What’s Happening in Space Policy February 12-19, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy February 12-19, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week plus a day of February 12-19, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week. The House is in recess except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

We’re including next Sunday in this edition of What’s Happening because Russia is scheduled to launch the empty Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft that day. It will replace Soyuz MS-22, which is still docked to ISS, but lost all its coolant on December 14 and they don’t want to use it to bring the crew home. It’s of interest this week because Roscosmos and NASA will have to make a decision on whether to proceed with that launch considering a second spacecraft, Progress MS-21, suffered its own coolant leak yesterday.

Soyuz and Progress have very similar designs. Soyuz is for crews, while Progress is for cargo. Both have been launched for decades without any coolant leaks. Having one spring a leak is very surprising, but two in as many months?  Very odd. Roscosmos and NASA concluded the most likely cause of the Soyuz MS-22 leak was a micrometeoroid that just happened to hit a spot where it penetrated the radiator and made a hole in the coolant loop.

They’re still trying to figure out exactly what happened to Progress MS-21. What they know is it depressurized and all the coolant leaked out. It could be that, coincidentally, another micrometeoroid hit the same spot on Progress MS-21 as the first one did on Soyuz MS-22 — there is a lot of “MMOD” (micrometeoroids and orbital debris) around the ISS — but it does raise questions as to whether it really was MMOD on Soyuz MS-22 or a design or manufacturing defect common to both spacecraft and that might also afflict Soyuz MS-23.

Wayne Hale. Photo credit: Special Aerospace Services

Former space shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, who now chairs the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee and keeps a strong focus on spaceflight safety via his blog, told us today he finds it “troubling,” but believes the Russian-American team is working well together to understand the situation.

“A second occurrence is troubling. I believe the Russians and the Americans are working well together to understand these problems. Probabilities are against a second MMOD strike but a photographic inspection should help make a determination.”  — Wayne Hale

We’ll be keeping an eye on this all week and post whatever news there is. Hopefully NASA will have a media telecon at some point. We’ll add it to our Calendar if so.

Elsewhere, Japan delayed the inaugural launch of the H3 rocket that we wrote about last week for a couple of days. As far as we know it is now on track for 10:37 am February 15 Japan Standard Time, which is 8:27 pm February 14 EST. They are still watching the weather, though, so it could be delayed further.

FCC nominee Gigi Sohn at her first confirmation hearing, Dec 1, 2021 (screengrab). Her third confirmation hearing is on Tuesday.

Here in D.C., the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday on the nomination of Gigi Sohn to be an FCC commissioner. As we’ve been writing over the past several months, the FCC is taking a bigger and bigger role in space activities than in the past.

The FCC is governed by five Commissioners who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. That is, there are supposed to be five — three from the President’s party and two from the other party — but it’s been stuck at four since Biden took office because of Republican opposition to his nominee for the fifth slot, Gigi Sohn. Consequently there are two Democrats and two Republicans, which could lead to deadlocks.

Sohn was originally nominated in October 2021 and two nomination hearings were held. The nomination was reported to the Senate from committee on a 14-14 tie vote with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed. It was never brought to the floor for a vote by the full Senate, however, probably because it was clear it would not garner the 51 votes needed in a 50-50 Senate.  But now the Senate is 51-49 and Biden is trying again.  He resubmitted her nomination on January 3. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the new Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee, made clear he still strongly opposes her, but agrees the committee should hold a hearing and review updated paperwork. InsideRadio.com has a good summary of why the nomination is contentious.

That’s the only space-related hearing we know about as of today. The House is taking both this week and next week off. The Senate is here this week, but out next week for the Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday break.

Lots of other great meetings and seminars are on tap as usual.

DOD’s John Plumb will be the guest for the Mitchell Institute’s Schreiver Spacepower Forum webinar on Tuesday.

The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies will welcome DOD Assistant Secretary for Space Policy John Plumb to its next Schriever Spacepower Forum webinar on Tuesday morning. Plumb is the first person to serve as Assistant Secretary for Space Policy, or ASD (SP). Previously it was a Deputy Assistant Secretary position, but the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act — the same law that created the U.S. Space Force — directed DOD to elevate it.

The job is to serve as the senior civilian for oversight of space warfighting, but Plumb’s policy portfolio is a lot bigger than that. His DOD profile says it “encompasses the Department’s strategic capabilities for integrated deterrence: space, nuclear weapons, cyber, missile defense, electromagnetic warfare, and countering weapons of mass destruction.” Plus he’s Principal Cyber Advisor to the Secretary of Defense.  Should be a very interesting discussion.

Also on the national security space front, on Wednesday Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation will speak about “The Threat of Anti-Satellites (ASATs) and What We Can Do About Them” as part of a webinar series sponsored by the African Space Leadership Institute. ASLI says it is “on a mission to build capacity and transform our knowledge on African space policy, strategy and law” and “equip Africans for leadership in space.”

On a completely different topic, the Beyond Earth Institute is having a webinar on space migration on Thursday. The discussion will center on the Institute’s recent report “Emerging Space Industrial Ecosystem Leading to Eventual Beyond Earth Migration.”  It argues the government should set the rules of the road for humanity’s expansion into the solar system, but not dictate development, operation and ownership of space activities. Report co-authors Courtney Stadd and Robert Brumley will lead the discussion.

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-Friday, February 13-17 (continued from last week)

Tuesday, February 14 (Happy Valentine’s Day!)

Wednesday, February 15

Wednesday-Thursday, February 15-16

Thursday, February 16

Sunday, February 19 ET (February 20 local time at the launch site)


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