What’s Happening in Space Policy May 8-14, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 8-14, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 8-14, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

In the no-rest-for-the-weary department, NASA’s human spaceflight operations team is gearing up for yet another launch to the International Space Station. The first U.S.-sponsored private astronaut crew (Axiom-1) just came home on April 25, Crew-4 launched and docked on April 27 to replace Crew-3, which splashed down in the wee hours of May 6. Next up is the repeat attempt for an uncrewed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, the other commercial crew vehicle that’s in competition with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. SpaceX has launched seven crewed missions already, five for NASA and two for private customers, but Starliner is still trying to get through its uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT). After OFT-2 is successful, there needs to be a Crew Flight Test (CFT) and certification by NASA before the first operational flight, Starliner-1, can launch hopefully sometime next year. That will give NASA redundancy in crew transportation to and from the ISS, a good thing to have at any time, but especially given the geopolitical situation with Russia.

It’s been two-and-a-half years since Boeing’s first OFT attempt, a partial success in December 2019. It launched and landed safely, but experienced significant software and communications problems. Boeing decided to refly the uncrewed mission before putting people aboard. The retry, OFT-2, was supposed to launch last August, but about two hours before liftoff, 13 propulsion valves would not open and the launch was scrubbed. It’s taken until now for the company to be ready to try again. Launch is scheduled for May 19 and the agency-level Flight Readiness Review will take place this week. NASA AA for Space Operations Kathy Lueders said last week the FRR will be on May 11, though NASA hasn’t made an official announcement as of today. It typically has a media briefing after FRRs, so stay tuned.

China is busy with its space station, too. No one is aboard right now, but tomorrow (Monday) they are expected to send a cargo resupply mission there, Tianzhou-4. Replenishing the space station is in preparation not just for the next crew launch in June, but the beginning of permanent human occupancy. The June crew, Shenzhou-14, will stay for six months and be replaced by Shenzhou-15 following a hand-over of operations like those that have been taking place on the ISS for the past 21+ years. China recently provided a general overview of what’s on tap for its space station program for the rest of 2022, including the launch of the other two space station modules. Reporter Andrew Jones, who specializes in the Chinese space program and follows the Chinese-language media, tweeted that Tianzhou-4 will launch tomorrow at 1:56 pm EDT.

Hellmut Lagos (Chile), Chairman, U.N. Open Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats. Credit: United Nations photo

Debris from Russia’s November 15, 2021 antisatellite test imperiled the ISS and its crew, including two Russian cosmonauts, and left thousands of pieces of debris that will threaten space operations for everyone for years. It highlighted the need for establishing norms of responsible behavior in space and on Christmas Eve, the U.N. General Assembly approved creation of an “Open Ended Working Group” (OEWG) to bring together interested countries to discuss the issues. International organizations, commercial actors and civil society may attend as observers.

The first meeting of the OEWG on Reducing Space Threats Through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviour was planned for February, but Russia asked for a delay to May because it needed more time to prepare. The world didn’t know Russia was about to invade Ukraine. In any case, the week-long meeting begins tomorrow in Geneva. The U.N. will livestream the whole thing.  The agenda shows the meeting running from 10:00 – 18:00 each day. We assume that’s CEST. Subtract 6 hours for EDT and its 4:00 am – 12:00 pm EDT. The OEWG is chaired by Hellmut Lagos, a career diplomat from Chile.

The Secure World Foundation has a good, brief primer on the OEWG and how it is different from earlier attempts and what’s the same. It focuses on the ASAT testing issue, but OEWG’s charter is not limited to that.

DOD is one of the most vocal advocates these days for establishing space norms. We don’t know whether the OEWG specifically will come up, but there are two congressional hearings on DOD’s space budget request and associated issues this week. On Wednesday (at 4:30 in the afternoon!), the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, Frank Calvelli, who was just sworn in last Thursday as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration, and Gen. David Thompson, Vice Chief of Space Operations, U.S. Space Force. On Friday, the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee will hear from Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C. Q. Brown, and Space Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III is also testifying to House Appropriations this week (Wednesday) and it’s possible the topic could come up there, too, though less likely.

Kevin O’Connell, former director of the Office of Space Commerce, one of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing. 

Several other space-related congressional hearings are scheduled this week. One of particular interest is the twice-postponed House Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing on Space Situational Awareness (SSA). It was scheduled for March 30, postponed to April 29, postponed again and now scheduled for Thursday, May 12.

Witnesses are Matthew Hejduk from the Aerospace Corporation, Moriba Jah from the University of Texas at Austin, Andrew D’Uva from the Space Data Association, Kevin O’Connell from Space Economy Rising (he was director of the Office of Space Commerce during the Trump Administration), and Mariel Borowitz from Georgia Tech.

Should be a great hearing. Fingers crossed it happens this time. O’Connell’s successor was only just appointed on April 27  — Richard DalBello, who reports for duty tomorrow. Despite what many consider the urgency of finding solutions for SSA, it took the Biden Administration 15 months to name him. DalBello is credited as the force behind creation of the Space Data Association a decade ago when he was at Intelsat, and is deeply familiar with the issues so can hit the ground running. Hopefully the Administration and Congress will be there to help him do that.  The Senate is engaged with Sen. Wicker’s SPACE Act included in the U.S. Innovation and Competion Act, but as the delays to this hearing underscore, the House appears less motivated and the Biden Administration’s interest has been slow in coming. It has requested a significant increase for the Office of Space Commerce this year, though. That may come up at the House Appropriations hearing on the Department of Commerce budget, which is at the same time as this one.

As usual there are far too many other events to highlight here, but we will briefly mention that NASA has a media telecon tomorrow (Monday) with an update on commissioning the James Webb Space Telescope, which is getting close to starting science operations; Ars Technica is holding its first single-day conference, Ars Frontiers, on Thursday with two panels moderated by ace reporter Eric Berger (one on commercial space, the other on space debris); and the Lunar and Planetary Institute will have a virtual workshop Wednesday-Thursday on “the dynamic details and corresponding science opportunities presented by the April 13, 2029, near-miss passage of the asteroid Apophis.” As the graphic in the meeting’s announcement shows, it is a VERY close approach, but scientists are confident it will not impact Earth.

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-Thursday, May 8-12

Monday, May 9

Monday-Friday, May 9-13

Tuesday, May 10

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 10-11

Tuesday-Thursday, May 10-12

Tuesday-Friday, May 10-13

Wednesday, May 11

Wednesday-Thursday, May 11-12

Wednesday-Friday, May 11-13 

  • Cyber-LEO, Los Angeles, CA (May 11 is classified, May 12-13 is unclassified)

Thursday, May 12

Friday, May 13



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