What’s Happening in Space Policy March 10-16, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy March 10-16, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of March 10-16, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session for at least part of this week.

During the Week

First things first. If you’re in the United States did you remember to “spring forward” into Daylight Saving Time at 2:00 this morning? Arizona and Hawaii don’t observe this annual ritual, but the other 48 states do. We’ll be on DST until November 3. Note that other countries have their own schedules. Europe, for example, doesn’t change to summer time until March 31.

The United States (except Arizona and Hawaii) changed to Daylight Saving Time today, March 10, 2024.

It’s a shame to lose an hour of sleep heading into a very busy week: President Biden submits his FY2025 budget request, the Lunar and Planetary Institute holds its annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Crew-7 comes home, and SpaceX *may* launch Starship again.

The Senate approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act by a vote of 75-22 on March 8, 2024. President Biden signed the bill March 9. It bundles six of the 12 FY2024 spending bills, including those that fund NASA, NOAA, and FAA. 

Congress just finished six of the 12 FY2024 appropriations bills on Friday and the other six are still being written, but it’s time for the FY2025 budget request to arrive on Congress’s doorstep. Past time, actually. Annual budget requests are supposed to be submitted on the first Monday in February, but then the appropriations bills are supposed to be enacted by September 30, so neither end of Pennsylvania Avenue is very good at deadlines.

NASA, NOAA and the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation are in the set of bills that passed Friday and Biden signed into law on Saturday. It’s good news that they now know how much money they have for FY2024, especially since we are more than 5 months into FY2024 already, but NASA supporters in particular surely are disappointed with the results. Republicans and Democrats agreed to reduce NASA’s funding not just below President Biden’s request ($27.185 billion), but it’s 2 percent less than FY2023: $24.875 billion for FY2024 versus $25.384 billion in FY2023. Factor in inflation and that will be difficult to absorb.

NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson will give his “State of NASA” address tomorrow (Monday) just after President Biden submits his FY2025 budget request to Congress, followed by a media telecon including NASA CFO Margaret Vo Schaus.

It will be interesting to see what the President requests for FY2025. Top-level budget information usually appears on the Office of Management and Budget’s website around 11:00 am ET with details released by some agencies soon thereafter. NASA says it’ll post documents tomorrow afternoon on its budget website and hold two budget-related events. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will give the annual “State of NASA” address at 1:00 pm ET followed by a media telecon with Nelson, NASA CFO Margaret Vo Schaus, and other NASA officials at 2:30 pm ET.

DOD usually holds budget briefings at the department level and for each of the services the day the request is released, but we haven’t seen an announcement yet. [UPDATE, March 11: the list of briefings is now posted.] We’ll post anything we find out on our Calendar. The Department of Commerce (of which NOAA is part) and Department of Transportation (including FAA) usually post top-level documents pretty quickly, but it takes a long time for Commerce to release NOAA’s “Blue Book” with details.

NASA’s science budget took a particularly big hit in the FY2024 final appropriations, especially planetary science. By coincidence, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) begins tomorrow and “NASA Night” is tomorrow where members of the planetary science community get to interact with NASA planetary science leaders. LPSC says it will broadcast the meeting on its YouTube channel. The Planetary Society already is circulating a letter decrying the cuts to planetary science when other parts of the science portfolio “maintained their 2023 funding levels or grew slightly.”

In addition, NASA Science Mission Directorate head Nicky Fox will hold a virtual Town Hall meeting with the broad NASA science community on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Crew-7 will begin its return to Earth tomorrow morning after about 6 months on the International Space Station, weather permitting. Undocking is scheduled for 11:05 am ET and splashdown off the Florida coast on Tuesday morning about 5:35 am ET. A post-splashdown media telecon is scheduled for 7:00 am ET.

Crew-7, L-R: Konstantin Borisov (Roscosmos), Andreas Mogensen (ESA),  Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA) and Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA)

SpaceX is targeting the third Starship Orbital Flight Test (OFT-3) for Thursday, pending regulatory approval.  The FAA oversees public safety for commercial launches and reentries and has to issue a license before the rocket leaves the pad. It closed its investigation of the OFT-2 failure on February 26. A week earlier at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, SpaceX’s Nick Cummings and Kelvin Coleman, head of the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, agreed that the second week of March was looking like the timeframe for OFT-3.  Stay tuned.

SpaceX’s Starship on the launch pad at Starbase in Boca Chica, TX in November 2023 prior to the second Orbital Flight Test, OFT-2 (also called an Integrated Flight Test or IFT). The silver first stage is called Super Heavy. The second stage, covered in black thermal protection tiles, is Starship, although the combination is also called Starship. Photo credit: SpaceX

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, March 10

Sunday-Saturday, March 10-16 (continued from March 8)

Monday, March 11

Monday-Tuesday, March 11-12

Monday-Friday, March 11-15

Wednesday, March 13

Thursday, March 14

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