What’s Happening in Space Policy November 27-December 3, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy November 27-December 3, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of November 27-December 3, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This busy week has already begun. SpaceX’s 26th cargo mission to the International Space Station, SpX-26, successfully docked at 7:39 am ET this morning. Among the 7,700 pounds of research, hardware and supplies are two more ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays, iROSAs, that spacewalking astronauts will install to increase electrical power on the space station.

Those spacewalks were scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday, but they’ve been postponed because SpX-26’s launch was delayed until yesterday because of weather. Per the NASA TV schedule, the first now will be on December 3 and the second “no earlier than December 19.” An iROSA was successfully tested on ISS in 2017 and the first operational panels were delivered and installed in 2021. This is the second set, with one more to come. When all is said and done, ISS will enjoy a 20-30 percent power boost.

Roll Out Solar Arrays are an alternative to traditional solar arrays and were used for NASA’s DART mission. They’ll be installed on the Gateway space station NASA and its partners are building to orbit the Moon as part of the Artemis program, too.

NASA is embarked on the first step of the Artemis progam at this very moment. The Artemis I uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on November 16. Orion reached the Moon and entered Distant Retrograde Orbit on Friday. On Thursday it will start its journey back home. Splashdown in the Pacific is December 11.

The mission is going very well, with only a few minor glitches. Communications were lost for 47 minutes on November 23 when ground controllers were reconfiguring a link between the spacecraft and the Deep Space Network, for example, but it was resolved with no impact on Orion. NASA has two Orion briefings this week — tomorrow (Monday) and Wednesday — and will provide live coverage of Orion’s engine burn on Thursday as it begins the return trip.

Yesterday Orion passed Apollo 13’s record of 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) as the furthest distance reached by a human-capable spacecraft. No one is aboard this time, though. It’s still going and will reach its furthest point, 268,554 miles (432,194 km), tomorrow. That’s the mid-point of the mission and NASA will hold the first of its two briefings at 5:00 pm ET to talk about it. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is among those scheduled to speak. The second briefing is Wednesday at 5:00 pm ET to preview the departure burn. Orion can be tracked in real time on NASA’s Artemis Real-Time Orbit Website, AROW. Livestreamed video is sometimes available here.

Credit: NASA

Orion has 16 cameras and is sending back terrific photos of itself, the Moon and Earth.

A camera on the Orion spacecraft (left) took this image of itself and the Moon (right) as it came back into view of Earth — a “pale blue dot” in the words of Carl Sagan. November 21, 2022. Credit: NASA

China’s human spaceflight program will mark another step forward this week with the launch of the Shenzhou-15 crew. They will join the three Shenzhou-14 taikonauts already aboard the Tiangong-3 space station and conduct the first Chinese crew exchange. Crew handovers became routine with Soviet space stations in the 1980s and continue with the ISS, which has been permanently occupied by crews rotating on 4-6 month missions for 22 years.

But this is the first time for China. As usual, China has not officially said when Shenzhou-15 will launch, but Andrew Jones, a reporter who closely follows China’s space program, expects it about 10:10 am ET (15:10 UTC) on Tuesday. China has at least acknowledged that the rocket and spacecraft are on the launch pad. [UPDATE: November 27, 9:00 pm ET: China has announced the launch is at 11:08 pm Beijing time on Tuesday, which is 10:08 am ET, very close to Andrew’s estimate.]

Up on Capitol Hill, Congress resumes work this week staring at a three-week countdown until government funding runs out on December 16. There’s no hint anyone wants a shutdown. Instead the question is whether it’ll be another Continuing Resolution or a full-year “omnibus” package funding agencies through the end of FY2023.

Republicans will take control of the House on January 3, 2023 and some are arguing for another CR so they have more control over the final bills next year. Democrats could have enough votes in the House to pass that chamber without Republican support, but Senate Republicans could hold it up since 60 votes are needed there. The hope was that since the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee (Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL) are retiring, the full-year bills would get through as a tribute to them. Time will tell if that holds true. Republicans declined to negotiate with Democrats over the 12 appropriations bills that were released in July. They represent only the Democratic position. Roll Call reports there still are no negotiations, but Democrats are crafting bills that include both Democrat and Republican priorities hoping to get enough votes to finish the job this year.

Illustration of the Landsat 9 satellite. Credit: NASA

In other action, the Subcommittee on Space and Science of the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on Thursday to mark the 50th anniversary of the Landsat series of land remote sensing satellites and talk about the future.

NASA launched the first satellite, then called the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS-1), in 1972. Not a day has gone by since without at least one Landsat sending back data about Earth’s land surface. Landsats 8 and 9 are operational now.

The program had a rocky period in the 1980s and early 1990s when an attempt to privatize the system failed. There were a lot of reasons, but the final nail was loss of the satellite, Landsat 6, in a launch failure. Congress had passed the Land Remote-Sensing Commercialization Act in 1984, but replaced it with the 1992 Land Remote Sensing Policy Act to bring Landsat back into the government to ensure continuity of Landsat’s medium-resolution data while encouraging private companies to pursue higher-resolution systems. Today, NASA remains responsible for building the Landsat satellites while the U.S. Geological Survey operates them and higher-resolution commercial imaging satellites are commonplace. Witnesses from NASA, USGS and NOAA will be at the hearing along with representatives of Maxar (one of those commercial companies, which is headquartered in Colorado) and the University of Colorado. Subcommittee chairman John Hickenlooper is from Colorado.

As usual, there are far too many interesting events than we can highlight here, but we’ll briefly mention that Gen. James Dickinson, Commander of U.S. Space Command, will speak at the Mitchell Institute’s Schriever Spacepower Forum on Tuesday (virtual) and two day-long in-person conferences on Friday look very interesting: the 7th West Coast Aerospace Forum in Los Angeles focusing on national security space and the CompTIA Global Space Summit in Washington, DC with a broad agenda including many international speakers.

Credit: ispace

We’ll also point out an especially interesting launch on Wednesday (a two-day slip from the original schedule). A Japanese lunar lander, Hakuto-R M1, built by Japan’s ispace, with a small rover, Rashid, from the United Arab Emirates will lift off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 at 3:39 am ET. SpaceX usually webcasts its launches, though we don’t see this listed yet. [UPDATE: The UAE’s MBR Space Centre will livestream the launch.]

Japan had hoped to be celebrating its first lunar landing already with OMOTENASHI, one of the 10 cubesats on Artemis I. Unfortunately JAXA lost contact with it. Now Japan has a second chance to become just the fourth country to successfully land on the Moon (after the Soviet Union, United States, and China) and the UAE to become the first Arab nation on the Moon. The UAE is already the first Arab nation to put a spacecraft around Mars — Hope, launched by Japan’s H-IIA rocket in 2020. Landing on the Moon is tough, especially with these small spacecraft, as Israel and India discovered. (NASA will be trying soon, too, with its pipeline of robotic landers through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.)

[UPDATE: We just learned that NASA’s Lunar Flashlight is a rideshare on the same launch.]

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 28

Monday-Tuesday, November 28-29

Tuesday, November 29

Wednesday, November 30

Wednesday-Thursday, November 30-December 1

Thursday, December 1

Thursday-Friday, December 1-2

Friday, December 2

Saturday, December 3

  • U.S. Spacewalk at ISS (per the NASA TV schedule), Earth orbit, 7:25 am ET (NASA TV begins 6:00 am ET)


Note: This article has been updated several times.


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