What’s Happening in Space Policy January 23-29, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 23-29, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 23-29, 2022 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

The week starts off on a happy note with the James Webb Space Telescope arriving at its destination tomorrow (Monday). NASA will fire the spacecraft’s thrusters at 2:00 pm ET to put JWST into its halo orbit around the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point-2 (SEL-2) a million miles from Earth. (NASA has a helpful explanation of Lagrange points on its JWST blog.) It’s been travelling there since it left Earth on December 25, unfolding itself along the way. There still is a lot of work to do before it is ready to send back crystal clear images of the universe — that will take until May or June — but settling in at L2 is another major milestone.  NASA will air a special Science Live episode tomorrow at 3:00 pm ET and hold a media teleconference at 4:00 pm ET to talk about what comes next.

The mood will turn somber, however, on Thursday, January 27, the 55th anniversary of the tragedy that killed the three-man crew of the first Apollo mission. Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who had flown on Mercury-Redstone 4 and Gemini 3, Ed White, the first American to make a spacewalk on Gemini 4, and rookie Roger Chaffee died when fire broke out in their Apollo capsule on the launch pad during a pre-launch test.

The crew of Apollo 1 (L-R): Ed White, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and Roger Chaffee. Credit: NASA

Each year NASA holds a Day of Remembrance in late January-early February to honor all of its fallen astronauts including the crews who perished on Apollo 1 (January 27, 1967), the Space Shuttle Challenger (January 28, 1986) and the Space Shuttle Columbia (February 1, 2003). This year it is on the Apollo 1 anniversary. A ceremony will be held at Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex in conjunction with the Astronaut Memorial Foundation at 10:00 am ET. It will be broadcast on KSC’s Facebook page but, oddly, is not listed on the NASA TV schedule. Also, the NASA Administrator typically leads a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery though we have not seen any notice about that yet. It usually is open only to invited guests and not televised. [Update, Monday, January 24: NASA has just issued a press release with information about Nelson’s plans, including a panel discussion on safety and lessons learned at 3:30 pm ET that day.]

Whether intentionally or coincidentally, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) will hold its first 2022 quarterly public meeting that same day. Congress created ASAP in response to the Apollo fire. Its job is to advise NASA and Congress on safety issues at the agency. ASAP’s just-released 2021 annual report cautioned that NASA is at an “inflection point” in managing human spaceflight programs with its increasing reliance on public-private partnerships and called on the agency to “urgently” define its future role in human spaceflight and articulate a vision and principles to guide it for at least the next 20 years.

The crew of Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-51L: from left – front row Mike Smith (NASA), Dick Scobee (NASA), Ron McNair (NASA); back row, Ellison Onizuka (NASA), Christa McAuliffe (Teacher-in-Space), Greg Jarvis (Hughes Aircraft), Judy Resnik (NASA). All perished on January 28, 1986 when an O-ring in one of the Solid Rocket Boosters failed due to very cold weather at the launch site, allowing hot gases to escape from the SRB and causing the subsequent failure of the other SRB and the External Tank. Aerodynamic forces destroyed the orbiter and her crew.

Israeli Space Week also is this week, honoring Air Force pilot Ilan Ramon who died in the 2003 Columbia accident. The 17th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference will take place virtually on Tuesday. Speakers include very high level Israeli officials: President Isaac Herzog; Minister of Innovation, Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen; and the Chairman and the Director-General of the Israel Space Agency, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Isaac Ben Israel and Brig. Gen. (Res.) Uri Oron. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Canadian Space Agency President Lisa Campbell, and many other officials from space agencies around the world also are on the agenda. It begins rather early Eastern Standard Time (3:00 am), but for anyone who’s up, it looks quite interesting.

The crew of Space Shuttle Columbia mission STS-107: 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. All perished on February 1, 2003 when returning from space after a 16-day mission. Superheated gases (plasma) that surround the shuttle during reentry 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.

As usual there are many other events this week. We’ll mention just three here.

On Monday and Tuesday, a National Academies committee will hold its first meeting to analyze why the 305-meter dish at the Arecibo Observatory collapsed. The National Science Foundation requested the Academies to convene a committee to analyze “the contributing factors and probable cause(s) of the failure and recommendations for measures to prevent similar damage to other facilities in the future. The committee will assess the environmental, physical, and design considerations as well as any administrative or management practices that may have been contributing factors to the failure.” The study is under the aegis of the Board on Infrastructure and the Constructed Environment with participation by the Space Studies Board, Board on Physics and Astronomy, and National Materials and Manufacturing Board.

On Wednesday, CSIS and the Secure World Foundation are teaming up for what sounds like a fascinating webinar on “uncoordinated close approaches” to commercial and government satellites in geostationary orbit “by others.” Entitled “Dancing Lights in Space: How to Manage the Risks of Satellite Close Approaches in Geostationary Orbit,” the webinar features Audrey Schaffer, Director for Space Policy at the White House National Security Council, followed by a panel that includes Brien Flwelling of ExoAnalytics, Dan Oltrogge of COMSPOC, Marc Becker from DLR, and Doug Loverro, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy (and former head of NASA’s human spaceflight program). Loverro and three colleagues recently published a paper calling on the United States to lead the way globally in stopping debris-producing ASAT tests by declaring a unilateral moratorium.

On Thursday, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will hold its annual Japan-U.S. Aerospace Cooperation seminar. This year it is virtual and will be livestreamed on JAXA’s YouTube channel. JAXA Vice President Yasuo Ishii and NASA Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Karen Feldstein will provide opening remarks. Next is a presentation on JAXA’s program and 2022 budget by JAXA Director of International Relations and Research Yoshikazu Shoji followed by a Q&A moderated by Kota Umeda, Deputy Director of JAXA’s Washington Office. JAXA Washington Office Director Masami Onoda then will engage in a fireside chat with Scott Pace, Director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and former Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council during the Trump Administration. The event wraps up with a special message from JAXA astronaut Norishige Kanai.

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.

Sunday-Thursday, January 23-27

Monday, January 24

Monday-Tuesday, January 24-25

Tuesday, January 25

Tuesday-Wednesday, January 25-26

Wednesday, January 26

Wednesday-Thursday, January 26-27

Thursday, January 27

This article has been updated.

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