What’s Happening in Space Policy May 21-27, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 21-27, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 21-27, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The House is in session this week. The Senate is in recess, but could return if a debt limit deal is reached.

During the Week

Topic A in Washington this week will be the continuing negotiations over raising the debt limit. The outcome could have a dramatic effect on the space program if the budget cuts being demanded by House Republicans come into force, but the negotiations themselves are outside the scope of this website. We’re waiting to see what happens just like everyone else. The House is in session this week, but will be out next week for the Memorial Day holiday (Monday, May 29). The Senate is doing the reverse — out this week and back next Tuesday. Both schedules could change depending on the debt limit deal. It will take a few days to write whatever legislation is needed and then it needs to pass both chambers hopefully before June 1.

Elsewhere, it’s a busy week as usual, starting today (Sunday) with the launch of the next private astronaut mission to the ISS. The four-person Axiom-2 crew will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 at 5:37 pm ET, weather permitting. There’s a 40 percent chance of weather violations today, which is how the 45th Weather Squadron expresses the odds. It means there’s a 60 percent chance the weather is “go.” The odds are a lot worse tomorrow, only a 20 percent chance of “go.”  The space station’s a very busy place and if they can’t get off either today or tomorrow, they will have to wait to get back in the queue later this summer.

The Axiom-2 crew, L-R: Ali Alqarni (Saudi Arabia), John Shoffner (U.S.), Peggy Whitson (U.S.), Rayyanah Barnawi (Saudi Arabia). Credit: Axiom Space

The international crew on this privately-funded mission is commanded by Peggy Whitson, a record-breaking former NASA astronaut who now works for Axiom. The agreement Axiom Space has with NASA requires that the commanders of these missions be a previously flown NASA astronaut. The pilot is John Shoffner, a wealthy businessman and race car driver. The other two crew members are from Saudi Arabia and represent the Saudi government: Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. They will be the second and third Saudis in space (Sultan bin Salman Al Saud was first on a 1985 space shuttle mission). Barnawi will be the first Saudi woman in space and the first Arab woman in orbit (Egypt’s Sara Sabry made a suborbital flight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket last year so was the first Arab women in space).

Axiom Space, SpaceX and NASA will all provide live coverage of the launch. Axiom is first, starting at 2:10 pm ET. If the launch goes today, they will dock at the ISS tomorrow (Monday) at 9:30 am ET. NASA, at least, will provide live coverage of rendezvous, docking, hatch opening, and welcome remarks starting at 7:30 am ET.

Virgin Galactic plans to resume suborbital human spaceflight this week, too. The next SpaceShipTwo mission is scheduled to take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on Thursday, May 25, at 8:00 am Mountain Time (10:00 am Eastern). The VMS Eve aircraft will carry the Unity 25 spaceship up to about 45,000 feet, separate from it, and Unity will then fire its rocket engine to send six company employees across the air/space threshold. Virgin Galactic uses 62 miles (80 kilometers) as that demarcation. This is their first spaceflight with a crew in almost two years. If successful, they will finally attempt their first commercial flight next month.

Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve aircraft carrying the VSS Unity spacecraft (with the Virgin Galactic logo). Credit: Virgin Galactic

Thursday’s going to be a very busy day. The next Lunar Surface Science Workshop starts at 11:00 am ET and is full of updates from NASA HQ officials on the Artemis program and integrating science into it. Nicky Fox, Jim Free and Jim Reuter — the Associate Administrators for Science, Exploration Systems Development, and Space Technology, respectively — are all on the agenda along with many others. It’s a long list of speakers each with just 5 or 10 minute time slots so it’ll be drinking from a fire hose, but a great way to get up to date.

That ends at 5:00 pm ET, just in time to tune into the public session of NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. NASA’s Federal Register announcements for advisory committee meetings no longer indicate where the meeting is physically taking place because even though the committee members may meet in-person, public participation is virtual only. We know only that ASAP is meeting somewhere in the Central Time zone, so probably at Marshall Space Flight Center or Johnson Space Center. One can only listen to the members report on their findings over the telephone — another drinking from the fire hose experience — but worth the effort.

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

Coincidentally, Thursday also is the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Apollo program. President John F. Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961, calling for 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.” John Logsdon wrote the definitive history of what led up to that announcement and JFK’s efforts to sell the idea to a lukewarm Congress thereafter (John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon). The September 1962 Rice University speech many confuse with this one as the starting gun for Apollo in fact was JFK’s attempt to build support. We haven’t heard of any events to commemorate JFK’s speech, unfortunately. Perhaps the folks at Virgin Galactic, the LSSW workshop and/or ASAP will mention it.

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 21

Sunday-Wednesday, May 21-24

Monday, May 22

Monday-Thursday, May 22-25

Tuesday, May 23

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 23-24

Tuesday-Thursday, May 23-25

Wednesday, May 24

Thursday, May 25

Thursday-Sunday, May 25-28

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