What’s Happening in Space Policy May 19-25, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 19-25, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 19-25, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It’s a busy week on Capitol Hill as Congress gets ready for the Memorial Day break. This week there are hearings on the FY2025 budget requests for DOD space programs, NASA, and the FAA, and the House Armed Services Committee will mark up the FY2025 National Defense Authorization Act.

It also could be a busy human spaceflight week with Blue Origin’s first passenger flight in more than a year today (Sunday) and the re-rescheduled Starliner Crew Flight Test (CFT) on Saturday.

We’ll start with those since Blue Origin’s New Shepard-25 (NS-25) launch is this morning. We’re publishing this before the planned liftoff at 9:30 am ET so stay tuned to the company’s website for up to date information. Their webcast begins 40 minutes before launch. This will be the company’s seventh passenger flight since the first in July 2021.

Liftoff of Blue Origin’s New Shepard-16 (NS-16) mission carrying Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, July 20, 2021. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin hasn’t launched New Shepard with people on board since August 2022. A September 2022 failure on a flight carrying only experiments, not people, grounded all New Shepard launches until December 2023 when another uncrewed flight demonstrated the problems were fixed. The names of the six NS-25 passengers were revealed on April 4 and includes Ed Dwight who many had expected to be chosen as NASA’s first black astronaut in the early days of the space program. He wasn’t and is finally getting his chance to cross the threshold into space at the age of 90. It’s only a 10 minute flight from start to finish, not an orbital mission, but will make him an astronaut at last along with his five companions.

Credit: Blue Origin

As for the Starliner CFT launch, we’ve written extensively about it already and won’t repeat it here. The launch is currently scheduled for Saturday, May 25 at 3:09 pm ET.

President John F. Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress, May 25, 1961. Credit: JFK Library video

As NASA, Boeing and ULA say repeatedly, they’ll launch when they’re ready and not before, but it would be fun if they go on Saturday. It’s the 63rd anniversary of President John F. Kennedy kicking off the Apollo program during a speech before a joint session of Congress. The speech came just three weeks after Alan Shepard became the first American in space on a suborbital mission. (He’s the namesake of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.)

With only that amount of experience, but determined to beat the Soviet Union at something in space — they’d already launched the first satellite (Sputnik), first animal (the dog Laika) and the first human (Yuri Gagarin) into orbit — on May 25, 1961, JFK boldly called on the nation to commit itself to the goal of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth “before this decade is out.” For some reason his “we do these things … because they are hard” speech at Rice University a year-and-a-half later is often mistakenly cited as his clarion call to the Moon. He was at Rice in 1962 trying to build support for Apollo since Congress and the public were lukewarm about the idea. John Logsdon has written the definitive book about JFK and Apollo for those who want to know more about those days.

Gen. Michael Guetlein, USSF Vice Chief of Space Operations, will testify to the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on Tuesday.

On the Hill this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces subcommittee will hold a hearing on the FY2025 DOD request for space programs on Tuesday. DOD’s John Hill, the Air Force’s Frank Calvelli, and Space Force’s Gen. Michael Guetlein will be there.

The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee will hear from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan (“Panch”) about their respective FY2025 budget requests on Thursday. Nelson testified to the House CJS subcommittee last month.

Also on Thursday, FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker will testify to the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD subcommittee about the FAA’s budget request, which includes the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). Despite the gloomy prospects for non-defense spending, FAA/AST is requesting a healthy increase to cope with the dramatic growth in the number of launch and reentry license applications in recent years. For operations in FY2024, they got $42 million, a $4 million increase over FY2023. This year’s request is $57 million.

The FAA also gets commercial space transportation money through the Facilities & Equipment (F&E) account for Commercial Space Integration — integrating space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System — and the Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D) account for the Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation Safety. F&E got only $1 million in FY2024, down from $5 million in FY2023. The FY2025 request is $4.5 million. RE&D got $2 million in FY2024, down from $4.7 million in FY2023 and only about one-third of the request ($6.2 million). The FY2025 request is $5.35 million.

The big event on Capitol Hill for space this week though is the House Armed Services Committee markup of the FY2025 NDAA on Wednesday. The official title is “Servicemember Quality of Life Improvement and National Defense Authorization Act for 2025.” It’s always a marathon event starting at 10:00 am ET and continuing late into the evening and often the wee hours of the next day. The draft bill, called the “chairman’s mark,” is not posted on the committee’s website for some reason, nor this markup session. But they are on the House “committee repository” website. Most DOD space programs are authorized through the Strategic Forces subcommittee and that portion of the draft is posted here.

DOD’s FY2025 request for the U.S. Space Force is actually a slight drop from FY2024, $29.4 billion compared to $30 billion, a first for the four-year-old military service. It’s budget has been growing by leaps and bounds with Congress appropriating more than requested. The draft HASC bill would make minor alterations to the request, down a bit in RDT&E and Procurement, up a bit in O&M. HASC is an authorization committee, of course, not appropriations, so their funding figures are recommendations only.

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 19

Monday, May 20

Tuesday, May 21

Wednesday, May 22

Thursday, May 23

Thursday-Friday, May 23-24

Thursday-Sunday, May 23-26

Saturday, May 25

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