What’s Happening in Space Policy March 26-April 1, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy March 26-April 1, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of March 26-April 1, 2023. The House and Senate are in session this week at least through Thursday before both head out for a two-week spring break.

During the Week

Phillip Washington, President Biden’s nominee to head the FAA, withdrew his nomination after it became clear he could not win confirmation by the Senate.

Not an “event” but perhaps of interest nonetheless, Phillip Washington just withdrew his nomination to be FAA Administrator. The Senate Commerce Committee was supposed to vote on it last Wednesday, but the action was postponed when it became clear he did not have the votes to win commitee approval. All Republicans oppose him on the basis that he lacks the necessary aviation experience. He is CEO of Denver International Airport, but his previous experience is in the military and other transportation sectors, not aviation. The Washington Post reports that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a former Democrat who is now an Independent, indicated she also would not support him. In a 51-49 Senate, that’s all it takes to doom a nomination.

In addition to all the really important aviation issues needing attention, the FAA also is home to the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). This is an especially important year for FAA-AST not only to win congressional support for its FY2024 budget request to increase funding and staff to cope with growing commercial launch demands, but the law that restricts its ability to regulate commercial human spaceflight expires on September 30. Whether or not to extend the “learning period” or “moratorium” on new regulations for one or more years could be a contentious issue. Having a Senate-confirmed official heading the FAA might help advance the Biden Administration’s position on both budget and policy issues, but getting a new nomination to the Senate and through the process likely will be time-consuming. FAA is part of the Department of Transportation. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg had this to say:

This is the second Biden nomination to be withdrawn with implications for commercial space activities. Gigi Sohn withdrew her nomination for the FCC earlier this month when Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia) joined all Republicans in opposing her.  A replacement nomination has not been submitted yet.

Turning to upcoming events, there are lots of congressional hearings on tap this week in the run-up to spring break, several on space-related topics. Nothing for NASA, but the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Environment Subcommittee will have a hearing on reauthorizing NOAA’s Weather Research and Innovation Forecasting Act that, among other things, required NOAA to integrate data from commercial satellites into their weather models. GeoOptics and Spire have delivered data to NOAA through pilot projects and data purchases. Michael Elits from Spire is one of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing along with Antonio Busalacchi from UCAR.

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on Tuesday and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Wednesday will hear from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and others about DOD’s FY2024 budget request, which includes about $30 billion for space out of a total DOD request of $842 billion. The U.S. Space Force says it is asking for an even $30 billion, but Austin’s press release said $33.3 billion. The Space Force confirmed to us their request is $30 billion. We haven’t been able to get an answer from the Office of the Secretary of Defense as to what the other $3.3 billion is for.

Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman will testify to the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee on Tuesday on the FY2024 budget request for the U.S. Space Force.

The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday specifically on the request for the Space Force and the Air Force. Both are part of the Department of the Air Force.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman are the witnesses. The Space Force’s $30 billion request is about $4 billion more than FY2023. Congress appropriated more in FY2023 ($26.3 billion) than the Biden Administration requested ($24.5 billion) illustrating Congress’s continued recognition of the critical role space systems play in today’s strategic environment.

Off the Hill, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is holding its annual Space Science Week Tuesday-Thursday. It includes individual meetings of the six standing committees of the Space Studies Board (several are joint with other Boards) on Wednesday and Thursday, a plenary meeting on Tuesday, and a public lecture on Wednesday evening.

Here’s a quick guide. The plenary session and public lecture will be livestreamed. The committees meet in both open and closed sessions; the open sessions will be livestreamed. A combined agenda showing everything including the parallel sessions is posted on the SSB website.

  • Tuesday, March 28, 9:00-10:50 am ET: Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences (NASA updates from Lori Glaze and Mary Voytek)
  • Tuesday, March 28: Plenary Session 11:00 am – 7:00 pm ET with a panel discussing the James Webb Space Telescope; agency updates from NASA (Bob Cabana and Nicky Fox), NSF (Sean Jones), and NOAA (Michael Morgan); international partner updates from ESA (Carole Mundell and Gaitee Hussain), JAXA (Masaki Fujimoto), South Korea (Young Deuk Park) and ISRO (Krunal Joshi); and a panel on how science is managed within the Artemis program.
  • Wednesday-Thursday, March 29-March 30: meetings of the six committees (check agendas for times). Some committees will meet jointly for some sessions.
    • Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space (open sessions only on March 29)
    • Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space (open sessions only on March 29)
    • Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences
    • Committee on Planetary Protection
    • Committee on Solar and Space Physics
  • Wednesday, March 29, 7:00 pm ET: Public Lecture on “An Infinity of Worlds: Cosmic Inflation and the Beginning of the Universe,” with Dr. William Kinney, University of Buffalo
Vanessa Wyche, Director of NASA Johnson Space Center, will speak to AIAA’s ASCENDxTEXAS summit on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, AIAA will hold its ASCENDxTEXAS summit in Houston on Wednesday and Thursday. “Pathways for Our Success: Breaking Barriers & Accelerating the Space Ecosystem” features keynotes by NASA Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, Ball Aerospace Vice President of Engineering Mike Gazarik, and NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Kathy Lueders; a fireside chat with NASA’s new Chief Technologist A.C. Charania; and panels on topics ranging from International Partnerships and Engagement (including JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide) to Challenges to Commercialization to Program Updates from six NASA officials, and many more. It’s not clear from the event’s website if a virtual option is available.

Lots of other interesting events, of course. We’ll just mention one more — the uncrewed Soyuz MS-22 will return to Earth on Tuesday. NASA TV will cover undocking early Tuesday morning ET, but not the landing in Kazakhstan. We don’t know if Roscosmos will provide live coverage of the landing. If we get a link to a webcast, we’ll add it to our Calendar entry.

This is the spacecraft that delivered Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the ISS last September, but sprang a leak in its coolant system in December and is not considered safe enough to return them to Earth. Russia launched Soyuz MS-23 empty as a replacement. It docked with the ISS last month and will bring them home in September after an extended mission of almost one year. Russia expects Soyuz MS-22 to reenter in automated mode just fine, but it’s not clear if computers and other electronics will be affected by the high temperatures inside the capsule because of the lack of coolant (which is why it’s not safe for the crew).

Frank Rubio (NASA), Sergey Prokopyev (Roscosmos) and Dmitri Petelin (Roscosmos) will wave goodbye to the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft that ferried them to ISS on Tuesday. Due to a coolant leak, it cannot bring them home, so it will return to Earth empty.  (A replacement spacecraft, Soyuz MS-23, is now docked to ISS and will return them to Earth in September.) NASA TV will cover the undocking early Tuesday morning ET, but not the landing in Kazakhstan.

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 27

Monday-Friday, March 27-31 (continued from last week)

Tuesday, March 28

Tuesday-Thursday, March 28-30

  • Space Science Week (National Academies), National Academy of Sciences building, 2101 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC (many sessions will be livestreamed — see details above)

Wednesday, March 29

Wednesday-Thursday, March 29-30

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