What’s Happening in Space Policy January 10-16, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 10-16, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 10-16, 2021 (with January 17 as a bonus) and any insight we can offer about them.  The Senate is scheduled to meet only in pro forma sessions through January 19, although one committee hearing is scheduled for this week.  The House schedule is in flux.

Editor’s Note: Writing about space policy events against the backdrop of the January 6 “failed insurrection,” to quote Mitch McConnell, at the U.S. Capitol and the alarming rise in COVID cases and deaths may seem a bit beside the point. But just as the arrival of vaccines offers a ray of hope on the COVID front, the glorious images of SpaceX’s first launch of the year on Thursday night was a welcome tonic for sagging spirits.

Space X’s launch of Turksat 5A,  Jan. 7, 2021. Image credit: SpaceX.

Indeed, listening to space conferences, webinars and committee meetings offers a comforting sense of normalcy.  So here we go — what’s coming up in space policy this week.

During the Week

The 117th Congress House committees are still organizing, so no House hearings are planned this week.  The House was scheduled to meet only in pro forma sessions, but that may change if it begins impeachment proceedings as widely reported.

The first space policy-related hearing we’ve heard about on the House side will be January 21 when the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) takes up the issue of whether to grant a waiver for Gen. Lloyd Austin III (Ret.) to serve as Secretary of Defense (SecDef) even though he has not been separated from military service for the required seven years. Congress has only granted waivers to that requirement twice, most recently four years ago for Gen. James Mattis (Ret.).

The decision was controversial then as it is now. This Tuesday (January 12), the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will hold a hearing on the topic of civilian control of the military in advance of  its nomination hearing for Austin on January 19. (That day the Senate will still be under Republican control. Democrats will take control of the Senate once Kamala Harris is inaugurated as Vice President on January 20 and the two new Democratic Senators from Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, are sworn in.  A date for them to take their oaths of office has not been set. Under Democratic control, all Senate committees and subcommittees will get Democratic instead of Republican chairs, so a lot of changes will occur.  More on that to come.)

President-elect Biden has made his selections for other Cabinet positions that affect space policy (especially Secretaries of Commerce and Transportation and Director of National Intelligence), but hearing dates for those nominations have not been announced.

Off the Hill, as often happens in January, three major conferences of interest to the space policy community are taking place simultaneously: the American Meteorological Society (AMS) annual meeting, the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and AIAA’s SciTech Forum.  They are all virtual, of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and AIAA has split SciTech across two weeks this year (January 11-15 and January 19-21).  There are far too many interesting sessions to highlight here, but let’s just say it’ll be a space science, technology, and human spaceflight feast all week.

On top of that, two NASA Advisory Council (NAC) committees will meet Wednesday and Thursday.  On Wednesday, the Human Exploration and Operations Committee, chaired by Wayne Hale, will hear from NASA officials about the International Space Station, Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN), and commercial spaceflight.  On Thursday, they will be joined by the NAC Science Committee, chaired by Mini Wadhwa, to get an update on the Artemis program and associated science. Both days look very interesting (all virtual, of course).

Women in Aerospace (WIA) will have a webinar on Wednesday afternoon with Kathy Lueders, the head of NASA’s human exploration program, and Robyn Gatens, Director of the International Space Station program at NASA Headquarters.  It’s at the same time as the NAC/HEO meeting, unfortunately.  Choices, choices!

On Friday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Japanese Embassy will hold a webinar on “Japan-U.S. Space Cooperation: The Artemis Generation is Upon Us.” Japan is on track to be one of NASA’s major international partners in Artemis so although the agenda has not been released yet, the webinar is bound to be full of useful and important information.

We also wanted to mention that a week from today, Sunday, January 17, NASA plans to conduct the much-anticipated hot fire test of the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage at Stennis Space Center, MS.  The hot fire test is the last of eight tests in the Green Run series where all four RS-25 engines will be fired simultaneously for just over 8 minutes, the duration needed to reach space. This time the core stage will be firmly attached to an enormous test stand, but the next time will be for the actual launch of the first SLS on its Artemis-I test flight around the Moon.  The four reusable RS-25 engines are left over from the space shuttle program and have flown many times, but the shuttle used only three.  This is the first time four of them will be fired together.  NASA has not said what time the test will take place and it may be before we publish next week’s What’s Happening, so we decided to include it this time.

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-Friday, January 10-15

Monday, January 11

Monday-Friday, January 11-15

Tuesday, January 12

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 12-13

Wednesday, January 13

Wednesday-Thursday, January 13-14

Thursday, January 14

Friday, January 15

Sunday, January 17


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