legislation can suddenly be brought up, so we’ll keep an eye out for any space-related developments. The House is in session Tuesday-Friday, but no space-related legislation is on the schedule.

Ken Bowersox, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations, will testify at a House hearing on Wednesday. 

If anything is happening on FY2024 appropriations, it’s out of the public eye. Both the House and Senate are in recess next week, which begins with a federal holiday (Presidents’ Day), so when they get back they’ll have just the week of the 26th before the first Continuing Resolution (CR) deadline arrives on March 1. That for four of the bills, including Transportation-HUD that funds the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The CR deadline for the other eight bills, including those that fund DOD, NASA and NOAA, is March 8.

While there’s no space-related floor action in the House this week, the space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on “ISS and Beyond: The Present and Future of American Low-Earth Orbit Activities.”  NASA’s Ken Bowersox will be joined at the witness table by Robert Ferl, co-chair of the National Academies’ Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, and representatives of two of the three companies planning to building commercial space stations to succeed the ISS: Mary Lynne Dittmar from Axiom Space and Dylan Taylor from Voyager Space. The hearing will be webcast.

Axiom Space just brought home their third private astronaut crew from an 18-day visit to the ISS. They spent almost 22 days in space including the trip up and back, about a week longer than planned due to bad weather in the landing zone. Axiom will use the ISS as the base for building Axiom Station, docking their modules there first and separating them later to become a free-flying space station.

Illustration of Axiom Space’s free-flying Axiom Station. Credit: Axiom Space

Voyager Space acquired Nanoracks, which developed the Starlab design. Northrop Grumman, which had been planning  its own commercial space station, changed its mind and joined this effort instead.

Illustration of Voyager Space’s Starlab. Credit: Voyager Space

Blue Origin is planning to build Orbital Reef, but no one from that company is on the witness list.

All these companies are working with NASA towards the goal of having at least one commercial space station ready by 2030. That’s when the ISS partners are planning to end ISS operations, although some NASA officials are making clear the date is not set in stone. They do not want a gap between the end of ISS and whatever comes next. They want to continue having access to a facility in low Earth orbit (LEO) where astronauts can conduct microgravity research (Ferl’s speciality), but they want to be just one of many customers, not the owner. They also don’t want China to be the only country with a LEO space station.

Hopefully Dittmar and Taylor will provide updates on when their space stations realistically will be in orbit. Voyager just signed a deal with SpaceX to launch Starlab on Starship, but the date wasn’t specified. And it wouldn’t be surprising for Bowersox to make the point that if no commercial space stations are ready by 2030, ISS could continue a while longer.

Wednesday is Valentine’s Day and it will be bountiful for space program lovers. It starts at 12:57 am ET with the launch of Intuitive Machines’ first lunar landing mission, IM-1, then the House hearing at 10:00 am ET, then Richard DalBello from the Department of Commerce’s Office of Space Commerce speaks to WSBR at noon, then JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will take another try at launching their new H3 rocket between 7:22 pm ET and 11:06 pm ET, and Russia will launch a Progress cargo ship to the ISS at 10:45 pm ET.

IM-1 is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Thursday and Friday are backup days if needed. Whichever of those days it launches, it (hopefully) will land on February 22 near the Moon’s South Pole. NASA has six of the 12 payloads on IM’s Nova-C lander, which is named Odysseus, and will hold a briefing tomorrow (Monday) about the science they’ll conduct and a “Lunar Delivery Readiness” briefing on Tuesday.

Illustration of Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander. Credit: Intuitive Machines. The first Nova-C, named Odysseus, will be launched on the IM-1 mission scheduled for very early Wednesday morning ET.

Japan’s first H3 launch failed in March 2023 after the initial attempt a month earlier scrubbed at liftoff when the solid rocket boosters didn’t ignite because the ignition signals weren’t sent. The March launch got off the pad — in fact the brand new first stage worked fine — but the second stage didn’t ignite due to a short circuit. The second stage was an existing design so the failure was quite a surprise. They lost a very important earth observation satellite, ALOS-3. This time they are carrying a mass simulator, “Vehicle Evaluation Payload 4,” with two cubesats. JAXA will webcast the launch. Some call this the third launch attempt, counting the February scrub as the first and the March failure as the second, but we don’t count the scrub and consider this the second try.

U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Salzman is one of the speakers at the AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, CO this week.

On the national security space front, the Air and Space Forces Association (AFA) is holding its AFA Warfare Symposium in Aurora, CO tomorrow through Wednesday.

They’ve got a who’s who of Air Force and Space Force leaders on the agenda including Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman, and U.S. Space Command Director of Global Operations Maj. Gen. Troy Endicott. Lots of interesting space-related panels such as Space Order of Battle, Space Resiliency, Space Domain Awareness, Operationally Responsive Space, and Commercial Space Integration. That’s just a sample. Looks terrific. A virtual option is available. Times on the agenda are Mountain Time (add 2 for Eastern).

AIAA holds its ASCENDxTEXAS conference in Houston on Wednesday and Thursday. The theme is “Next Steps in the LEO-to-Lunar Voyage.” Several panels nicely complement the House SS&T hearing on Wednesday like “What Next Generation Outposts Can Learn from the ISS” and “Building on the ISS Legacy–Commercial Opportunities in LEO.” There’s lots about beyond LEO, too. NASA’s Nujoud Merancy, who leads the Moon-to-Mars strategy and architecture effort for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA HQ, will give an update on the Architecture Concept Review. Panels include topics such as “Demand Signals for a Viable Commercial Lunar Market,” and “Accelerating a Global Space Ecosystem.” A virtual option is available. Times on the agenda are Central Time (add 1 for Eastern).

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.

Sunday-Monday, February 11-12

Monday, February 12

Monday-Tuesday, February 12-13

Monday-Wednesday, February 12-14

Tuesday, February 13

Wednesday, February 14

Wednesday-Thursday, February 14-15

  • ASCENDxTEXAS (AIAA), South Shore Harbor Resort and Conference Center, Houston, TX

Wednesday-Friday, February 14-16

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