What’s Happening in Space Policy February 14-20, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy February 14-20, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of February 14-20, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will meet only in pro forma sessions this week, but several House committees are holding hearings.

During the Week

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!!

It’s just another day in the space business, though, with a SpaceX Starlink launch from Florida at 11:20 pm ET and the launch of Russia’s next cargo mission to the International Space Station, Progress MS-16, from Kazakhstan at 11:45 pm ET.  Both will be webcast. Not to mention today is Day 2 of the Planetary Society’s Planetfest’21.

Thank goodness tomorrow (Monday), at least, is a federal holiday (“Washington’s Birthday” even though his birthday isn’t until February 22).  We’ve got an intensely busy week coming up.

Mars Madness continues with the landing of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover on Thursday. Everything is looking good today, but those “Seven Minutes of Terror” still await.  In the space business, as in life generally, best not to count one’s chickens before they hatch. We’ll be biting our nails all the way down.

The UAE’s Hope and China’s Tianwen-1 successfully entered orbit around Mars last week. The UAE released the first image from Hope today.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released video taken by cameras on Tianwen-1 as it entered Mars orbit.

Perseverance will not enter orbit, but immediately plunge into the atmosphere for that 7-minute entry-descent-and-landing (EDL) sequence that hopefully ends with a soft landing in Jezero Crater. Eight NASA spacecraft have successfully landed on Mars so far (Viking 1 and 2, Mars Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity, Phoenix, Curiosity, and InSight), but a 1999 failure (Mars Polar Lander) is a reminder of how challenging it can be. Soviet and European attempts over the decades have not had happy endings either. After Perseverance, China will be the next to try: Tianwen-1 includes a lander/rover that will descend to the surface in May or June.

Quite a number of Perseverance briefings are scheduled for this week. For convenience, here are all the ones we know about as of today.

  • Tuesday, February 16
    • Mission Engineering and Technology Overview, 1:00 pm ET (NASA)
    • Mission Science Overview, 3:30 pm ET (NASA)
  • Wednesday, February 17
    • Preparing for Landing at Jezero Crater, 11:30 am ET (National Academies)
    • Mission Landing Update, 1:00 pm ET (NASA)
    • Searching for Ancient Life and Mars Sample Return, 3:00 pm ET (NASA)
  • Thursday, February 18: Landing is at 3:55 pm ET
    • Live Coverage of Landing, 2:15 pm ET (NASA)
    • Post-Landing News Briefing, 5:30 pm ET (NASA)
  • Friday, February 19
    • Mission Update, 1:00 pm ET (NASA)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of all that’s going on this week.

Three events showcase the national security space program.  Space Development Agency (SDA) director Derek Tournear will be interviewed by Breaking Defense reporter Theresa Hitchens for the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium 365 series on Tuesday; U.S. Space Command Commander Gen. James Dickinson will speak to the Washington Space Business Roundtable on Wednesday; and the Aerospace Corporation’s Space Policy Show on Thursday focuses on “DOD Organization and Space Force.”

International space activities get a lot of attention.  Jan Woerner is completing his tenure as ESA Director General this month and will be interviewed by Washington Post reporter Chris Davenport on Wednesday in another Space Symposium 365 webinar.  The day before (Tuesday), ESA will hold a media event to discuss its new astronaut selection opportunity, the first time ESA has recruited astronauts in 11 years.

Also on Tuesday, the UAE Embassy is sponsoring a very interesting webinar by The Hill newspaper on “The New Space Age.” Speakers include Her Excellency Sarah Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology and the head of the UAE Space Agency; Avigdor ‘Avi’ Blasberger, Director-General, Israel Space Agency; Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee; Dave Brain from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), which built the UAE’s Hope spacecraft; Phil Christensen of Arizona State University who helped build one of Hope’s instruments and is also co-chair of the National Academies’ Decadal Survey on Planetary Science and Astrobiology; and NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins, a geologist.

Two groups will discuss China’s space activities: SSPI-MA hosts two experts from Euroconsult to discuss “Reading the Tea Leaves: Deciphering the Chinese Space Industry” on Wednesday evening; and the U.S. China Series in partnership with the Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the Caelus Foundation holds a webinar on “The Business of Space: China’s Ambitions & the Global Context” on Thursday.

Separately, SWF and Switzerland’s EPFL Space Center (eSPACE) are holding a symposium on Sustainable Space Logistics Tuesday-Thursday.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a one-hour webinar with 11 (!) participants, including Rep. Steve Palazzo (R-MS) and Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL), on Wednesday focused on the role of Marshall Space Flight Center and Huntsville-area companies in the Artemis program.

Nothing much is happening on Capitol Hill space-wise, except that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold its organizational meeting for the 117th Congress on Thursday. The committee’s leadership remains the same:  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) as Chairwoman and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) as Ranking Member. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) takes the helm of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee, replacing Kendra Horn who was defeated in her reelection bid.  Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) continues as subcommittee Ranking Member.  The committee will hold its first hearing on Friday, but it is once again about COVID, not space.  Just about all of the committee’s hearings have been COVID-related since the pandemic began last year.

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel also meets on Thursday.

To finish the week, the next U.S. cargo mission to ISS launches just six days after Russia’s Progress MS-16.  Northrop Grumman’s NG-15 lifts off on Saturday from Wallops Island, VA.  A pre-launch news conference is the day before.

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.

Sunday, February 14

  • Planetfest’21 (continued from February 13), 1:00 pm ET
  • Launch of Progress MS-16, Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, 11:45 pm ET (Feb. 15, 9:45 am local time at the launch site), NASA TV begins 11:15 pm ET

Monday, February 15

Tuesday, February 16

Tuesday-Thursday, February 16-18

Wednesday, February 17

Thursday, February 18

Friday, February 19

Saturday, February 20

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