What’s Happening in Space Policy June 12-18, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy June 12-18, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of June 12-18, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

SpaceX’s two-stage Starship space transportation system stacked for the first time, August 6, 2021, Boca Chica, TX. The silver first stage is called Super Heavy, and the second stage, covered in black thermal protection tiles, is Starship, a name also used to refer to the two of them together. Credit: SpaceX

Tomorrow (Monday) should be an interesting day. After a number of postponements, the FAA plans to release its final enviromental assessment for SpaceX’s testing and launch site in Boca Chica, TX. SpaceX wants to conduct orbital launches of Starship from there, which requires FAA approval. An environmental assessment is part of the process and the FAA has been collecting data and information, including public hearings, since it released the Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) last fall. It also has been coordinating with other government agencies that have jurisdiction like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Final PEA could be delayed again, of course, but the FAA’s May 31 statement that this would be the day seemed more definitive than in the past. An FAA spokesperson told SpacePolicyOnline.com that no press conference or other media event is planned, so we’ll be keeping an eye out tomorrow morning to see what happens.

SpaceX is optimistic about conducting its first orbital Starship test flight this year. A favorable environmental assessment is a step in that direction, but just a step. As the FAA said on May 31, “completion of the PEA will not guarantee that the FAA will issue a launch license. SpaceX’s application also must meet FAA safety, risk and financial responsibility requirements.”  SpaceX is eager to get Starship operational to meet customer demands, including its own to launch the second generation Starlink satellite system and send Jared Isaacman to Earth orbit and Yusaku Maezawa around the Moon, not to mention landing people on the Moon for NASA, which chose Starship as the first Human Landing System for the Artemis program and is negotiating for future flights. NASA officials were recently down at Boca Chica, near Brownsville, to get an update. Artemis Mission Manager Michael Sarafin told a National Academies’ meeting last week that Starship “is really moving along and making great progress.”

Whatever the news is on the Starship front tomorrow, it’ll be tough to top, but there are other events going on.

In some respects, this week is a preview of next week.

NASA is getting ready to resume the Wet Dress Rehearsal of the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. The test takes three days and begins Saturday, but the most critical portion — tanking and countdown practice — is a week away on June 20 so we’ll talk about that in the next edition of What’s Happening.

Charlie Blackwell Thompson. Photo credit: NASA

But there is a pre-test media teleconference this Wednesday with Jim Free, the head of NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, and Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the Artemis I launch director. Blackwell-Thompson became NASA’s first female launch director in 2016. She has more than 30 years of experience at NASA (first as a contractor, then joining the agency in 2004) starting as a payload flight software engineer and moving up to positions of increasing responsibility including chief NASA test director for the final space shuttle missions (STS-130-135) and Test Management Branch chief for Artemis Exploration Ground Systems and Exploration Systems Development Division before being named Launch Director. She knows every detail of the WDR so it’ll be a good prep for next week. NASA usually airs these telecons on NASA Live, though it’s not listed there at the moment.

Similarly, though the House Appropriations Committee begins marking up the FY2023 appropriations bills this week, the real action for space policy won’t happen until next week and the week after. The only relevant markup this week is the Defense Subcommittee on Wednesday, but it’s closed. Full committee markup of that bill is next week, along with subcommittee markups of the CJS bill that includes NASA and NOAA, and the THUD bill with FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Full committee markup for those two bills is the week of June 27. Here’s the schedule as of today (Sunday):

  • DEFENSE: Subcommittee markup, June 15, 9:30 am ET (closed); full committee markup, June 22, 10:00 am ET
  • COMMERCE-JUSTICE-SCIENCE (NASA/NOAA): Subcommittee, June 22, 6:30 pm ET; full committee, June 28, 10:00 am ET
  • TRANSPORTATION-HUD (FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation): Subcommittee, June 23, 4:00 pm ET; full committee, June 30, 10:00 am ET

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is marking up its version of the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, but the Strategic Forces subcommittee markup and full committee markup are closed, so there’s nothing to watch other than for news late Wednesday or Thursday as to what they agreed to. HASC will mark up its version next week (the subcommittees finished their work already).

We’ll highlight just one more of the many other events this week — a workshop at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on “Leveraging Commercial Space for Earth and Ocean Remote Sensing.” It’s in-person at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. and online. The Academies’ Intelligence Community Studies Board just completed a study on this topic, chaired by Steve Battel of Battel Engineering. The committee’s title, albeit lengthy, conveys the thrust of the report: “Committee on the Assessment of Partnership Options for a Small Satellite System for Collecting Scientific Quality Oceanic and Coastal Data.”

The workshop has a really fascinating set of speakers from the civil, national security and commercial space sectors including NASA, NOAA, ESA, DOD, U.S. Space Force, National Reconnaissance Office, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, BryceTech, Relativity Space, Planet Labs, Muon Space, Astro Digital, GeoOptics, Blue Cubed, and Spire.

Perhaps the most interesting speaker, however, will be William Blackwell from MIT Lincoln Labs tomorrow (Monday) at 3:15 pm ET. He’s the Principal Investigator of NASA’s TROPICS mission, a constellation of six cubesats in three planes to collect data on tropical cyclones. TROPICS is a NASA Earth Venture mission designed to find ways to get innovative earth science data from competitively-selected, low-cost missions. NASA picked Astra Space, one of the new small launch vehicle companies, to launch the satellites two at a time into the three planes. The firm fixed-price contract for all three launches is for $7.95 million.

Unfortunately, the first launch failed today so Blackwell should have an interesting perspective on the risks versus rewards aspect of these low-cost missions. The rocket’s upper stage shut down early. Astra’s Founder, Chairman and CEO Chris Kemp tweeted his regrets. NASA said it was disappointed, but insisted TROPICS could meet its objectives with the other four cubesats.

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, June 12-16

Monday, June 13

Monday-Tuesday, June 13-14

Tuesday, June 14

Tuesday-Wednesday, June 14-15

Wednesday, June 15

Thursday, June 16

Thursday-Friday, June 16-17

Saturday-Monday, June 18-20

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