What’s Happening in Space Policy March 17-23, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy March 17-23, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of March 17-23, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Golly! So much is going on this week — another partial government shutdown cliffhanger, House hearings on NASA’s science program and DOD’s Strategic Forces Posture, three major conferences (Satellite 2024, National Academies’ Space Science Week, AAS’s Goddard Space Science Symposium), crew (Soyuz MS-25) and cargo (SpX-30) launches to ISS, NASA/Boeing briefings on the upcoming Starliner mission and much more — we hardly know where to start.

Soyuz MS-25 is scheduled for launch to the ISS on March 21. L-R: Tracy Dyson (NASA astronaut), Oleg Novitskiy (Roscosmos cosmonaut) and Marina Vasilevskaya (spaceflight participant, Belarus).

Since this is a space policy website, we’ll start with Capitol Hill where legislative policy is made.

Yes, it’s yet another Shutdown Showdown week. NASA, NOAA and FAA may finally have their FY2024 appropriations settled, but DOD doesn’t. At midnight Friday, March 22, funding will expire for DOD and other departments and agencies in the six FY2024 appropriations bills that are still under a Continuing Resolution (CR):  Defense, Financial Services-General Government (including the FCC), Homeland Security, Labor-Health and Human Services, Legislative Branch (which funds Congress itself), and State-Foreign Operations. It’s not clear there’s agreement yet on some of them. Another CR, perhaps even a year-long CR, is a possibility for one or all, as is a partial shutdown. Hopefully not the latter since the House and Senate are scheduled to begin a two-week spring break on Friday and not return until the week of April 8th.

While FY2024 appropriations continue to play out, President Biden submitted his FY2025 request last week. The annual round of authorization and appropriations hearings is getting underway.

Nicky Fox, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate, will testify to a House SS&T subcommittee on Thursday morning.

The space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday about NASA’s science budget, which was hit pretty hard in the final FY2024 appropriations and the FY2025 request in order to stay within the budget caps imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Science Mission Directorate (SMD) head Nicky Fox reminded the science community last week they still have a $7.3 billion budget for FY2024 and $7.5 billion requested for FY2025 and “we are grateful for every penny of that budget and we will do great things with every single penny of that budget.” But that’s a lot less than they were anticipating.  SMD already is making tough choices about what they can or can’t do with more looming after the internal NASA team assessing the future of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission delivers its report to NASA leadership later this month. No money is included for MSR in the FY2025 request. It’s “TBD” and Fox made clear that whatever money they might put into it will have to come from within the existing budget, not added on.

Fox is one of four witnesses at Thursday’s hearing. She’ll be joined by NASA’s acting Inspector General George Scott. His office just finished a report on MSR that concluded it basically needs a do-over, which closely parallels the report of last year’s Independent Review Board. Also on the panel are renowned space scientist Jonathan Lunine from Cornell and Tom Young, whose decades of experience in government and industry give him a unique perspective of which NASA, DOD, and Congress often avail themselves.

Gen. Stephen Whiting, Commander, U.S. Space Command, will testify to a HASC subcommittee on Thursday afternoon.

On a completely different note, later that day the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC’s) Strategic Forces Subcommittee will hold its annual posture review for U.S. strategic forces. Witnesses are John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, and the commanders of three of the 11 Unified Combatant Commands: U.S. Space Command (Gen. Stephen Whiting), U.S. Strategic Command (Gen. Anthony Cotton), and U.S. Northern Command/U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command (Gen. Gregory Guillot).

Whiting just took over as USSPACECOM Commander in January. He’s spent most of his career in national security space and most recently was Commander of U.S. Space Force’s Space Operations Command. Cotton has national security space experience as well, including assignments as Commander of the 45th Space Wing and Director of the Eastern Range, and Deputy Director of the National Reconnaissance Office. Whiting and Cotton testified together to the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 29. The message on Thursday from all the witnesses is expected to follow DOD’s theme of the past several years that China is America’s pacing threat and Russia is an acute threat and we need resilient, modernized systems to stay ahead of them.

Off the Hill, the Satellite 2024 conference in D.C. Monday-Thursday will be a huge extravaganza as always. We will leave it to each of you to peruse the program to determine what’s of most interest. Two that caught our eye are “Sustainable Satellites and End-of-Life Disposal” with Office of Space Commerce Director Richard DalBello and Karl Kensinger from the FCC (along with others) on Tuesday, and “How Industry Can Proactively Shape a Trillion-Dollar Gig Economy in Space” with Lockheed Martin’s Robert Lightfoot, Interlune’s Rob Meyerson, IAF’s Clay Mowry, Spire’s Peter Platzer, and Aerospace Corporation’s Alexandra Hale on Wednesday.

