What’s Happening in Space Policy February 16-22, 2020

What’s Happening in Space Policy February 16-22, 2020

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of February 16-22, 2020 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this week except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

Tomorrow (Monday) is a federal holiday.  Most calendars refer to it as Presidents’ Day in honor of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and George Washington (February 22), but according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) it is “Washington’s Birthday” because that’s what the U.S. Code calls it [5 U.S.C. 6103 (e)].  Whatever your preference, it’s a holiday and Congress is taking the entire week off from legislative duties to reconnect with constituents back home.

But there are always interesting things happening in space!  Northrop Grumman finally got a break in the weather (upper level winds have been a nuisance lately) and launched the Cygnus NG-13 cargo mission to the International Space Station yesterday.  It will arrive early Tuesday morning for those who want to watch on NASA TV.  Another cargo mission, this one launched by SpaceX, is coming right up on March 2.  NASA will hold a briefing on Thursday to highlight some of the science experiments that will be aboard.

On Tuesday at lunchtime, Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), will speak at a Maryland Space Business Roundtable (MSBR) luncheon in Greenbelt, MD (near Goddard Space Flight Center).  For FY2021, the Trump Administration is requesting an overall 12 percent increase ($25.3 billion versus $22.6 billion) for NASA to pay for the Artemis Moon-by-2024 program. But SMD’s share would go down by 12 percent ($6.3 billion instead of $7.1 billion). Every part of the science budget would be cut. The proposal again calls for killing three programs the Trump Administration has been trying to terminate since it took office — two in Earth science (PACE and CLARREO-Pathfinder) and one in astrophysics (the next big space telescope, WFIRST) — even though Congress rejects those proposals every time.  This year the Administration has added another astrophysics program to the proposed termination list — the airborne SOFIA infrared telescope. A joint program with Germany’s space agency, SOFIA is quite popular in Congress at least in part because it offers high school science teachers from around the country a chance to get some first-hand experience in astrophysical observations through the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program by flying on the plane with the telescope.  (It’s not part of the SMD budget, but the Trump Administration is also again proposing eliminating NASA’s entire STEM Education program, another proposal rejected every year by Congress.)  All at the same time it is asking for a huge infusion of money to return astronauts to the Moon and go on to Mars.  It’ll be another interesting year for NASA budget deliberations on the Hill.

On Wednesday, the non-partisan congressional staff group Space Advocates will host a briefing in Rayburn on space weather, a very hot topic (pun intended).  Space weather refers to ejections from the Sun — Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) and solar wind — that can overload systems on Earth and in orbit that are critical to daily life, such as the electric grid or communications and navigation satellites. NASA, NOAA, and NSF are all involved in research to better understand the Sun and predict these events to mitigate the consequences for our technological society.  The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee just approved space weather legislation to codify agency roles and responsibilities last month. The Senate has a somewhat different bill pending and the Senate Commerce Committee had a hearing last week that included a discussion of space weather.  This briefing is more about the research itself and will highlight NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, and NSF’s new solar observatory under construction on Maui.  Named after the late Senator from Hawaii, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) is slated to become operational later this year.

Over in Austin, TX on Wednesday and Thursday, experts will meet to discuss Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM), another topic of significant congressional interest. Committees in both the House and Senate held hearings on it last week.  One of the witnesses at the Senate hearing, Moriba Jah, is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin where this conference is being held.  Several of the other witnesses at the two hearings will also be there, including Kevin O’Connell, Director of the Office of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce.  President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-3 assigns Commerce responsibility for SSA and STM for civil and commercial satellite operators, although Congress has not yet agreed.  Some argue that the FAA is the right place for that.  George Nield, who retired in 2019 after many years at the helm of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, is also on the agenda moderating a panel on the government’s role.

On Friday morning, CSIS will host Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, and Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly for an hour’s discussion.  While there certainly will be a lot to talk about, formation of the U.S. Space Force and U.S. Space Command almost certainly will come up.  It will be webcast.

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, February 17

  • Federal Holiday (Presidents’ Day or Washington’s Birthday, depending on your preference)

Tuesday, February 18

Wednesday, February 19

Wednesday-Thursday, February 19-20

Thursday, February 20

Friday, February 21


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