What’s Happening in Space Policy March 24-30, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy March 24-30, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of March 24-30, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

It’s another busy week, but at least the FY2024 appropriations drama is over. Congress passed the second “minibus” and President Biden signed it into law yesterday (Saturday). Congress then left for a 2-week spring break. FY2025 appropriations are already on the table. With this being an election year, the chances of those being settled in a timely manner is pretty small. House Appropriations Committee chair Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) acknowledged that on Friday when announcing her decision to step aside early (she’s retiring at the end of this Congress) so a new chair can take the bills all the way through to their conclusion.

Another drama last week was the scrub of the Soyuz MS-25 launch on Thursday morning just 20 seconds before liftoff. The problem — a voltage drop in an electrical connection to the rocket — turned out to be easily resolved and the crew made it into orbit yesterday, just two days late. Because the relative positions of the Baikonur Cosmodrome and the International Space Station changed in the meantime, however, the crew is taking the long route to ISS — 34 orbits instead of two, meaning two days instead of three hours. They’ll dock tomorrow (Monday) morning at 11:09 am ET. Hatch opening will be about 1:40 pm ET followed by welcome remarks. NASA TV will cover it all.

Soyuz MS-25 crew: Tracy Dyson (NASA astronaut), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos cosmonaut), Marina Vasilevskaya (Belarussian spaceflight participant). Photo credit: NASA

Usually ISS crews come and go together on the same spacecraft, but in this case Novitsky and Vasilevskaya (who’s a spaceflight participant from Belarus, not a professional astronaut) are staying only for 12 days. Dyson, however, is replacing NASA’s Loral O’Hara who arrived on Soyuz MS-24 about 6 months ago. O’Hara will return with Novitsky and Vasilevskaya on Soyuz MS-24 on April 6. Her Soyuz MS-24 crewmates, Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, are staying for a 1-year mission and will return with Dyson on Soyuz MS-25 in the fall.

Also tomorrow, NASA will hold a news conference with Crew-7, which just returned from the ISS on March 12. Three of the four crew members — Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA), Andreas Mogensen (ESA), and Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA) — will recap their 199-day mission (197 of them on ISS).  Konstantin Borisov (Roscosmos) will not participate.

Crew-7 poses inside the vestibule between Crew Dragon Endurance and the ISS Harmony module, March 4, 2024. L-R: Konstantin Borisov (Roscosmos), Andreas Mogensen (ESA), Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA), Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA). Credit: NASA

Perhaps the BIG EVENT this week, though, is the final launch of the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy (DIVH) rocket. After the space shuttle was retired in 2011, DIVH was the most capable rocket in the U.S. fleet until SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy came along in 2018. ULA is replacing Delta IV and Atlas V with the new Vulcan rocket that had its first flight in January. The last DIVH launch is scheduled for Thursday at 1:40 pm ET, but ULA says the weather forecast is only 30 percent favorable, so could slip. It’s launching NROL-70, a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which has been an anchor customer for DIVH. ULA will webcast the launch.

Delta IV Heavy is readied for NROL-70. Photo by United Launch Alliance

The launch brings to an end the venerable line of Delta rockets that date back to 1960. ULA has a nice video with the history.

As for meetings and conferences, the NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee meets all day tomorrow. They’ll have a lot to talk about. NASA’s FY2024 budget overall was cut 2 percent below its FY2023 level and science was hit particularly hard. The FY2025 request doesn’t bring much relief and it does not include any funding for the Mars Sample Return mission pending NASA’s internal decision on a path forward, expected this spring. Whatever money they decide to put into MSR will have to come from elsewhere in the science budget unless Congress adds more, which seems unlikely even though MSR has strong support from both authorizers and appropriators.

NASA’s Nicky Fox testifying to the House SS&T space subcommittee on March 21, 2024.

NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Nicky Fox, has been briefing the NASA science community and Congress about how they’re setting priorities and the challenges ahead. Fox will kick off the meeting tomorrow with an hour set aside for her presentation, then 45 minutes for Q&A. Another hour for committee discussion is in the afternoon. Should be very interesting. Fox is strongly urging the community to stick together and not break into factions fighting each other. She points out they still have a $7.5 billion portfolio and can do great science with that, even though it’s less than anticipated a year ago at this time.

Fox is a heliophysicist and makes no secret of her excitement about the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8 that will be visible in 15 states (the other contiguous states will see a partial eclipse). On Tuesday, though, it’ll be NASA’s top brass — Administrator Bill Nelson, Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, and Associate Administrator Jim Free — on the dias with representatives of the Federal Highway Administration and NOAA to “engage the public, share safety information, and [how to] conduct science” during the eclipse. Traffic jams are expected to be massive along the total eclipse route that runs from Texas up to Maine, hence the FHA’s participation.

One other event we’ll highlight is the Aerospace Industries Association’s Civil Space Budget webinar on Wednesday. AIA’s Mike French, The Planetary Society’s Casey Dreier, and AURA’s Jean Toal Eisen will once again provide their analysis of the budgets for NASA, NOAA and the FAA. The one they did last year was very insightful.

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 25

Monday-Wednesday, March 25-27

Tuesday, March 26

Wednesday, March 27

Thursday, March 28

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