What’s Happening in Space Policy October 1-7, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 1-7, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of October 1-7, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Welcome to the start of FY2024 and, surprise!, the government is still open. In a dramatic turnabout yesterday (Saturday), Congress staved off a government shutdown at least until November 17. It was a head-spinning day and in the end no one got everything they wanted, but the lights are still on. For enough members of the House and Senate, that was the defining goal. Issues left on the cutting room floor like aid to Ukraine, border security, and final FY2024 funding levels can (and will) be fought another day.

In the end, only one Democrat in the House voted no (he objected to the omission of aid to Ukraine), while 90 Republicans did. The final vote was 335-91.

The Senate vote was 88-9. All the no votes were Republican.

One of the complaints from the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus is they want each of the 12 appropriations bills to be considered individually. No CRs, no packages combining several or all of the bills together, like an omnibus.

House Leadership heard them and changed the schedule for October. The House was to be in recess this week and next, but they’ll be hard at work tomorrow and the entire month of October to deal with appropriations. Ten of the 12 bills have cleared the House Appropriations Committee, all on strict party line votes with Democrats strongly opposed because the funding levels for nondefense are substantially less than what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and President Biden negotiated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Many of the bills also contain social policy provisions against abortion, LGBTQ, and diversity rights that are anathema to Democrats.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), chair, House Appropriations Committee. The full committee could take up the final two FY2024 bills — CJS (including NASA and NOAA) and Labor-HHS — at any time.

Four have passed the House (MilCon/VA, DOD, State/Foreign Ops, Homeland Security) and one was defeated (Agriculture). They’ll take up Energy-Water and Legislative Branch this week if they clear the Rules Committee and the associated Rules are approved by the House, which is not a given anymore. The Commerce-Justice-Science bill that funds NASA and NOAA is one of the two that has not completed committee markup yet. The other is Labor-HHS. The full committee could mark them up anytime.

McCarthy might also face a challenge to his Speakership this week. Some of the 20-or-so House Freedom Caucus members oppose McCarthy and forced 15 votes for him to get the job in January. It only takes one to demand a “motion to vacate the chair” and do it all over again. They do not want Republicans working with Democrats as McCarthy just did. McCarthy’s chief intra-party antagonist, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), told CNN’s Jake Tapper this morning he will file a motion to vacate this week.

The Senate was planning to be in session anyway starting Tuesday. Their schedule for the week isn’t posted, but they’ll likely resume consideration of appropriations bills, too, including finding a way to get more funds for Ukraine as championed by many from both parties — including Majority Leader Schumer and the Minority Leader McConnell.

Michael Whitaker, President Biden’s nominee to head the FAA. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on his nomination Thursday.

On Thursday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Michael Whitaker to be Administrator of the FAA. The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation regulates, facilitates and promotes the commercial space launch and reentry business though whether that will come up in the hearing is unclear.  Whitaker was FAA’s Deputy Administrator from 2013-2016. President Biden’s first pick for FAA Administrator, Phil Washington, withdrew in March when it became clear he could not get the votes to be confirmed amid charges that he lacked the appropriate experience.

Elsewhere, the BIG EVENT  is the annual International Astronautical Congress taking place this year in Baku, Azerbaijan. The location was selected before Russia invaded Ukraine and since then has become rather controversial because of the close ties between the two countries. Azerbaijan’s military action against Nagorno-Karabakh last week added to the strain, but the meeting is taking place there nonetheless. Officials announced that Elon Musk will address the conference virtually on Thursday. In 2016, he famously participated in the IAC when it was in Guadalajara, Mexico, laying out his plans to colonize Mars and build what is now known as Starship (Interplanetary Transport System at the time, later BFR) to a rapt audience. He’ll undoubtedly have another eager audience this time even though he won’t be there in person.

An email from the IAC says the opening ceremony, the plenary program, the IAF Global Networking Forum (GNF) program, and the closing ceremony will be livestreamed. It’s not clear if the Musk talk is included in that list. Azerbaijan’s time zone is GMT+4, so EDT+8. The opening ceremony, for example, begins tomorrow (Monday) at 9:30 am AZT, which is 1:30 am EDT.

World Space Week begins on Wednesday, October 4, the 66th anniversary of the beginning of the Space Age with the launch of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite. The U.N. has declared October 4-10 as World Space Week to celebrate that 1957 event and the signing of the U.N. Outer Space Treaty 10 years later on October 10, 1967. Events take place around the globe and this year’s IAC is one of them. The World Space Week website lists others.

Another big event closer to home is the annual Division on Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting of the American Astronomical Society taking place in San Antonio, TX. DPS is always full of the latest exciting news and discoveries in planetary science.

ESA will hold a press briefing tomorrow on the results of the investigation into the Vega-C Zefiro 40 engine test failure. Vega-C is replacing the original Vega small launcher, but failed on its second launch last December. Another setback happened this summer when a redesigned second stage engine, Zefiro 40, with a new carbon-carbon material for the nozzle throat, failed during a static fire test at Avio, the engine manufacturer. The briefing is at 12:30 pm CEST, which is 6:30 am EDT and will air on ESA TV. ESA usually posts replays quite quickly for those not up at that hour.

Credit: Avio

Updated, October 2: At the press briefing this morning, ESA and Arianespace said they will have two more Vega launches, one this week and another next year as they continue to get Vega-C ready for flight, now expected in the 4th quarter of 2024. Europe’s in a bit of a fix with launch vehicles right now. The final Ariane 5 lifted off this summer and its Ariane 6 replacement isn’t ready yet to launch big payloads. Vega is about to have its last launch and Vega-C isn’t ready for small payloads. And it lost access to Russia’s Soyuz for medium payloads after Russia invaded Ukraine. ESA’s had to buy several launches from SpaceX in the interim, rare instances of using non-European rockets.

Also on Friday, ULA will launch two prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a competitor to SpaceX’s Starlink and other broadband satellite constellations. The test satellites were supposed to launch on the inaugural flight of Vulcan, but that launch has been repeatedly delayed and Amazon is under an FCC deadline to get half of its 3,236 satellites in orbit by 2026. These satellites will provide data the company wants before launching the first operational satellites, so they’re using one of the nine Atlas Vs they bought (in addition to 38 Vulcans) from ULA to get started even though they’ll take up just a fraction of the Atlas V’s capacity.

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, October 1

  • ExoPAG (in conjunction with the DPS meeting), San Antonio, TX/virtual, 9:00 am-5:50 pm CENTRAL Time

Sunday-Friday, October 1-6

Monday, October 2

Monday-Friday, October 2-6

Wednesday, October 4

Wednesday, October 4 – Tuesday, October 10

Thursday, October 5

Friday, October 6

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