Also taking place in D.C. is the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Space Science Week. The Space Studies Board’s six standing committees meet throughout the week, there’s a plenary session on Tuesday, and a public lecture Wednesday night. All the open sessions and the public lecture will be livestreamed. The public lecture on Wednesday is on “Growing Insight into Space: Plants are Enablers of Extraterrestrial Exploration” by Anna-Lisa Paul from the University of Florida. Here’s the list of committee meetings with links:

Dante Lauretta, University of Arizona, PI for the OSIRIS-REx mission, will give a lunchtime keynote address at the AAS Goddard Symposium on Friday and that evening accept the National Space Club’s Goddard  Memorial Trophy at the Goddard Memorial Dinner.

Just outside D.C. at the University of Maryland at College Park, the American Astronautical Society’s annual Goddard Symposium is Wednesday-Friday. The theme this year is “Space 2040: Pathways to the Future.”  It’s got a top-notch set of speakers and panels including keynotes by Nicky Fox on Wednesday, Ellen Stofan (former NASA chief scientist, now Under Secretary for Science and Research at the Smithsonian) on Thursday, and Dante Lauretta, whose OSIRIS-REx mission brought back all those samples from the asteroid Bennu, on Friday.  Really, really super lineup.

The AAS Goddard Symposium ends at 1:45 pm ET, just in time for everyone to dash home or to their hotel rooms to get gussied up the National Space Club’s annual Goddard Memorial Dinner, fondly known as the “space prom.”  Lauretta’s OSIRIS-REx team is the recipient of this year’s prestigious Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy. Congratulations to the O-REx team and all the other award winners including NASA ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano for the Eagle Manned Mission Award (the Space Club really should update that name!) who is about to move to HQ to be Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations, and John Zarella, Space Correspondent (formerly CNN) for the Press Award.

As we mentioned, another crew is headed to ISS on Thursday.  Launch is at 9:21 am ET and docking a little over 3 hours later at 12:39 pm ET.  Soyuz MS-25 will be commanded by Roscosmos’s Oleg Novitskiy. He and Marina Vasilevskaya, a spaceflight participant from Belarus, will only be staying for a short visit. The third seat will be occupied by NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson who will replace Loral O’Hara for a regular 6-month stint. O’Hara arrived on Soyuz MS-24 and will return with Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya on Soyuz MS-25.  O’Hara’s Soyuz MS-24 crewmates, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, are staying for a year-long mission.

NASA and SpaceX are launching a cargo mission to the ISS on Thursday, too, SpaceX’s 30th Cargo Dragon. If launch is on time, it will arrive on Saturday. A pre-launch media telecon is Tuesday afternoon.

Also on the human spaceflight front, NASA and Boeing will hold three news conferences on Friday leading up to the long-awaited Starliner Crew Flight Test, currently planned for May. The first features top brass for the Starliner program overall: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson; commercial crew program manager Steve Stich; Deputy ISS Program Manager Dana Weigle (about to become Program Manager, succeeding Joel Montalbano), and Boeing Vice President and Program Manager for Starliner Mark Nappi. Then briefings with people deeply involved in this specific mission: three NASA flight directors (Mike Lammers, Vincent LaCourt, and Ed Van Cise); then the crew itself, Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams.

The crew of the upcoming Boeing Starliner Crew Flight Test, NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams, will speak with the press on Friday in one of three Starliner briefings that day.

There’s SO much more going on this week and we really have to bring this to a close, but we would be remiss not to mention that Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) will speak to the Maryland Space Business Roundtable on Tuesday, and the House SS&T committee will mark up eight bills on Wednesday, four of which are space-related (the list of narrowly-focused bills is here).

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, March 18

Monday-Thursday, March 18-21

  • Satellite 2024, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

Monday-Friday, March 18-22

  • Space Science Week, National Academies of Sciences Building, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC (many sessions livestreamed)

Tuesday, March 19

Tuesday-Wednesday, March 19-20

Wednesday, March 20

Wednesday-Thursday, March 20-21

Wednesday-Friday, March 20-22

  • Goddard Space Science Symposium (American Astronautical Society), Antonov Auditorium, Iribe Center, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD

Thursday, March 21

Thursday-Friday, March 21-22

Friday, March 22

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