What’s Happening in Space Policy July 23-29, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 23-29, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of July 23-29, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Congress will continue its very busy pace this week trying to finish as much as possible before the summer recess. The House and Senate are scheduled to be in session Tuesday through Friday. The Senate then will recess for five weeks until the day after Labor Day, September 5. The House is taking six weeks off, returning September 12.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Chair, House Energy and Commerce Committee. Her bill to streamline the FCC’s satellite spectrum licensing process will be considered by the House on Tuesday.

Among other things, the Senate hopes to complete action on the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act this week, while the House will take up two of the FY2024 appropriations bills (not the ones that fund space programs, though). The House will also consider two satellite spectrum bills — the Launch Communications Act (H.R. 682) and the Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act (H.R. 1338) — on the suspension calendar on Tuesday. The former makes it easier for the FCC to assign frequencies for commercial space launches and reentries. The latter, introduced by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, streamlines the FCC’s entire satellite spectrum licensing process.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the last four of its 12 FY2024 approprations bills on Thursday, including Defense. It is a remarkable achievement for the new Chair and Vice-Chair of the committee, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). They pledged at the beginning of the year to restore “regular order” to the appropriations process and they are true to their word. That committee did not complete action on all 12 bills at all for the past three years and it’s been ages since they were done before the summer recess.

The House Appropriations Committee still has two bills left to mark up at full committee level: Commerce-Justice-Science (which includes NASA and NOAA) and Labor-HHS-Education. We heard those would be marked up this week, but the committee’s website doesn’t show any scheduled markups. Perhaps they will be announced later. The committee has been on a roll to get all the bills done before recess, albeit with intense partisan rancor and every vote split on party lines because Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) is using top-line figures that are lower than the caps set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Turns out that’s still not enough to satisfy the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus. They’ve indicated their intent to get the numbers even lower when the bills reach the floor and Roll Call reports House leadership has agreed.

Getting all the bills out of both appropriations committees is important, but with the two sides of Capitol Hill on completely different tracks, the end game is anyone’s guess. Senate appropriators are using the caps set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act and already are planning supplemental appropriations to add more for defense and certain other programs. Not only does something have to be done by October 1 to keep the government open when FY2024 begins, but if all 12 bills are not enacted by January 1, 2024, a one-percent across-the-board cut to both defense and non-defense spending goes into effect. It’ll be a struggle.

LTG Stephen Whiting. SASC will consider his nomination to be Commander of U.S. Space Command on Wednesday.

In other committee action, on Wednesday the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting (U.S. Space Force) to be the next Commander of U.S. Space Command, succeeding Gen. James Dickinson, and Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot (U.S. Air Force) to be the new Commander of U.S. Northern Command and NORAD, succeeding Gen. Glen VanHerck. Whiting currently is Commander of the U.S. Space Force’s Space Operations Command. Guillot is Deputy Commander of U.S. Central Command. Both also would be promoted to General.

SASC continues to approve the nominations of the next top U.S. military leaders even though Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) is blocking them from consideration by the full Senate. He wants DOD to change its policy on paying travel costs for servicemembers who have to travel to a state other than where they are stationed for abortion or other reproductive care. Tuberville, a member of SASC, has been strongly criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike. The Marine Corps already is without a Senate-confirmed Commandant and a number of other top posts will change hands in the next several weeks. NBC News reported that Tuberville had another conversation with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week, but nothing seems to have changed yet. Not to get anyone’s hopes up, but it’s not unusual for breakthroughs to occur just before a long recess.

The Senate Commerce Committee will mark up a slew of bills on Thursday including its version of the Launch Communications Act (which has some differences from the version the House is voting on) and the Orbital Sustainability or ORBITS Act regarding space debris. The Senate passed the ORBITS Act at the very end of last year, but there was no further action. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) reintroduced it this year. Not on the agenda, at least as of today, is the FAA Reauthorization Act. It was pulled from consideration several weeks ago because of strong disagreements on two issues (pilot training requirements and whether to increase the allowed number of long-haul flights from Reagan National Airport). Time is getting short. The FAA’s current authorization expires on September 30. The House passed its bill last week and while it certainly seems unlikely the Senate could pass a bill before recess, if it could at least get through committee that would be progress. We’ll keep an eye out to see if it gets added to the markup schedule.

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) got an amendment added to the FY2024 NDAA last week about Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAPs). The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on that topic this Wednesday.

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena, UAPs, formerly known as UFOs. The hearing seems to be as much about government transparency as anything. The subtitle is “Implications for National Security, Public Safety, and Government Transparency.”

UAPs are getting a lot of attention in Congress these days primarily because of concerns that terrestrial adversaries are testing new types of weapons that threaten our national security and the Executive Branch isn’t telling Congress everything they know about it. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) successfully led a bipartisan effort to add an amendment to the NDAA last week that basically requires all departments and agencies to send whatever UAP records they have to the National Archives unless a review board provides a reason for determining they must remain classified. Schumer said it’s because “the sheer number and variety [of reports] has led some in Congress to believe that the Executive Branch was concealing important information regarding UAPs over broad periods of time.”

At a press conference last Thursday, four members of the House Oversight Committee who organized the upcoming hearing said they’d gotten a lot of pushback from the Executive Branch and “even NASA backed out on us.”  Either UAPs exist or they don’t, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) said, and “we’re going to get to the bottom of it dag nabbit. Whatever the truth may be.” The Hill and Politico have good articles about the congressional take on all this.

Lots going on elsewhere, of course. NASA will have a pair of news conferences on Tuesday about the upcoming Crew-7 launch. The briefing with the crew itself on Tuesday afternoon has a bonus participant — Loral O’Hara who will launch to the ISS in September on Soyuz MS-24. She was supposed to launch earlier this year on Soyuz MS-23, but her flight was postponed when Russia had to launch Soyuz-23 empty to replace Soyuz MS-22, which lost all its coolant. The crew that launched on Soyuz MS-22 — NASA’s Frank Rubio and Roscosmos’s Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin — will use Soyuz MS-23 to come home after the Soyuz MS-24 crew arrives, having spent a year in space instead of six months.

Crew-7, L-R: Konstantin Borisov (Roscosmos), Andreas Mogensen (ESA/Denmark), Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA) and Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA). Photo credits: Bill Stafford and Robert Markowitz

Separately, on Thursday NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Nicky Fox will lead a virtual SMD Community Town Hall meeting.

The Hudson Institute is hosting an in-person event on Space and National Security on Wednesday that will be livestreamed. Chris Shank from Maxar, Dean Bellamy from Redwire, Jason Kim from NOAA, Even Rogers from True Anomaly, and Hudson’s own Arthur Herman and Peter Huessy will talk about space-based critical infrastructure, dual-use technologies, America’s industrial base and the emerging role of commercial industry in space activities.

That same afternoon, the Beyond Earth Institute will have a webinar on “Making Tomorrow’s Moon: Artemis, ILRS, and the Future of Cislunar Development.” ILRS is the Chinese-led International Lunar Research Station that is somewhat analagous to Artemis, but not on the same timeline. Initially ILRS was just China and Russia. It’s not clear how much Russia is participating these days, but China is recruiting additional partners. It signed an agreement with Venezuela last week to use Venezuelan ground stations. The BEI panel includes ULA’s John Reed, OffWorld’s Dallas Bienhoff, law professor and attorney Laura Montgomery from Ground Based Space Matters, and BEI’s Cody Knipfer.

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.

Monday-Friday, July 24-28

Tuesday, July 25

Wednesday, July 26

Wednesday-Thursday, July 26-27

Thursday, July 27

Thursday-Friday, July 27-28

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