What’s Happening in Space Policy January 14-20, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 14-20, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 14-20, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week starting Tuesday.

During the Week

The week begins with a holiday tomorrow (Monday) to honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, but then it’s off to the races.

Four events vie for top billing this week. In chronological order: a House hearing on NASA’s Artemis program following the agency’s announcement last week that Artemis II and III are delayed a year; the launch of the next private astronauts to the International Space Station, Axiom-3; an Astrobotic/NASA media telecon on Peregrine, the lunar lander that won’t be able to land on the Moon; and, hopefully, the successful lunar landing of another probe, JAXA’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM).

Before we get to those, however, an update on what we reported two days ago on the appropriations situation and whether there will be a partial government shutdown Friday, January 19. That’s when the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires for agencies funded in the Agriculture, Energy-Water, MilCon-VA, and Transportation-HUD appropriations bills.

Yesterday, congressional leadership agreed to extend the January 19 deadline to March 1. Agencies funded by the other eight appropriations bills have until February 2 under the current CR. That deadline would be extended to March 8. The text of the bill is supposed to be released today. The House and Senate are out tomorrow for the federal holiday. They return on Tuesday and the new CR has to pass by midnight Friday. It certainly can get done by then if enough members want it, but as we explained, House Speaker Mike Johnson risks losing his job if he again turns to bipartisanship as he did in November, and as former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did in September. It’ll be another tense week.

Cathy Koerner, AA for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, will testify for NASA at Wednesday’s House SS&T subcommittee hearing on Artemis.

While all of that is going on, the space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on NASA’s Artemis program. Last week NASA announced essentially one-year delays for the next two Artemis missions: Artemis II, the crew test flight around the Moon; and Artemis III, the first landing of humans on the Moon since the Apollo program.

The hearing has an interesting witness list. Cathy Koerner will be there for NASA. She just took over from Jim Free as Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) that oversees Artemis. She’s only been in the job for a couple of weeks, but she was Free’s Deputy before that. (Free is now NASA’s Associate Administrator, the top civil servant in the agency.)  She will be joined by Bill Russell from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) who led the recent GAO study that predicted an Artemis III delay; George Scott, NASA’s Acting Inspector General, who was Paul Martin’s Deputy (Martin moved over to the Agency for International Development); and Mike Griffin, co-president of LogiQ. Inc.

Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator from 2005-2009, will testify at the House SS&T hearing on Artemis on Wednesday.

Griffin was NASA Administrator during the George W. Bush Administration and developed the plan for the Constellation program to return humans to the Moon by 2020. President Obama nixed the program because it was unaffordable and decided the U.S. should focus on getting humans to orbit Mars in the 2030s instead of going to the Moon. President Trump restored the Moon to the human exploration plan, but NASA developed an architecture for doing it that’s quite different from Constellation. Griffin is a critic, especially of the Gateway space station, calling it “stupid” in 2018.

Built by an international partnership of the U.S., Europe, Canada, Japan and the UAE, Gateway will orbit the Moon. The Human Landing Systems will be docked there. Astronauts will arrive in an Orion capsule, enter Gateway and transfer into an HLS for the trip down and back and then return to Orion for the trip home. Griffin is a highly respected veteran of the civil, commercial, and national security space communities whose efforts to get humans back on the Moon date back to the George H.W. Bush Administration’s (1989-1993) Space Exploration Initiative. He sees no need for Gateway at this time because the landers could dock directly with Orion. That is, in fact, what will happen on Artemis III since Gateway won’t be there by then.

For their part, committee Republican and Democratic leaders said they wanted to learn about the reasons for the delay and the cost implications.

Later that day, the Axiom-3 crew will launch to the ISS. Axiom calls it the first “all European” crew because the three passengers are from Italy (Michael Villadei), Türkiye (Alper Gezeravci) and Sweden (Marcus Wandt) and Axiom’s commander, Michael López-Alegria, is a dual citizen of Spain and the U.S.  He was a NASA astronaut for many years before moving over to Axiom. This will be his sixth spaceflight and fifth trip to the ISS. He was there three times for NASA (two shuttle visits and one long-duration mission), and once already for Axiom. The passengers are all military pilots for their governments.

The Axiom-3 private astronaut crew will launch to the International Space Station on Wednesday. L-R: Michael López-Alegria (Axiom Space), Walter Villadei (Italian Air Force), Alper Gezeravci (Turkish Air Force), Marcus Wandt (ESA/Swedish Air Force). Photo credit: Axiom

The passenger manifest underscores the difficulty in nomenclature in this new era of human spaceflight. This is a “private astronaut” mission in the sense that Axiom is a private sector company that is earning revenue from the mission and paying another company, SpaceX, for transportation services and NASA for use of the ISS. But these are not billionaires on a tourist flight. “Commercial astronauts” doesn’t quite fit either since governments are paying Axiom. “Non-professional astronauts” is perhaps the best term since they will return to their regular jobs after this. Whatever they are called, they are scheduled to spend 14 days on the ISS doing experiments and enjoying the experience. If launch takes place as scheduled on Wednesday, they will dock very early Friday morning.

Switching gears, on Thursday, Astrobotic and NASA will hold a media telecon about the Peregrine lunar lander. Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic built Peregrine under a Public-Private Partnership with NASA where NASA paid them to deliver NASA science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. Astrobotic had to find other customers to close the business case. Peregrine was successfully launched by ULA’s new Vulcan rocket on Monday, but almost immediately suffered a propellant leak and will not be able to land on the Moon. Astrobotic is winning kudos for its transparency and frequent updates on Peregrine’s status, but the bottom line is that it cannot complete its mission. The type of orbit it was using to get to the Moon brings it back towards Earth initially and Astrobotic predicts it will reenter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up sometime this week. The timing is uncertain, but could happen on Thursday, too. Astrobotic posted this graphic on X yesterday of where Peregrine is in relation to the Earth and Moon.


Getting a small, comparatively inexpensive lander to the Moon is a popular aspiration these days. Peregrine is just the latest failure, though there has been one success. Hopefully there will be another on Friday when the Japanese government makes a try. Japan’s ispace, a commercial company, was one of those that failed last year.

JAXA’s Small Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), or “Moon Sniper,” was launched in September and entered lunar orbit on Christmas Day. They’ve been waiting for just the right time to descend and land. That’s scheduled for Friday morning at 10:20 am Eastern Standard Time, which is Saturday 12:20 am in Japan. If anything goes awry between now and then, they can wait until February 14 instead. The main goal is to demonstrate pinpoint landing, but SLIM also has a tiny rover and a hopper. The landing will be webcast.

Illustration of JAXA’s Small Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) which is scheduled to land on the Moon on Friday morning EST (very early Saturday in Japan).

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, January 15

Tuesday, January 16

Wednesday, January 17

Wednesday-Thursday, January 17-18

  • Space Weather Roundtable (National Academies), Keck Center, 500 5th Street, NW, Washington, DC, open sessions on January 17 only (livestreamed)

Thursday, January 18

Thursday-Friday, January 18-19

Friday, January 19

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