What’s Happening in Space Policy March 27-April 3, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy March 27-April 3, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week plus a day of March 27-April 3, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

We’re including next Sunday, April 3, in this week’s edition of “What’s Happening” because one of two big events will happen that day before we publish the next one — the Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal or the launch of Axiom-1.

More on that later. There’s lots going on before that.

Tomorrow (Monday), President Biden will submit his FY2023 budget request to Congress. It’s seven weeks late, but the FY2022 appropriations only cleared Congress two weeks ago, so there should be no casting of stones for tardiness from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The White House Office of Management and Budget and the Government Printing Office jointly release the request usually at 11:00 am ET, but GPO’s press release doesn’t mention the time.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will give the annual State of NASA address on Monday. A media telecon on NASA’s FY2023 budget request follows.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Once it’s out, many government agencies give briefings on what’s in it for them. For the last decade or so NASA has also used the occasion for the Administrator to give a “State of NASA” address. Bill Nelson will do that tomorrow at 2:00 pm ET from Kennedy Space Center, followed by a media telecon with Associate Administrator Bob Cabana and CFO Margaret Vo Schaus at 4:30 pm ET to discuss the request in more detail. DOD typically has a department-level briefing in early afternoon followed by individual briefings by each of the services that air on DVIDS, but we haven’t seen an announcement yet. If we find out more, we’ll post it on our Calendar. [UPDATE: The schedule for the DOD briefings, which begin at 1:25 pm ET, is now posted on our Calendar with a link to where they will be broadcast.]

Submitting the request to Congress officially kicks off budget season. The House and Senate Budget Committees and the House Appropriations Committee have hearings scheduled, but nothing about space specifically. The only space-related legislation on tap this week is expected Senate action tomorrow to pass an amended version of the House-passed America Competes Act (H.R. 4521).  The Senate amendment (S. Amdnt 5002) is based on the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) that passed the Senate last year. The main focus of both pieces of legislation is technological competition with China. The House version maintains that focus better than the Senate’s, which encompasses additional measures including a NASA Authorization Act and Senator Wicker’s space situational awareness bill, the SPACE Act. We haven’t done a detailed comparison of the Senate amendment and the USICA, but at a glance they seem quite similar and the NASA authorization and SPACE provisions are still there.

Senate passage of an amended version of the House bill will set up a conference between the two chambers to reach agreement on a final bill. The likelihood of the final version containing the NASA authorization and SPACE provisions seems pretty low. They are under the jurisdiction of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, which does not seem to have such legislation on its front burner. In fact, on Friday it postponed a hearing on space situational awareness that was scheduled for this week. But as we often say, Congress is full of surprises so it’s risky to try and guess the outcome.

On Tuesday, Blue Origin will launch its next New Shepard passenger flight. It was postponed from March 23 and Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson had to bow out, so the company’s Chief Architect, Gary Lai, gets to fly instead with George Nield and the other four customers.

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei conducting an experiment on the International Space Station. He returns to Earth on Wednesday after almost a year in space. Photo credit: NASA

Another big event is Wednesday morning when NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts land in Kazakhstan. He is setting a new U.S. record for continuous duration in space. He and Pyotr Dubrov will have been in space for 355 days. Vande Hei will surpass Scott Kelly’s 340 days, but four Russians have been in space longer than Dubrov. The world record, 438 days, is held by Valeriy Polyakov.

They are returning on Soyuz MS-19, which delivered the third crew member, Anton Shkaplerov to the ISS in October. His two companions on the way up were a Russian film director and actress (Klim Shipenko and Yulia Peresild) who stayed for 12 days and went back on the spacecraft that Vande Hei and Dubrov ordinarily would have returned on after a routine six-month mission. They got to pull a double shift to allow that space tourism flight and by all accounts were more than happy to do so.

They will touch down on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 7:28 am ET, something U.S. astronauts have been doing for decades, but with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and onslaught of offensive tweets from the head of the Russian space program, the situation has a different feel now. For its part, however, NASA is taking a business-as-usual stance. ISS program manager Joel Montalbano said a U.S. contingent of about 20 people will be there to greet Vande Hei and bring him home on a NASA plane just like always. Kazakhstan is an independent country, but closely aligned with Russia.

NASA is determined to keep ISS operating until commercial space stations are ready to replace it several years from now and the U.S. and Russia need each other to keep ISS going, so they are trying to keep it out of the line of fire in this strained geopolitical environment.

Crew-4 (Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines and Kjell Lindgren from NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti from ESA) will hold a news conference on Thursday. Photo credit: NASA

Indeed, it’s a busy place. Not only is the first U.S. private astronaut mission to the ISS about to launch (see next paragraph), but NASA’s next crew is also getting ready. Crew-4 will launch in mid-April with three NASA astronauts and one from ESA. This Thursday, NASA will hold two pre-launch news conferences. At 10:30 am ET, a briefing with NASA, ESA and SpaceX officials: Kathy Lueders, Steve Stich, Joel Montalbano, Frank De Winne, and Jessica Jensen. Then at noon ET, a briefing with the crew members: Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins from NASA and Samantha Cristoforetti from ESA.

The next crew launch to ISS is before theirs, though, maybe on Sunday. The Axiom-1 crew is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, taking the first set of U.S. private astronauts to the ISS. Axiom’s Michael López-Alegria (a former NASA astronaut) and three paying passengers from the United States (Larry Connor), Canada (Mark Pathy), and Israel (Eytan Stibbe) will spend 10 days in space, eight of them aboard the ISS. Russia has sent private astronauts (often called space tourists) to the ISS many times, but this is a first for the United States. A U.S. private astronaut crew flew to orbit last fall on the Inspiration4 mission, but they did not visit ISS.

The Axiom-1 private astronaut crew will launch on Sunday, April 3, unless NASA decides the Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal has priority. L-R: Larry Connor (U.S.), Mark Pathy (Canada), Michael López-Alegria (U.S.) and Eytan Stibbe (Israel). Photo Credit: Axiom Space.

BUT, right now the Wet Dress Rehearsal for the Artemis I mission is also scheduled for Sunday. The Artemis I Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft are on Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex-39B pad getting ready for the test. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Axiom-1 mission will use the adjacent LC-39A. They cannot take place on the same day, so one will have to yield to the other. NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations Kathy Lueders said on Friday she’s monitoring both as they wrap up their final days of processing and then will decide who gets to go on Sunday. Either way, it’s bound to be an interesting day. The Axiom launch is at 1:13 pm ET if it goes. NASA has not said when the Artemis I test will start or how much will be televised.

UPDATE:  NASA decided to proceed with the WDR test. We’ve reflected that in the list below.

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 28

Monday, March 28-Friday, April 1 (continues next week)

Tuesday, March 29

Tuesday-Thursday, March 29-31

Wednesday, March 30

Wednesday-Thursday, March 30-31

Thursday, March 31

Friday-Monday, April 1-4

Friday-Sunday, April 1-3 [UPDATED]




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