What’s Happening in Space Policy May 28-June 3, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 28-June 3, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 28-June 3, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate will be in session this week beginning Tuesday. The House schedule is in flux.

During the Week

Tomorrow (Monday) is a Federal holiday, Memorial Day, and we’re in the middle of an eagerly-anticipated long weekend that is ordinarily devoted to BBQs, beaches and the beginning of summer fun. Not so this year for Congress and the White House. They are hard at work trying to prevent a default on the national debt by raising or suspending the debt limit. As a reminder, the debt limit is about paying bills that have already been incurred, not new spending, but House Republicans are demanding cuts to future spending in exchange for paying the bills for what they and their Democratic counterparts already approved.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California).

Late last night President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced a deal. Details are still coming out as we write this, but it appears as though the debt limit will be suspended until after the 2024 elections, defense spending is exempted from cuts but not allowed to exceed the President’s request, and non-defense spending (e.g. NASA, NOAA, FAA) at a minumum is held flat in FY2024 (presumably meaning kept at FY2023 levels) and can increase by only 1 percent in FY2025. We note there are other reports that the cuts are more severe than that, however, so stay tuned. And it’s not clear if they set a limit on total non-defense spending allowing appropriators to decide spending levels on an agency by agency basis as long as the total is within the cap, or if all non-defense agencies are subject to the same limits.

Republican and Democratic leaders on both sides of Capitol Hill now have to write legislation, sell it to their members, and get it passed and signed into law before June 5, a week from tomorrow. It’s a tall order, but doable if enough people agree.

The actual legislation could be released as early as today. McCarthy promised House members they would have 72 hours to review whatever deal was made. He’s indicating the House could vote on Wednesday. Then it must pass the Senate, a vote that likely would happen next weekend since the Senate has a number of procedural steps to clear. The Senate is scheduled to be in session this week anyway, but the House was supposed to be in recess. Whether they’ll come back only for one day to vote on this or if it’ll take longer remains to be seen. Some House Republicans are already opposing the deal because the spending cuts aren’t deep enough, while at least one Senate Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) opposes it because it doesn’t increase defense spending above Biden’s request.

The bottom line appears to be that non-defense agencies like NASA, NOAA and FAA could be held at their FY2023 levels, at best. That’s especially problematical for NASA, which is ramping up Artemis and several major science programs, not to mention building a deorbit tug for ISS (a new request in FY2024) and facilitating commercial space stations to replace ISS by 2030. For FY2024, Biden asked for a 7.1 percent increase for NASA, which would basically keep pace with inflation.

We’ll have more on this as the details come out, but from a What’s Happening perspective, it looks like this will be a critical week with a House vote probably on Wednesday and a Senate vote a few days later. We’ll post whatever information we get on our Calendar.

Up in space, China is getting ready to do another crew exchange on Tiangong-3, just their second ever. The Shenzhou-16 crew will replace Shenzhou-15. The Chinese are being as opaque as usual about exactly when the launch and landing will take place, but Xinhua published today that the final pre-launch Shenzhou-16 dress rehearsal is completed. Bob Christy (@OrbitalFocus) calculates the likely liftoff time as Tuesday, May 30, at 01:31:15 UTC, which is tomorrow (Monday, May 29) at 9:31:15 pm EDT.  The Chinese have said only that Shenzhou-15 will return in June. Christy calculates June 3 about 22:25 UTC (6:25 pm EDT). When/if we get official information from the Chinese, we’ll add it to our Calendar items.

(Update, May 28, 9:30 pm ET: Xinhua just confirmed the launch date and time as May 30 at 9:31 am Beijing Time, which is 9:31 pm May 29 EDT.)

It’ll be busy on the International Space Station, too.

The Axiom-2 private astronaut crew — Peggy Whitson (Axiom Space), John Shoffner (private citizen), and Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi (Saudi Space Commission) — are scheduled to undock at 11:05 am ET Tuesday. NASA will provide coverage of that part of their return to Earth, with Axiom Space picking it up thereafter. The splashdown time hasn’t been announced and, of course, the entire return is weather-dependent. The Axiom-1 crew ended up spending almost an extra week on ISS because of lousy weather in Florida.

The Axiom Mission-2 and Expedition 69 crew members pose for a portrait together during dinner time aboard the International Space Station. In the center front row, is Expedition 69 crew member and UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi flanked by (from left) Axiom Mission-2 crew members Commander Peggy Whitson, Mission Specialist Ali Alqarni, Pilot John Shoffner, and Mission Specialist Rayyanah Barnawi. In the back (from left) are, Expedition 69 crew members Roscosmos cosmonaut Dmitri Petelin, NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, Roscosmos cosmonauts Andrey Fedyaev and Sergey Prokopyev, and NASA astronaut Woody Hoburg. Not pictured is NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. Credit: NASA

NASA definitely is hoping that doesn’t happen this time since they’ve got a SpaceX cargo mission, SpX-28, launching on Saturday and it needs the docking port where Axiom-2’s Crew Dragon is parked. SpX-28 is SpaceX’s 28th cargo flight to ISS. Among the cargo are more ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs) that NASA astronauts Steve Bowen and Woody Hoburg will install during spacewalks on June 9 and June 15. NASA will hold press conferences this Tuesday to discuss what’s aboard SpX-28 and on Thursday to preview the spacewalks.

The NASA Advisory Council’s Science Committee meets virtually Wednesday-Thursday. Geoff Yoder, who co-chaired last fall’s Independent Review Board for the Earth System Observatory, will brief the committee on their findings first thing Wednesday morning. The head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Nicky Fox, is next with an update on SMD followed by reports on TEMPO and the Deep Space Network. On Thursday, an update on “Transform to Open Science,” reports from division advisory committees, and a “lunch and learn” on ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission by NASA’s Curt Niebur. JUICE is enroute to Jupiter and just completed deploying all of its antennas and other critical appendages.

David Spergel, Simons Foundation, will chair a public meeting of NASA’s Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena study team on Wednesday. 

On Wednesday, NASA will hold a public meeting of its Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP) study team followed by a media telecon.

Chaired by David Spergel, president of the Simons Foundation and formerly chair of Princeton’s astrophysics department, the group is examining UAPs (what many people call UFOs) from a scientific perspective: “The study will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward.”

The study team has an impressive group of space and science experts including Matt Mountain, president of AURA (which manages the Space Telescope Science Institute, which he used to head), former astronaut Scott Kelly, astrobiologist David Grinspoon, Redwire’s Mike Gold, Maxar’s Walter Scott, and science journalist Nadia Drake. Since May 12, the public has been able to make comments through a NASA website.

What sounds like a really fun and different event will take place on Thursday evening at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón will unveil the poem she’s written for Europa. The poem will be engraved on the Europa Clipper mission scheduled for launch next year. Limón will read her poem and talk with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, NASA’s Nicky Fox, and Sheri Wells-Jensen, the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology, Exploration and Science Innovation. The LoC will livestream the event on YouTube and NASA will carry it on NASA TV.

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 28

Sunday-Thursday, May 28-June 1

Monday, May 29

Tuesday, May 30

Tuesday-Thursday, May 30-June 1

Wednesday, May 31

Wednesday-Thursday, May 31-June 1

Wednesday-Friday, May 31-June 2 (resumes June 5-9)

Thursday, June 1

Thursday-Friday, June 1-2

Friday, June 2

Saturday, June 3


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