What’s Happening in Space Policy January 7-14, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy January 7-14, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of January 7-14, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The week gets off to a roaring start overnight tonight. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan-Centaur rocket is scheduled to lift off on its inaugural flight at 2:18 am Monday. Of course, that’s weather permitting and assuming no last minute technical glitches, which are quite common for first launches. ULA officials keep saying Vulcan really isn’t all that new from a technical standpoint, just an evolution of the Atlas V — except for the BE-4 engines. That’s pretty a big “except” and even tried-and-true rockets often have hiccups that lead to last minute delays.

The launch window is 45 minutes long. The weather is looking really good — 85 percent go.  But if something does go awry, they have three more chances, though the weather deteriorates in subsequent days and the windows are much shorter.

  • January 8, 2:18 am ET, 45 minute window
  • January 9, 12:15 am ET, 9 minute window
  • January 10, 12:12 am ET, 1 minute window
  • January 11, 12:14 am ET, 3 minute window

Spacecraft can only be launched to the Moon at certain times when the Earth and Moon are aligned properly, so if they miss all those dates, they’ll have to wait a couple of weeks.

ULA posted this viewing map for those in the southeastern U.S. who might be able to see it arc across the night sky. ULA calls this “Cert-1” because it’s the first of two certification flights ULA needs to execute before DOD considers Vulcan ready to launch its most valuable satellites. ULA has six Vulcans scheduled to launch this year, four for DOD.

This is not a NASA mission, it’s a commercial mission for Astrobotic, which is sending Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander to the Moon. Five NASA science payloads are aboard, though, and its part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, so the agency has a strong interest. NASA TV will carry the launch live beginning at 1:30 am ET as will ULA. We reported on the controversy over the fact that a non-NASA customer, Celestis, is sending human remains to the Moon against the wishes of the Navajo Nation in last week’s What’s Happening and again on Thursday. The Coalition of Large Tribes (COLT) now has joined the Navajo in trying to postpone the launch, but we haven’t heard any rumblings that a delay is likely. The rocket is on the pad with Peregrine inside the fairing — Vulcan is ready to go.

With today’s announcement that the UAE will build an airlock for the Artemis lunar Gateway space station and tonight’s launch of Peregrine, attention is focused on NASA’s lunar plans and top officials will provide a virtual update Tuesday afternoon. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Associate Administrator Jim Free, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) Cathy Koerner, and ESDMD Deputy Associate Administrator for the Moon to Mars Program Amit Kshatriya will hold a media telecon. This is the first Artemis briefing with Free in his new role as the top civil servant at NASA, succeeding Bob Cabana. Koerner has replaced him as head of ESDMD. She was his deputy.

Lots of questions about the Artemis schedule are swirling around. Artemis II, the test flight with a crew, is supposed to happen this year, but there are hints it might slip to 2025. Artemis III, the first human lunar landing since Apollo, is scheduled for 2025, but many are skeptical SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System (HLS) or Axiom Space’s lunar spacesuits will be ready by then. All at a time when Congress is struggling to pass appropriations bills and NASA’s fiscal future is uncertain. Everyone will be eagerly waiting to hear what NASA has to say.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher will give his annual press briefing on Thursday morning.

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher will hold his annual press briefing Thursday morning. It’s at 10:00 am there in Paris, but that’s 4:00 am ET, a bit early for most. Fortunately ESA is usually quite prompt about posting the replay. ESA has a very important year ahead of it, too, especially on the launch vehicle front. The long-awaited Ariane 6 should have its first launch this summer and they hope to finally launch the last of their small Vega rockets in September. Resuming flights of the new Vega-C could also happen later in the year, but for a while yet Europe will remain in a launch vehicle “crisis” as Aschbacher calls it because new rockets haven’t come online as expected. There’s a gap in capability. Europe has prided itself for decades in having an autonomous capability to launch satellites into space, but right now ESA and the European Union have to buy launches from SpaceX.  At the same time, ESA is making bold plans for the future in launch, space and earth science, and human spaceflight with a substantial funding increase from its 22 member states. Aschbacher’s press conference should be really interesting, too.

Two major space-related conferences are happening this week. We discussed the American Astronomical Society winter meeting last week. The other is AIAA’s annual SciTech Forum that begins tomorrow in Orlando. As usual, it has a rich schedule of technical sessions, plenaries and Forum 360 presentations, far too many to highlight here so feel free to peruse the program.

The Senate returns for legislative business tomorrow at 3:00 pm ET and the House on Tuesday at 6:30 pm ET. We’re not aware of anything specifically space-related on their agendas. They have two weeks to pass four of the 12 FY2024 appropriations bills before that portion of the Continuing Resolution expires. We’ll see what they can do. The House schedule for the week does not have any appropriations bills on it, though that could always change.

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 7-11

Monday, January 8

Monday-Friday, January 8-12

Tuesday, Janaury 9

Thursday, January 11

Friday-Sunday, January 12-14

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