What’s Happening in Space Policy January 21-27, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 21-27, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 21-27, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week. The House is in recess except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

This week is pretty tame compared to the whirlwind last week — the government got funded for a few more weeks, Japan became the fifth country to soft land on the Moon, Astrobotic’s Peregrine didn’t but the company remains upbeat anyway, Axiom’s third private astronaut flight got underway, and more.

Human spaceflight will get more attention this week.

On a somber note, this is the time of year NASA honors the astronauts whose lives have been lost in the pursuit of exploration. On Tuesday, NASA’s three top officials — Administrator Bill Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy and Associate Administrator Jim Free — will hold a Town Hall meeting to discuss how safety is critical to mission success. And as it does every year on the last Thursday in January, NASA will hold its annual Day of Remembrance with activities at several of NASA’s centers and a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Remembrance Day centers on the three crews who perished on January 27, 1967, January 28, 1986, and February 1, 2003.

The first U.S. space tragedy occurred on January 27, 1967.  Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died when a fire erupted in the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere of their Apollo spacecraft during a pre-launch test at Kennedy Space Center, FL. They would have been the first crew to launch into space aboard an Apollo spacecraft and hence many refer to this as Apollo 1.

Apollo 1 crew:  Ed White, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee.  Photo credit:  NASA

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff.  Five NASA astronauts (Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, and Ron McNair), a payload specialist from Hughes Aircraft (Greg Jarvis) and a New Hampshire schoolteacher flying as a Teacher in Space (Christa McAuliffe) died when an “O-ring” in one of the two  Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) failed due to very cold weather at the launch site. The failure of the O-ring allowed hot gases to escape from the SRB and cause the subsequent failure of the other SRB and the External Tank.  Aerodynamic forces destroyed the orbiter and her crew.

Space Shuttle Challenger crew: from left – front row Mike Smith,  Dick Scobee, Ron McNair; back row, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik. Photo credit:  NASA

On February 1, 2003, six NASA astronauts (Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark) and an Israeli Air Force pilot flying as a payload specialist (Ilan Ramon) died during their return from a 16-day science mission aboard space shuttle Columbia.  Superheated gases (plasma) that surround the shuttle during reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere entered a hole in the wing that had been created during liftoff by foam falling from the External Tank. The wing deformed and aerodynamic forces tore the shuttle apart.

Space Shuttle Columbia crew:  from left –  David Brown (NASA), Rick Husband (NASA), Laurel Clark (NASA), Kalpana Chawla (NASA), Michael Anderson (NASA), William McCool (NASA), Ilan Ramon (Israeli Air Force). Photo credit: NASA.

Human spaceflight continues despite the tragedies. On the same day as the Day of Remembrance,  NASA will hold two briefings for its next regular ISS crew rotation, Crew-8. Three NASA astronauts — Matthew Dominick (commander), Michael Barratt (pilot), and Jeanette Epps (mission specialist) — and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin will launch in mid-February. The first briefing is with NASA, SpaceX, and Roscosmos officials. The second is with the four Crew-8 members along with NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson who is getting ready to fly to ISS on Russia’s Soyuz MS-25 in March.

NASA/SpaceX Crew-8, L-R: Alexander Grebenkin (Roscosmos), Michael Barratt (NASA), Matthew Dominick (NASA), Jeanette Epps (NASA). Credit: NASA

Virgin Galactic also is targeting its next suborbital commercial human spaceflight, Galactic 06, for Friday.

Also this week, Space News will hold a webinar on satellites designed to detect methane emissions, a key contributor to climate change. Representatives of three companies building satellites for that purpose — Carbon Mapper (Riley Duran), GHGSat (Jean-Francois Gauthier) and MethaneSat (Steven Hamburg) — will join two JPL experts (Rob Green and Andrew Thorpe) on the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) instrument attached to the International Space Station and a NOAA expert (Shobha Kondragunta) on aerosol observations using geostationary satellites. “Not Invisible Anymore: How Satellites Monitor Atmospheric Methane,” sponsored by Ball, is tomorrow (Monday) afternoon.

The National Academies is currently performing its mid-term review of the 2018 Decadal Survey on earth observations from space and will get an update on NASA’s earth science program from Karen St. Germain on Thursday. She’s the Division Director for Earth Science in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Academies prepare Decadal Surveys for each of NASA’s science disciplines every 10 years (a decade) and half-way through that decade take a look to see how everything’s going — a “mid-term” review.

Anna Christmann, Coordinator of German Aerospace Pollicy and Chair of ESA’s Ministerial Council, is one of the key European space leaders who will speak at the 16th European Space Conference in Brussels this week.

Over in Brussels, the 16th European Space Conference will take place Tuesday-Wednesday with a who’s who of European space leaders. They include ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher, Chair of the ESA Council Anna Christmann (Germany), ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, DLR Director General Walther Pelzer, CNES Chairman and CEO Phillipe Baptiste, ASI President Teodoro Valente, U.K. Space Agency CEO Paul Bate, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël, and many, many, many more. A virtual option is available. Remember Central European Time is 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

We’ll also note that JAXA said it would have another press conference this week to provide an update on their SLIM lunar lander. Though it successfully made a soft landing, for some reason the solar cells did not supply power and it operated only as long as the battery held out. They’re trying to figure out why and also are analyzing data to find out if they met their primary goal of landing within 100 meters of the designated spot. We’ll post whatever information we get about when the press conference will take place on our Calendar. [The press conference is scheduled for January 25 from 14:00-15:30 Japan Standard Time, which is 12:00-1:30 am Eastern Standard 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 to changes to these.

Monday, January 22

Tuesday, January 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 23-24

Thursday, January 25

Thursday-Friday, January 25-26

Friday, January 26


This article has been updated to add the date of JAXA’s SLIM press conference (January 25, 12:00-1:30 am ET) and to correct the date of Northrop Grumman’s 4Q2023 telecon (January 25 not January 24).

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