What’s Happening in Space Policy May 5-11, 2024

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 5-11, 2024

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 5-11, 2024 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The launch of Boeing’s Starliner Crew Flight Test (CFT) tomorrow (Monday) is hands-down the BIG EVENT this week. But there’s lots of other good stuff going on, too, including the annual Humans to Mars Summit and the first meeting of the NASA Advisory Council in almost a year and a half.

Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will finally get a chance to test fly Boeing’s Starliner commercial crew vehicle tomorrow if all goes according to plan. Admittedly not much has gone according to plan for Starliner over the past four years, but hopefully tomorrow will turn the tide.

Starliner CFT crew members Suni Williams (L) and Butch Wilmore (R) with backup pilot Mike Fincke (center) on the crew access arm with the Starliner spacecraft behind them. Posted on X by Fincke (@AstroIronMike) May 4, 2024. Fincke will pilot the next Starliner mission, Starliner-1, the first operational flight.

If this Crew Flight Test goes well, NASA will be very close to achieving the goal it set in 2014 of having two systems for getting astronauts to and from the International Space Station — “dissimilar redundancy” — so if one has to be grounded for any reason, the United States will have its own alternative. For the nine years (2011-2020) between the end of the space shuttle program and the availability of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, NASA was dependent on Russia for crew transportation. The United States and Russia were on good terms back then, but it was expensive and undermined the image of the U.S. as the leader in space exploration. It also meant Russia’s Soyuz was the only way to get there — a potential single point failure. Fortunately, that never happened, but having multiple transportation systems definitely is a benefit.

Launch is at 10:34 pm ET tomorrow night. Weather at the launch site looks excellent — 95 percent favorable. We haven’t heard a specific forecast for the ascent corridor up along the East Coast and over towards Ireland which also has to be good, but we also haven’t heard any concerns raised about it. In 2019, Suni Williams named this spacecraft Calypso in honor of Jacques Cousteau and his ocean explorations on a ship by that name.

Launch Visibility Map for the Starliner Crew Flight Test. Credit: ULA

A post-launch news conference is scheduled for midnight, docking will be just over 24 hours later at 12:48 am ET Wednesday, followed by hatch opening, an in-orbit welcome ceremony, and a post-arrival press conference at JSC at 4:15 am ET.  They are launching on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, the first time humans have launched on an Atlas since the Mercury-Atlas program of the early 1960s.

It’ll be hard to top that this week, but the Humans to Mars (H2M) summit on Tuesday and Wednesday at George Washington (GW) University in Washington, DC looks really good, too. NASA stresses that the Moon is a stepping stone to putting humans on Mars and the Artemis lunar program figures prominently in this conference.

JAXA Washington Office Director Masami Onoda will discuss the pressurized rover Japan is building for the Artemis program at this week’s Humans to Mars Summit and participate in a panel on partnerships.

NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free, Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin, Space Technology Mission Directorate Deputy Associate Administrator Prasun Desai, and Science Mission Directorate Planetary Science Division Director Lori Glaze are among the NASA VIPs on the agenda. A panel on “When Will China Send Humans to the Moon and Mars” features Dean Cheng with the U.S. Institute of Peace (formerly with the Heritage Foundation), Kevin Pollpeter from the Center for Naval Analyses, Kristin Burke from the China Aerospace Studies Institute, and Scott Pace, Director of the Space Policy Institute at GW (formerly Executive Secretary of the White House National Space Council in the Trump Administration). Masami Onoda, Director of JAXA’s Washington Office, will talk about the pressurized rover Japan is building for the Artemis program and then participate in a panel on “Moon2Mars–Integrating NASA and Partners” with representatives from NASA, ESA, the United Arab Emirates, and Redwire. That’s just a snapshot. The conference looks terrific.

The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) is meeting Wednesday and Thursday at NASA HQ in Washington, DC, but the public may participate only through WebEx. A detailed agenda showing who will be speaking is not on the NAC website as of today (Sunday). It only has a list of topics. But it should be interesting if only because they haven’t met since January 2023. The NAC subcommittees have been making findings and recommendations in the interim, but they have to be approved by the full NAC before going to NASA management, so haven’t made any progress in all this time. Also, the list of NAC members on the NAC website is from June 2022, almost two years ago! We know Wayne Hale stepped down last year. We have no idea what other changes have occured, but as far as we know Les Lyles is still chair.

On Capitol Hill there are hearings on the FY2025 budget requests for DOD, the Department of Commerce, and the Federal Communications Commission. The Senate will resume consideration of the FAA Reauthorization Act, which is mostly about aviation, not space, but it would extend the FAA “learning period” for commercial human spaceflight regulations until January 1, 2025. The FAA has to be reauthorized every 5 years and has been operating under temporary authorities since October 1. The current version expires on Friday, so expect another one this week since getting the new bill through the Senate and House by then is extremely unlikely.

Tomorrow, the House will take up Rep. Brian Babin’s (R-TX) “Astro Act” (H.R. 272) that will allow government astronauts who have returned from space to be transported by government vehicles for medical tests and related official duties while they have not been medically cleared to drive. Currently the NASA Administrator has to approve it each time. The bill cleared the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee on March 20 and the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on April 10 with no opposition. It will be considered on the suspension calendar.

Many other interesting events are on tap including the annual GEOINT conference on geospatial intelligence in Kissimmee, FL; the annual Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) in Providence, RI; and the annual Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space (NETS) conference in Santa Fe, NM.

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-Wednesday, May 5-8

Sunday-Friday, May 5-10

Monday, May 6

Monday-Friday, May 6-10

Tuesday, May 7

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 7-8

Tuesday-Thursday, May 7-9

Wednesday, May 8

Wednesday-Thursday, May 8-9

Wednesday-Friday, May 8-10

Friday, May 10

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