What’s Happening in Space Policy January 7-12, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 7-12, 2018

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of January 7-12, 2018 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This week’s events begin today, Sunday, with a session on the growth of small launchers in the commercial space industry at the Transportation Research Board conference this afternoon, and the SpaceX launch of the mysterious Zuma satellite tonight.  Zuma’s launch has been postponed quite a few times already, most recently from Friday to today.  Zuma is highly classified and its existence only became known in October 2017 when it was described as a government satellite built by Northrop Grumman.  Whatever it is, hopefully it will get off the ground tonight and SpaceX can turn its attention to the first launch of Falcon Heavy expected later this month.

Tomorrow (Monday), Congress returns to work in earnest.  Last week the House met only in pro forma sessions (no legislative action) and the Senate conducted legislative business only on Wednesday, deciding to head out of town early to escape the brutal winter storm.

They now have two weeks to decide what to do about funding the government.  The existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on January 19.  No progress seems to have been made over crucial issues like disaster aid and immigration.  The House passed an $81 billion disaster aid bill in December, but it did not pass the Senate where some Senators assert it does too little, especially for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and fire-ravaged California.  Democrats want to include a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA — issue to allow those “Dreamers” to remain in the United States, while Republicans want to tie any action on immigration with funding for the border wall.  The Trump Administration recently sent Congress a request for $18 billion over 10 years for the wall plus an additional $15 billion in related funding over 5-7 years.  Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) was quoted by Politico as saying that the President “has said he may need a good government shutdown to get his wall.  With this demand, he seems to be heading in that direction.”

Not to mention there is still no agreement on what to do about the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act on which we have written extensively already.  Basically, everything is right where it was at the end of December.  And yes, there is talk of another CR.  Stay tuned.

No specific space-related hearings have been announced for this week, but a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee will have one on China’s Pursuit of Emerging and Exponential Technologies on Tuesday afternoon.  It’s not clear how much, if any, of the hearing will touch on space technologies, but Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation is one of the witnesses.  He is a well known analyst of the Chinese space program.

The big news in space this week probably will come from the three conferences that are almost always scheduled during the same week each year —  the American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Meeting (today through Thursday), the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Winter Meeting (Monday-Friday), and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum (Monday-Friday).   They are in Austin, TX, National Harbor, MD (outside Washington, DC), and Kissimmee, FL respectively.

On Wednesday, NASA will hold a media briefing at Johnson Space Center (JSC) about the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) whose optical system recently completed testing in a JSC cryogenic vacuum chamber.  NASA announced in September that the JWST launch is being delayed 6-9 months (until March-June 2019) because of systems integration challenges at the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman.  That delay is unrelated to the JSC tests, which hopefully went well.  In any case, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, told Congress in December that he would initiate an independent review of the JWST schedule this month.  Zurbuchen is not on tap to speak at this media briefing, but JWST project manager Bill Ochs is one of the panelists.

NASA will hold an interesting workshop at Ames Research Center Wednesday-Friday on Lunar Science for Landed Missions.  Among the panelists are representatives of private entities (Moon Express, Astrobotic, Team Hakuto, and Blue Origin) pursuing their own lunar landing programs.  The first three are competitors for the Google Lunar X-Prize.  Blue Origin is proposing a joint effort with NASA for a “Blue Moon” delivery service.  The workshop also features an international panel with representatives from Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the European Space Agency.  Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison “Jack” Schmitt will also speak there.  We’re still trying to find out if it will be webcast and will add the information to our calendar item if we discover that it is.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for other events we learn about later and add to our Calendar.

Sunday, January 7

Sunday-Thursday, January 7-11

Monday-Friday, January 8-12

Tuesday, January 9

Wednesday, January 10

Wednesday-Friday, January 10-12

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