What’s Happening in Space Policy January 1-12, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 1-12, 2018

Here is our list of space policy events for TWO weeks, January 1-12, 2018, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate will formally convene the 2nd session of the 115th Congress on January 3, but the House has only pro forma sessions scheduled for the first week.

During the Weeks

Happy New Year’s Eve!

As the clock ticks down to the beginning of 2018 just a few hours away, it’s daunting to consider all the work Congress, the White House, and the space community have coming up in the next 12 months.

Last week we provided a run down of the legislation and nominations Congress left unfinished at the end of 2017. Completing action on them in the 2nd session of the 115th Congress, which begins on January 3 at noon, will be complicated not only by the narrowing of the Republican majority in the Senate from 52 to 51 after Alabama Senator-elect Doug Jones is sworn in, but by the 2018 mid-term elections that will consume the focus of every Senator and Member of Congress running for re-election.

One-third of the Senate and all of the House seats are up for election in November. Some incumbents, including House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, have chosen not to run.  Others may in for tight races, including two who are very important in space policy: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee and who flew in space on STS 61-C, and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA.  We also note that one of the space policy community’s own is running for Congress this year — Chris Hearsey, the former Director of Bigelow Aerospace’s Washington office.  Hearsey is running in the Democratic primary for the 6th district of Maryland, an open seat (the incumbent is retiring).  He is one of the few candidates (if not the only) for national office who lists “space” as one of his six top issues.

All eyes will be on the White House, not just Congress, this coming year in space policy.  President Trump’s signing of Space Policy Directive-1 three weeks ago sparked speculation about whether he will follow through with a sufficient budget request to support sending U.S. astronauts back to the surface of the Moon in the foreseeable future and/or whether any new COTS-like public-private partnerships might be part of such an endeavor.  His National Security Strategy, released a week later, also devoted attention to space issues.  With the National Space Council in full swing, and the release of the President’s Budget Request for FY2019 just weeks away (it is due on February 5), everyone is on pins and needles waiting for decisions to be announced.  That includes a transition plan for the International Space Station, which NASA decided not to send to Congress when it was due on December 1 because pending decisions could affect what it says.

And then there’s the private sector.  SpaceX says it will conduct the first launch of its Falcon Heavy rocket in January.  A launch pad “fit check” took place on December 28.  A static fire test presumably will come next and then the launch on a date yet to be announced.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has been tempering expectations for months that it may not succeed, but if it does, it will put a midnight cherry red Tesla Roadster into “a billion year elliptic Mars orbit.”  Or as SpaceX says, a Red Car for the Red Planet.

Rocket Lab hopes to conduct its next Electron test launch, designated Still Testing, from its New Zealand launch site “early in the New Year.”  Several attempts in December were scrubbed due to weather or technical issues. Moon Express is one of Rocket Lab’s first customers so if all goes well, 2018 may see the first commercial spacecraft land on the Moon.  Moon Express is one of the teams in the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) competition to win $20 million (out of a total purse of $30 million) by landing a commercial spacecraft on the Moon and conducting specified operations.  The deadline for achieving that goal has been extended a number of times.  At the moment it is March 31, 2018. Moon Express and others stress that winning the prize is not their only motivation and will proceed no matter what. (Moon Express and other GLXP competitors will speak at NASA’s January 10-12 Lunar Science for Landed Missions Workshop described below.)

Many other major events are on tap in 2018, including possible test flights of the SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew vehicles, though those schedules are rather tentative.  Overall, 2018 promises to be a busy and exciting year.

Focusing on just the next two weeks, it is possible that the Falcon Heavy and Rocket Lab launches could take place.  Definitive schedules have not been announced so they do not appear on our calendar, however.

The congressional committees that have jurisdiction over space issues have not yet posted their hearing schedules.   We’ll add any that are relevant to our calendar as they are announced.

The Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) will have a luncheon on Friday, January 5, at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City (in Arlington, VA) with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Lidia Soto-Harmon, CEO of Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital.  They will discuss “Girl Scouts & the USAF: Developing Leaders for the Next Space Age.”

The annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) annual SciTech forum, are all taking place at the same time as usual.  AMS is January 7-11 in Austin, TX;  AAS is January 8-12 in National Harbor, MD (outside Washington, DC); and AIAA SciTech is January 8-12 in Kissimmee, FL.  All have great sessions on space science, earth science, and/or aerospace engineering.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that any will be livestreamed, though some will have archived webcasts available later.

On January 10-12, NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) and Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) are sponsoring a workshop at Ames Research Center on Lunar Science for Landed Missions.  Among the sessions is a panel where representatives from Moon Express (see above), two other GLXP competitors (Astrobotic and Team Hakuto), and Blue Origin will speak.  Blue Origin is proposing a “Blue Moon” delivery service to the lunar surface.  Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt is also on the program.  The event’s website does not indicate if the conference will be livestreamed, but since SSERVI – a virtual institute — is one of the sponsors, we certainly hope so.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

Monday, January 1

Wednesday, January 3

Friday, January 5

Sunday-Thursday, January 7-11

Monday-Friday, January 8-12

Wednesday-Friday, January 10-12


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