What’s Happening in Space Policy May 15-21, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 15-21, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 15-21, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It’s another impossibly busy week this week. From a lunar eclipse to hearings and meetings and conferences and Boeing’s third try to complete the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test of its Starliner commercial crew vehicle.

It all starts tonight (Sunday) with a total lunar eclipse that will be vieweable from most places on Earth. The illustration below is from NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio, which has an animated map on its website. If the weather’s conducive, everyone should go out and look for themselves, but take along a mobile device to listen to NASA’s live commentary from 11:00 pm – midnight. Also good for people in locations where the weather doesn’t cooperate. It will air on NASA TV, NASA Live, YouTube and Facebook. There’ll be quite a few livestreams from different parts of the world. NASA has a list.

Congress continues its hearings on the FY2023 budget request. The House Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee will take up NASA at 9:00 am Tuesday morning and an hour later the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will consider the request for the Space Force (and Air Force). House CJS will hold its “Member Day” on Thursday where Members of Congress get a chance to tell their appropriations colleagues directly what they want to see in the bill.

Separately, a House Intelligence subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday (at the same time as the House CJS hearing on NASA unfortuately) on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, which in the past were usually referred to as Unidentified Flying Objects. The topic conjures up notions of alien visits from other worlds, but the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are more worried about terrestrial adversaries testing technologies we don’t understand. Navy pilots in particular have reported strange events in the past several years and the Intelligence Committees are asking DOD to increase attention to these reports and figure out what’s going on. The hearing will start off open, but move into a classified session. The open portion will be webcast.

At the same time as those hearings, the annual Humans to Mars (H2M) summit will be kicking off. Tuesday morning featuring panels on “Will Humans Be on the Surface of the Moon by the Mid-2020s and Travel to Mars by the Mid-2030s” with representatives from NASA, ESA, JAXA, and Northrop Grumman, and “International Space Relations: Space Diplomacy and Security in Challenging Times” featuring Sam Scimemi from NASA (who’s on the earlier panel as well) and Mir Sadat from the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who is testiyfing to House CJS in the morning, will speak at H2M at 5:30 pm Tuesday. The NASA Live schedule says it will air there, but not on NASA TV. H2M is in-person this year at George Washington University in D.C., but plenaries will be livestreamed and other sessions will be recorded and available later according to Explore Mars, the conference organizer.

H2M is just one of several excellent conferences taking place this week not just in the United States but elsewhere in the world: the annual Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Atlanta;  the International Astronautical Federation’s Global Conference on Space for Emerging Countries (GLEC 2022) in Quito, Ecuador; Defense IQ’s Space Operations Summit in London; and CABSAT’s Sat Expo Summit in Dubai. Seems like the conference world is getting back into business as COVID loosens its grip (at least for now).

The Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is lifted at the Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on May 4, 2022, ahead of its second Orbital Flight Test (OFT-2) to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Credits: NASA/Frank Michaux

But a great deal of attention this week undoubtedly will be focused on Boeing’s OFT-2 mission scheduled to lift off on Thursday atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

OFT-2 is Boeing’s second try at the second attempt to fly the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew spacecraft on a mission to dock with the International Space Station as a step in certifying it for operational use for NASA astronauts. Like SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Starliner is a public-private partnership with NASA. NASA wanted two commercial crew suppliers for redundancy and competition and is eager is have Starliner available in addition to Dragon.

However, Boeing’s first OFT in December 2019 had some serious deficiencies and Boeing decided to fly Starliner again without a crew, hence OFT-2.

Its first attempt to launch OFT-2, last August, was scrubbed a couple hours before launch when 13 propulsion valves would not open. Now, 9 months later, they are ready to try again. The plan is launch on Thursday, dock at the ISS on Friday, and hatch opening and a welcome ceremony with the ISS crew on Saturday. NASA and Boeing have not announced how many days it will remain there, saying only it probably will be a 5-8 day mission. Starliner lands on land — in White Sands, NM — not in the water like Dragon, but weather will still be a factor. More details may be announced at the pre-launch briefing on Tuesday.

NASA will provide coverage of pre-launch, launch, and post-launch activities. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Tuesday, May 17, 12:00 pm ET or one hour after the Launch Readiness Review is completed, pre-launch briefing
  • Wednesday, May 18, 1:00 pm ET, NASA leadership media briefing
  • Thursday, May 19, 6:54 pm ET, launch (NASA TV coverage begins 6:00 pm ET)
  • Thursday, May 19, 9:00 pm ET, post-launch news conference
  • Friday, May 20, 3:30 pm ET, coverage of rendezvous and docking (7:10 pm ET)
  • Saturday, May 21, 11:30 am ET, coverage of hatch opening (11:45 am ET) and welcome ceremony (1:00 pm ET)

If all goes well this time, the next step is a Crew Flight Test (CFT), similar to SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission that made “Bob and Doug” — NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — almost household names. Two NASA astronauts are currently assigned to CFT: Butch Wilmore and Mike Fincke.

Boeing and NASA will not decide when to fly CFT until after OFT-2. They also may add another crew member to replace Nicole Mann who was reassigned to a Crew Dragon.

Last week, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel urged NASA not to rush to launch CFT because they think there’s still a lot Boeing needs to do between OFT-2 and CFT and they’re worried about Boeing’s low level of staffing on the program. As a fixed-price contract, Boeing must absorb the costs of OFT-2. The company has taken $595 million in charges against earnings so far.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket in flight over West Texas. Credit: Blue Origin

In other human spaceflight news, on Friday morning Blue Origin will launch its next New Shepard passenger flight, NS-21. The six customers include Katya Echazarreta, the first Mexican-born woman and youngest American woman to fly in space; a repeat passenger, Evan Dick, who flew on NS-19; and Victor Correa Hespanha, who will become the second Brazilian in space (Marcos Cesar Pontes was first, on Soyuz TMA-8 in 2006). This is Blue Origin’s fifth New Shepard launch with people aboard. The company’s webcast will begin 60 minutes before launch, which is scheduled for 9:30 am ET, but delays for minutes, hours, or days are common, often due to weather. Keep checking their website or Twitter feed for updates.

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, May 15

Sunday-Friday, May 15-20

Monday, May 16

Monday-Friday, May 16-20

Tuesday, May 17

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 17-18

Tuesday-Thursday, May 17-19

Wednesday, May 18

Thursday, May 19

Friday, May 20

Saturday, May 21

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