What’s Happening in Space Policy January 26-February 1, 2020

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 26-February 1, 2020

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 26-February 1, 2020 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Wednesday’s markup of the newly-introduced House version of a 2020 NASA Authorization Act will be the highlight in congressional space policy this week. Released very late Friday afternoon, the Space Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will mark it up at 2:00 pm ET.  The bill’s sponsors are the bipartisan leadership of the subcommittee (Rep. Kendra Horn, D-OK and Rep. Brian Babin, R-TX) and full committee (Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX and Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK), which suggests it will have broad support.  The markup will be webcast on the committee’s website.

The bill, H.R. 5666, covers everything NASA does, but its provisions regarding human spaceflight are capturing the limelight since the bill rejects not only the White House’s 2024 deadline to return astronauts to the lunar surface, but just about everything else about it.  It focuses on getting people to Mars, first to orbit the Red Planet in 2033 and to land “in  a sustainable manner as soon as practicable.”  Thus it embraces only those lunar surface activities essential to accomplishing the Mars goal, eschewing lunar outposts and resource exploitation.  Basically it says yes, return to the Moon (by 2028, NASA’s original plan), but don’t stay there long because the real goal is Mars.

Significantly, it rejects the idea of public-private partnerships (PPPs) for building human lunar landers where NASA would buy services from companies instead of owning them itself.  The bill requires that the government own them.  It also calls for integrated human landers launched on Boeing’s Space Launch System (SLS) and Exploration Upper Stage (SLS/EUS), not multi-component landers launched on commercial rockets and integrated at the Gateway in lunar orbit.  (It doesn’t support the lunar Gateway either, only one for getting to Mars.)  NASA is planning to award lunar lander contracts as soon as next month based on the PPP model so this could be a complication.  The heavy emphasis on Boeing’s SLS/EUS instead of commercial rockets has the Twitterverse abuzz, but overall reaction is falling along traditional lines: the decades-long  rivalry between those who see the Moon as a literal gold mine worthy of exploration and exploitation on its own and those who see it, at best, as a quick stopover to test technologies and systems before committing to the much longer trip to Mars.

The bill has only been introduced and may never become law as is (whatever the House eventually passes must be reconciled with the Senate and the President can always veto it), but the fact that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has been unsuccessful in convincing the top Republicans and Democrats on the committee on which he used to serve, including two members from his own state (Horn and Lucas), may foreshadow the challenges NASA faces in convincing the rest of Congress.  At Wednesday’s markup, it will be very interesting to see if any amendments are offered to move this back closer to the Artemis concept.

The markup on Wednesday afternoon unfortunately coincides with the opening of the other big space policy event in Washington this week — the annual Commercial Space Transportation conference.  The day-and-a-half-long meeting (Wednesday afternoon, all day Thursday) has lots of terrific speakers from the government (FAA, NASA, Department of Commerce, Congress) and private sector.  The last two panels on Thursday are on Artemis and then a group of congressional staff, which could be especially interesting in light of Wednesday’s markup.

On a somber note, Thursday is also NASA’s annual Day of Remembrance honoring members of the NASA family who lost their lives furthering the cause of exploration.  Those include the crews of the January 27, 1967 Apollo 1 fire, the January 28, 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy, and the February 1, 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy.  Bridenstine will lead an observance at Arlington National Cemetery at 1:00 pm ET.  Several NASA centers will hold their own events.

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, January 26

Monday, January 27

Tuesday, January 28

Wednesday, January 29

Wednesday-Thursday, January 29-30

Thursday, January 30

Thursday-Wednesday, January 30 – February 5


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