What’s Happening in Space Policy May 9-15, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy May 9-15, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of May 9-15, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

After all the excitement overnight, the coming week is a cakewalk.  ICYMI — China’s Long March-5B rocket stage reentered over the Arabian Peninsula with debris landing near the Maldives about 10:15 pm EDT; Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live; and one of Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets launched for the 10th time — yes, ten (10) times for the same first stage — at 2:42 am EDT. We’ll let others rate his TV performance, but he sure has a knack for rockets.

There’s plenty to keep us busy this week, but it’s tough to top the adrenalin rush of a 21.5 Metric Ton rocket body falling to Earth. Many thanks to all the orbital dynamicists out there who kept us up to date on Twitter and most especially to the incomparable Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589), astrophysicst at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, author of Jonathan’s Space Report, and voice of reason. Don’t know how you did it all, Jonathan, but the space community, the public, and all those media outlets that interviewed you are in your debt.

Now, onward to this week.

Tomorrow (Monday), NASA and Axiom Space will hold a briefing to discuss details of the first U.S. private astronaut mission, Ax-1, to the International Space Station (ISS).  NASA just updated its pricing policy for what it charges to use the ISS, which is separate from what passengers must pay companies like Axiom to get there. Axiom made this deal with SpaceX to fly three very wealthy men and Axiom’s own astronaut, Michael López-Alegria, a veteran former NASA astronaut, to the ISS in January 2022. Ax-1 is not the first U.S. private astronaut mission, that’s Inspiration4, but it’s the first to go to the ISS.

NASA also has briefings this week on two of its science missions, OSIRIS-REx (O-REx) and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Tomorrow afternoon NASA TV will provide coverage of the departure of the O-REx asteroid sample return mission from asteroid Bennu. O-REx completed its sample retrieval mission last fall, but has been waiting for Bennu and Earth to line up again celestially-speaking before starting its more than two-year trip home. The sample return canister will land in Utah on September 24, 2023.

On Tuesday, reporters will get a final look at the big mirror on JWST at Northrop Grumman’s facility near Los Angeles before the telescope is packed and shipped to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana (ESA is a partner in JWST and is providing the launch at no cost to NASA).  Northrop Grumman will livestream the event and hold a press conference with NASA that afternoon.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium will hold its spring meeting virtually. Bhavya Lal will give the keynote address with an update on the Artemis program. A nuclear engineer with a PhD in public policy and public administration, Lal is the top White House political appointee at NASA and served as Acting Chief of Staff until Bill Nelson was confirmed as Administrator. Nelson started work last Monday and named Suzie Perez Quinn as chief of staff. She was his chief of staff when he was in the Senate. Lal now is Senior Advisor for Budget and Finance.  The head of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), Jim Reuter; Niki Werkheiser, STMD’s lead for the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative; and Sandy Magnus, former astronaut, former Executive Director of AIAA, and currently Principal, AstroPlanetview LLC, are among the other speakers at what looks like a really interesting event.

Not much is happening on the space front on Capitol Hill this week.  The House Appropriations Transportation-HUD (THUD) subcommittee will hear from FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on Wednesday about safety, but we expect that will be about airplanes, not FAA’s oversight of the safety of SpaceX’s Starship hops. But then again, with Musk so much in the news these days and likely to be asking for approval for Starship to ascend higher and higher, it could. An update on the FAA’s efforts to more efficiently manage integration of space launches and reentries into the National Airspace System to reduce disruption to commercial aviation also is a possible topic of conversation. We’ll see what the members ask.

Lots going on in national security space, too. The Heritage Foundation is holding a webinar tomorrow on “Space Force: What’s Next” featuring former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. National security space was much more his beat than NASA when he was a Congressman from Oklahoma and while Administrator he and Gen. Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations, signed a NASA-Space Force MOU outlining how the two collaborate. Will be interesting to hear his perspective now that he’s out of government. Joining him are Everett Dolman and Coyote Smith from the Air Force Air Command and Staff College. Heritage’s John Venable is the moderator.

And for a different point of view, the Space Court Foundation is holding a webinar on Thursday “on the realities behind the rhetoric of arms racing, rivalries and other types of hype in space.”  Bleddyn Bowen from the UK’s University of Leicester will moderate a panel of academics from the UK and Australia and a researcher at VERTIC, a UK non-profit that supports development, implementation and verification of international agreements.

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.

Monday, May 10

Monday-Tuesday, May 10-11

Tuesday, May 11

Tuesday-Wednesday, May 11-12

Wednesday, May 12

Thursday, May 13

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