What’s Happening in Space Policy May 23-29, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 23-29, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 23-29, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week. The House is having a “committee work week” where committees meet virtually and the House meets only in pro forma sessions.

During the Week

Hard to believe, but we’re closing in on Memorial Day weekend already. The Senate is scheduled to be in session all week, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they left a little early to begin their Memorial Day recess, which is all next week.

It’s not unusual — as we recently saw with Bill Nelson — for the Senate to suddenly confirm a bunch of pending nominations when a recess is coming up, so we’ll all be keeping our eyes peeled to see if Eric Lander is confirmed as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). He was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee by voice vote last week (although five Republicans asked to be recorded as no). Perhaps even Frank Kendall III as Secretary of the Air Force assuming all goes well with his confirmation hearing this week (see below). The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) often makes quick work of approving nominations once a hearing is held. The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on Pam Melroy’s nomination to be NASA Deputy Administrator and Rick Spinrad to be NOAA Administrator last week, but the committee has not voted on the nominations yet, so it’s unlikely they will get confirmed this week. Anything is possible, though!

The House also will be in recess next week. This week is full of virtual committee meetings, but no floor votes so Members already can be at home getting ready for weekend BBQs if they wish. How lovely that weekend BBQs can be a thing again (unless you’re driven indoors by the cicadas).

The space program has been relentlessly busy and we all could use a break, but President Biden is scheduled to release his complete FY2022 budget request this week. New presidents aren’t expected to meet the statutory date for submitting their annual budget requests (first Monday in February), but this is really late. A week ago, word was it would be out on Thursday, May 27, but Inside Defense and others now are reporting that it slipped to Friday.

Which is unfortunate. While most Americans are enjoying the first holiday weekend in well over a year with almost no COVID restrictions, some of us will be stuck scrutinizing the budget with one hand while munching hot dogs and hamburgers with the other. 🙁

In the past, agencies like NASA would hold budget briefings the day the budget was released, but we haven’t heard anything yet. If we do, we’ll post it to our Calendar.

NASA should be OK overall. We already know the President is proposing a 6.3 percent increase, but the devil is always in the details and for R&D agencies like NASA, the projections for future years (“outyears”) are important indicators of an administration’s priorities. With party control in the House and Senate extremely tight, the usual divide in Democratic and Republican viewpoints on how to spend taxpayer dollars, Biden’s pending trillion-dollar-plus jobs/infrastructure package, and an enormous deficit, the budget debate this year is bound to be pretty brutal.

But let’s stick to the present. Between now and Friday it’s yet another busy, busy week.

Two hearings will examine the national security space program. The Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) meets tomorrow (Monday) with witnesses from DOD (John Hill, acting Assistant Secretary for Space Policy, U.S. Space Force (Gen. David Thompson, vice Chief of Space Operations), National Reconnaissance Office (Chris Scolese, Director), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, Associate Director of Operations), and Government Accountability Office (Jon Ludwigson).

Its SASC counterpart follows suit on Wednesday, but without NRO, NGA and GAO.  Hill and Thompson are up again, this time with Darlene Costello, Acting Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

SASC has another hearing the day before on the nomination of Frank Kendall III to be Secretary of the Air Force (the Space Force’s parent department).  It will also consider the nominations of Susanna Blume for the little-known but all-important job of DOD Director of Cost Assessment and Project Evaluation (CAPE) and Heidi Shyu to be Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD/R&E).

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testify to the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee about DOD’s FY2022 budget request on Thursday. (If reports are correct that the budget request now won’t be released until Friday, we can’t help but wonder if this hearing will be postponed since they will not have actual numbers to talk about.)

Across town, virtually speaking, the National Academies’ Space Studies Board (SSB) and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) will meet individually and jointly Monday-Thursday. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will speak at the Boards’ joint meeting on Tuesday. All four of the NASA Mission Directorate Associate Administrators will speak on various days: Bob Pearce, Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) on Monday to ASEB;  Jim Reuter and Kathy Lueders, Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) on Tuesday to the joint session; and Thomas Zurbuchen, Science Mission Directorate (SMD) on Wednesday to SSB.  Steve Volz, head of NOAA’s satellite division and Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, talks to SSB on Thursday.

At the joint meeting on Tuesday, the majority and minority staff directors of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s Space and Aeronautics subcommittee, Pam Whitney and Tom Hammond, respectively, will be on a panel together. Lots and lots of other interesting speakers, including NASA’s Phil McAlister discussing the agency’s “strategy for commercial expansion in LEO” with SSB on Thursday.

Commercial LEO is also the focus of a NASA virtual pre-proposal conference on Wednesday for its Commercial LEO Destinations (CLD) effort. It’s an opportunity for industry to provide feedback to NASA on the draft CLD announcement posted on May 17.  NASA plans to issue the final CLD announcement in June. Note that anyone who wants to participate in Wednesday’s meeting MUST REGISTER BY TOMORROW, MONDAY, MAY 24, BY 5:00 pm ET.

Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Assistant Director for Space Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Photo from her LinkedIn page.

Explore Mars is holding a Mars Innovation Forum from Tuesday to Thursday, the first in a series of events to examine the innovations needed to make humans-on-Mars a reality. The entire forum looks really good, but the space policy community may be particularly interested in the opening session on Tuesday where Ezinne Uzo-Okoro will join a panel to discuss “Innovating for Mars/Benefits to Earth.”

Uzo-Okoro is the new Assistant Director for Space Policy at OSTP. As far as we know, this is her first public talk since taking on this position. She has a very impressive résumé as shown in her LinkedIn profile: a B.S. in computer science from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, an M.S. in aerospace systems engineering from John Hopkins, an M.S. in space robotics from MIT, an MPA in public administration, science, technology and public policy from Harvard, and is working on her PhD from MIT in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. She worked at NASA for almost 17 years with assignments at Headquarters, Goddard, and Ames where she led the Small Spacecraft Mission Design Division. It will be interesting to learn her perspective.

OSTP is part of the Executive Office of the President, just like the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the National Space Council. All have roles to play in setting an administration’s space policy.

Two other quick items that are not on our calendar.

First, if you’re in the right place Wednesday night, you may get to see not just a total lunar eclipse, but a SUPERMOON total lunar eclipse!  That’s not the U.S. East Coast, unfortunately. We only get a partial eclipse. But western continental U.S. and Canada, all of Mexico, most of Central America and Ecuador, western Peru, and southern Chile and Argentina should be able to see it (weather permitting) near moonset. The Asian Pacific Rim should see it just after moonrise. NASA has a website explaining it all with a useful map.

Second, China might make a third attempt to launch its Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft to the Tianhe space station module this week. It scrubbed twice last week. We haven’t seen anything from China about when they might try again, but China space expert Andrew Jones (@AL_FI) tweeted yesterday that it “looks like a ~week-long delay.”  China is expected to launch the first crew to Tianhe in June.

Those events and others 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 24

Monday-Thursday, May 24-27

Tuesday, May 25

Tuesday-Thursday, May 25-27

Wednesday, May 26

Wednesday-Thursday, May 26-27

Thursday, May 27

Friday, May 28

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