What’s Happening in Space Policy November 12-18, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy November 12-18, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of November 12-18, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

There is SO much going on this week we hardly know where to begin. Congress needs to pass a new Continuing Resolution (CR) by Friday or there’ll be a shutdown. The House is expected to take up the FY2024 funding bill for NASA and NOAA. The House SS&T Committee will mark up the Commercial Space Act. The National Academies Space Studies Board and its Committee on Solar and Space Physics as well as NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee and Heliophysics Advisory Committee plus NAC’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee are meeting. The Secure World Foundation hosts an event to release a space industry statement in support of a moratorium on direct-ascent ASAT tests. Chief of Space Operations Gen. Saltzman talks at the Atlantic Council about maintaining competitive endurance in space. The American Nuclear Society (with a panel on “Space: The Next (Nuclear) Frontier”) and ASGSR have their annual meetings.

Oh, and SpaceX says it might launch its second Starship orbital flight test as early as Friday if it gets regulatory approval.

And that’s not the half of it.

Let’s start on Capitol Hill where the most important task is passing a new CR by midnight Friday. We wrote about the appropriations situation yesterday and won’t repeat it here, but the point is that the House and Senate are not just on different pages, they’re in different worlds. With a new, inexperienced Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson (R-LA), trying to avoid the pitfalls that doomed his predecessor when the existing CR passed six weeks ago, all bets are off. The House actually is scheduled to begin Thanksgiving recess on Friday. We’ll see if they and the Senate can get a CR done by Thursday night. Certainly possible, but likely? Johnson wants a unique “laddered” approach where some agencies are extended to January and others to February. The Senate wants a “clean” CR that simply extends funding for everyone through mid-December, with the goal of completing all 12 regular bills before the end of the year (they’ve passed three bipartisan bills so far).

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has his work cut out for him this week with the Continuing Resolution expiring Friday night and controversial FY2024 appropriations bills including the one that funds NASA and NOAA headed to the House floor.

Johnson *is* trying to get the regular FY2024 appropriations bills through the House. He plans to bring the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which includes NASA and NOAA, to the floor this week if it makes it through the Rules Committee. It meets on Tuesday to write the rule and decide which of the proposed 277 amendments can be considered during floor debate. Colorado Reps. Neguse and Petterson have an amendment to restore $881 million for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, but it doesn’t have an offset as to where that money would come from so isn’t likely to succeed. Three other amendments would make minor tweaks. None of the NOAA amendments appear to directly affect space activities.

As we explained yesterday, the CJS bill is so controversial that it could not get enough Republican support to be favorably reported from the full House Appropriations Committee (though not because of NASA or NOAA). The CJS subcommittee marked it up in July and there it sat until they decided to send it directly to Rules. We’ll see what happens. Two bills Johnson tried to get passed last week had to be pulled from consideration because he didn’t have enough Republican votes.

Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), chair of the House SS&T space subcommittee. The full committee will mark up his Commercial Space Act on Wednesday.

Also on the Hill this week, the House SS&T committee will mark up the Babin/Lucas Commercial Space Act (H.R. 6131). Among other things, it elevates the Office of Space Commerce out of NOAA to report directly to the Secretary of Commerce and expands its scope to include “mission authorization” — overseeing commercial space activities that are not currently regulated by FAA or FCC to ensure U.S. compliance with the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. It also extends the “learning period” for commercial human spaceflight, continuing the “moratorium” against the FAA promulgating new regulations for another 8 years. That commmittee strives to work in a bipartisan manner, but so far all six co-sponsors are Republican. The markup is Wednesday at 10:00 am ET.

At exactly the same time, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the recently-released report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. Madelyn Creedon and Jon Kyl, the chair and vice-chair of the Commission respectively, will discuss its findings and recommendations. Gen. John Hyten (Ret.), whose career centered on national security space, was a member of the Commission and space figures prominently in the report. The report was required by the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

Elsewhere, NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee meets Monday-Tuesday. The NASA team assessing the report of the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board-2 is on the agenda for Monday afternoon, and Joel Kearns will give an update on the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program (LDEP) on Tuesday afternoon.

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander for the IM-1 mission completed assembly. Credit: Intuitive Machines.

LDEP includes the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program and it will be interesting to hear his update.  Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander is currently scheduled to be the first CLPS, launching on Christmas Eve on the first flight of ULA’s Vulcan rocket. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines were two of the first companies to win CLPS contracts back in 2019 and were supposed to launch in 2021. Spacecraft and/or launch vehicle delays have pushed them until now and which would launch first has been back and forth several times. If Vulcan gets off before the end of year, Astrobotic will win the title. The Earth and Moon have to be correctly aligned for these missions, so the launch window is open for only three days for Astrobotic. IM is launching its Nova-C lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9. IM recently delayed the IM-1 launch again, this time until a launch window that opens January 12, 2024. IM will hold its third quarter 2023 financial results telecon first thing tomorrow morning (Monday) where perhaps they’ll have another update.

The NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee holds the first day of a two-day virtual meeting on Friday. The second day is next Monday, the 20th. Two years ago NASA split the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD) and the Space Operations Mission Directorate (SOMD). ESDMD is developing and executing the Moon to Mars program including Artemis. SOMD operates the International Space Station and is working on facilitating commercial space stations to succeed it, as well as managing NASA’s communications systems like TDRSS. This committee, under the leadership of Wayne Hale, continues to advise both. Friday will focus on ESDMD and Monday on SOMD.

We’ll highlight just one more event.  On Tuesday morning, the Secure World Foundation will host an event releasing an industry statement “in support of international commitments to not conduct destructive ASAT tests.” Vice President Kamala Harris committed the United States not to conduct such tests, which add considerably to the population of space debris, in 2022 and the State Department has been working diligently to convince other nations to join ever since. Thirty seven countries have joined the pledge, and 155 United Nations members agreed to a non-binding resolution of support. Such tests threaten not only government space activities, but commercial satellites and companies are adding their voices to stop these types of ASAT tests. Representatives of four of those companies — Astroscale Japan, Digantara, Planet, and Axiom Space — will participate in the SWF panel releasing the statement.

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, November 13

Monday-Tuesday, November 13-14

Tuesday, November 14

Tuesday-Thursday, November 14-16

Tuesday-Saturday, November 14-18

Wednesday, November 15

Wednesday-Friday, November 15-17

Thursday, November 16

Friday, November 17


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