What’s Happening in Space Policy May 2-8, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 2-8, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 2-8, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in recess except for pro forma sessions. The House is in a “committee work week” where committees meet virtually, but the House meets only in pro forma sessions.

During the Week

NASA gets a new Administrator tomorrow. A Senior Administration Official told reporters yesterday that Vice President Kamala Harris will swear in Bill Nelson Monday morning. Nelson was confirmed by the Senate last Thursday. No other details were provided, but if we learn anything more we’ll post it on our Calendar entry.  Harris has been swearing in all the Biden Senate-confirmed appointees, but in this case she also is chair of the White House National Space Council. Harris tweeted yesterday that she is honored to take on that role. [UPDATE, MAY 3, 6:15 AM: This event will take place at 9:50 am ET today. ]

It’s a great week to start a new job at NASA since it includes the 60th anniversary of the first American flying into space. On May 5, 1961, Alan Shepard made a 15-minute suborbital flight that took him above what some consider to be the imaginary line between air and space (50 miles/80 kilometers in this case).  It was just three weeks after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, completing one orbit around the Earth. The United States would not match that feat until John Glenn’s flight on February 20, 1962.

We haven’t heard of any events specifically to celebrate the anniversary, but Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin announced last week that on May 5 it will release details on how to sign up for a flight on its suborbital rocket, New Shepard, named after you know who. Shepard flew out across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in the water. Blue Origin’s flights won’t be quite that sporty.  It’s more or less straight up and down, in Texas. The company has been conducting test after test over several years adhering to its motto Gradatim Ferociter — Step by Step, Ferociously. We’re all eager to know how much it will cost to take that 10 minute ride! Blue Origin uses FAI’s international standard to let someone declare they’ve been in space — 62 miles/100 kilometers. There are good arguments on both sides of the debate on where to draw that line.

Elsewhere in Texas, Boca Chica to be precise, there is widespread anticipation that Elon Musk’s SpaceX will conduct the next test of a Starship prototype tomorrow. SpaceX does not tell the public when tests will take place, but space sleuths scour FAA Notices to Airmen that close the airspace near Boca Chica for clues or patiently sit near the test site with their cameras and observe the goings on. Even then, these are tests and things can happen at any moment to delay everything. We do not include potential Starship tests on our Calendar because the dates are so uncertain, but we wanted to note this one because, whenever it happens, it will attract a lot of attention.

These are tests of a three-engine Starship prototype that is intended to launch, maneuver in-flight, and land. The four tests so far have launched and flown quite well, but the landings?  BOOM! SpaceX is 0 for 4. This test, Serial Number 15 (SN15), is of a modified prototype that hopefully has worked out the kinks, but that is what everyone wants to see. NASASpaceflight.com (@NASAspaceflight), which is not part of NASA, keeps a close eye on Boca Chica and is a great way to find out what’s happening. NASA’s selection of SpaceX and Starship for the Human Landing System (HLS) contract also is focusing more attention on these tests. The contract award is being protested and NASA had to suspend work, but SpaceX has been spending its own money on this program for a long time and these tests were planned before the contract was awarded. The suspension should not have any impact right away.

Of the numerous other events this week, one of special interest is the American Astronautical Society’s annual Goddard Memorial Symposium Tuesday-Thursday. It almost goes without saying, but it will be virtual. It has a terrific agenda including keynote addresses by Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (Tuesday); Gavin Schmidt, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and newly appointed Senior Climate Advisor at NASA HQ (Wednesday); and Ellen Stofan, Under Secretary of the Smithsonian for Science and Research, former Director of the National Air and Space Museum, and former NASA Chief Scientist (Thursday).

Subcommittees of two House committees — House Armed Services and House Foreign Affairs — will hold a very interesting joint hearing on Wednesday. The topic is “Creating a Framework for Rules Based Order in Space.” Witnesses are Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, Commander of Space Force’s Space Operations Command; John Hill, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy; Bruce Turner, Senior Bureau Official at the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance; and Jonathan Moore, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Having the perspectives of both DOD and State Department at the same witness table should lead to some fascinating discussions.

More DOD folks will be on the Hill this week, too. On Friday, the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee will hear from Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond on the FY2022 budget requests for the Air Force and Space Force.

Three other events we will quickly highlight include Tuesday’s release of a new report from the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress with recommendations to the Biden Administration on national security space issues, and Wednesday’s Space Policy Institute/IISTP webinar on “What Technologies Can Secure GPS?”.  Space cybersecurity is a growing concern and also on Wednesday the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, part of the Department of Commerce) and the Department of Homeland Security will hold a day-long virtual symposium on that very topic.

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, May 3

Monday-Wednesday, May 3-5

Tuesday, May 4

Tuesday-Thursday, May 4-6

Wednesday, May 5

Thursday, May 6

Friday, May 7


User Comments

SpacePolicyOnline.com has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.