What’s Happening in Space Policy July 4-17, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy July 4-17, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, July 4-17, 2021, and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess this week except for pro forma sessions. Next week the Senate returns for legislative business while the House will be in a “committee work week.”

During the Weeks

Happy July 4th!  This is Independence Day in the United States and people are celebrating a somewhat return to normalcy while COVID-19 is more at bay than it has been for the past year and a half. Not that it’s over — the variants are still out there — but at least for this moment, the situation is better than it has been in a long time.

Tomorrow (Monday) is a federal holiday and this long weekend typically leads into a week of eagerly anticipated vacations and relaxation. A couple of indefatigable groups have scheduled meetings nonetheless, but it’s a pretty quiet week here in the U.S.

Enjoy the respite, because the rest of July will be a whirlwind.

Let’s start with the human spaceflight business — and a business it is with battling billionaires Bezos and Branson. Jeff Bezos owns Blue Origin with its New Shepard suborbital rocket. Richard Branson owns Virgin Galactic and its Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Unity.

If schedules hold, a week from today (July 11) Branson will join five of his Virgin Galactic employees on VSS Unity for a suborbital flight to “space.” Virgin Galactic changed its test schedule so Branson could beat Bezos, who announced on May 5 that he would fly on New Shepard on July 20, the Apollo 11 Moon landing anniversary. While some might consider Branson’s move churlish, it certainly has garnered a lot of headlines, which is bound to be good for business for both companies.

Embedded in the Bezos-Branson competition is the debate over where space begins and whether Branson will actually reach space or not. Branson’s Virgin Galactic and the FAA define it at 80 kilometers (50 miles), while Bezos’s Blue Origin uses the higher international standard of the Karman line at 100 kilometers (62 miles) set by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the governing body for air sports records. Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell did an excellent analysis of the question and concluded 80 kilometers is the better answer from a physics standpoint and the FAI is reconsidering its definition. However that turns out, whoever flies on New Shepard will go higher than whoever flies on VSS Unity and thus will earn additional bragging rights.

Bezos is taking his brother Mark, a person (yet unnamed) who is spending $28 million for the privilege, and 82-year old Wally Funk along with him, not employees. The $28 million will go to Bezos’s Club for the Future foundation to get kids interested in STEM, so it will be interesting to see whether either of these rates as the first “commercial” suborbital human spaceflight, but there is no doubt these are milestones in that history.

July is also on tap to be a milestone in orbital human spaceflight. On July 30, Boeing is scheduled to launch its second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) for the Starliner commercial crew spacecraft. The first test in December 2019 did not go as planned and Boeing decided to do it over. No one will be aboard, but if all goes well it will pave the way for a Starliner Crew Flight Test by the end of the year and competition for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

This month also marks a milestone from the past — Thursday (July 8) is the 10th anniversary of the launch of the final space shuttle mission, STS-135. According to the NASA TV schedule, NASA will have a panel discussion that afternoon with the STS-135 crew and flight director. Might be worth interrupting the day at the beach to watch.

Congress also will be busy these next few weeks. The House Appropriations Committee will finish marking up all 12  FY2022 appropriations bills by the end of next week, with a plan to pass them all by the end of the month. Funding for most space activities is in the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS), and Transportation-HUD (THUD) bills. The Defense bill was marked up at subcommittee level last week; full committee markup is on July 13. Subcommittee and full committee markups of CJS (NASA/NOAA) are on July 12 and July 15, and of THUD (FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation) on July 12 and July 16. The House returns for legislative business on July 19 with an ensuing appropriations marathon. At the moment, the House will begin its August recess on July 31.

On the authorization front, the Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up its version of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) at both subcommittee and full committee level during the week of July 19th. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) will hold subcommittee markups the following week (July 28-29), with full committee markup not until September 1.  (We haven’t heard anything new about a House NASA authorization bill; the Senate passed its version last month.)

So enjoy this week’s brief rest. Focusing just on the next two weeks, here are all the events we know about as of Sunday (July 4) morning. Check back for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar or changes to these.

Monday, July 5

Wednesday, July 7

Wednesday-Thursday, July 7-8

Thursday, July 8

Friday-Saturday, July 9-10

Sunday, July 11

Monday, July 12

Tuesday, July 13

Tuesday-Thursday, July 13-15

Thursday, July 15

Friday, July 16

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