What’s Happening in Space Policy November 21-December 4, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy November 21-December 4, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the next TWO weeks, November 21-December 4, 2021, and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in recess this coming week except for pro forma sessions. The Senate returns for legislative business on November 29; the House on November 30.

During the Weeks

This is Thanksgiving week in the United States. Thanksgiving Day is Thursday and government offices and many businesses will be closed. A lot of companies also give their employees Friday off.  So it’s a slow week for space policy events and we decided to bundle this week and next week together.

That’s not to say nothing is happening this week, though!  In fact, the week begins today (Sunday) with a NASA briefing on its planetary defense Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) at 4:00 pm ET.  DART is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base Tuesday night local time (very early Wednesday morning on the East Coast) and there are briefings not only this afternoon, but tomorrow, plus a NASA Science Live episode on Tuesday.

DART is heading towards an asteroid (Didymos) that has a moon (Dimorphous) — a double asteroid. The spacecraft will collide with the moon and scientists will determine how much its orbit is changed by the impact. It’s a test of how to deflect an asteroid that might be headed to Earth. An Italian cubesat, LICIACube, will be ejected from the spacecraft before impact to send back data and astronomers on the ground will also have a good view. The mission actually can launch almost any day through February 15, 2022, but the first opportunity is 1:20 am Wednesday, November 24, Eastern Standard Time. Hopefully the weather, launch vehicle (SpaceX’s Falcon 9) and spacecraft will cooperate.

A few hours later, Russia will send another new module, Prichal, to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Prichal will add five more docking ports to the Nauka module that arrived in August. The dockings of Nauka and Soyuz MS-19 a few weeks later didn’t go as planned, so everyone will be watching to see what happens when Prichal docks on Friday. It’s being delivered by a Progress M-UM tug based on the usually reliable Progress cargo resupply system.

The round Prichal module with five docking ports attached to its Progress M-UM tug getting ready for launch. Photo credit:  Roscosmos tweet November 11, 2021.

Also this week are two interesting webinars, both tomorrow (Monday). One is the next in the Moon Dialogs series and will address “Lunar Governance: Lessons from Earth.” The other is an intriguing discussion of “Blockchain for Space” hosted by Space News. Lastly, over in Luxembourg and online, the New Space Europe conference takes place Wednesday. It starts at 2:00 am EST (8:00 am Central European Time), which is just after the DART launch, so since we’ll all be up anyway….

Next week, everything gets busy again, especially on Capitol Hill.  Yes, it’s another government shutdown deadline week. Congress will have to pass something to keep the government funded past midnight on December 3. The drama at the moment is whether they will do another short-term (weeks) Continuing Resolution (CR), somehow reach agreement on full-year appropriations for everyone (an “omnibus” package), or punt entirely and pass a full-year CR that would keep everyone at their current funding levels through the end of September 2022.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who just announced that he will not run for reelection next year, said earlier this month that “Republicans seem to want to drive us into a full year continuing resolution,” which could have dire effects as the White House warned last week. The Democratic leadership of the House Appropriations Committee followed suit this week, pleading with Republicans to come to the table to negotiate: “And a full-year Continuing Resolution, which some Republicans have expressed openness to, would be nothing short of catastrophic.”

Leahy’s Republican counterpart, Richard Shelby (R-AL), who also is not running for reelection, said Democrats want to put “poison pills” — provisions they know Republicans will oppose — in the appropriations bills. He tweeted on November 2 that “I made an offer to negotiate on numbers & substance if we return to the Shelby-Leahy agreement (retain legacy riders & jettison poison pills).”

We’ll have to wait see what they can work out by December 3. That also was the estimated date when the debt limit would be reached again, but Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen now says that won’t happen until December 15, so Congress has a bit more time on that one.

From a space policy perspective, the most interesting event next week will be the first meeting of the White House National Space Council on December 1. The Space Council has not provided details on what time or where the Council will meet or who’s expected to attend. Vice President Harris, who chairs the Council, touched on her space priorities during a visit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center earlier this month, but hopefully will expand on them and other Council members will address where their departments and agencies plan to focus.

It will be interesting to see what if anything is said about the recent Russian ASAT test and resulting debris and the overall issue of Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management. Those affected by it often refer to debris as an “urgent” problem, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a sense of urgency in either the Executive Branch or Congress to find or implement solutions.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning, November 21, are shown below. Check back throughout the weeks for others we learn about later and add to our Calendar or changes to these.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21

Monday, November 22

Tuesday, November 23

Wednesday, November 24

Thursday, November 25

Friday, November 26

Monday, November 29

Monday-Tuesday, November 29-30

Monday-Wednesday, November 29-December 1

Tuesday, November 30

Tuesday-Thursday, November 30-December 2

Wednesday, December 1

Thursday, December 2

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