What’s Happening in Space Policy October 15-21, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 15-21, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of October 15-21, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week. The House schedule is uncertain.

During the Week

It’s a busy week in space policy, with lots of meetings of NASA and National Academy committees and a Senate hearing on commercial human spaceflight, but let’s begin with where things stand on Capitol Hill. As the clock continues to count down to November 17 when the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires and January 1 when an automatic across-the-board cut goes into effect if all 12 regular appropriatons bills aren’t enacted, no progress has been made on either side of Capitol Hill.

The Senate was in recess last week and returns tomorrow (Monday), but whether they will be able to move forward on their first package of bills (MilCon-VA, Transportation-HUD and Agriculture) depends on whether Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) continues to object to considering them jointly instead of individually. A Unanimous Consent request to bundle them together is pending and it only takes one Senator to sink a UC request. He’s the one. Taking the bills up one by one obviously would consume a lot of time. All 12 bills were reported from the Senate Appropriations Committee before the summer recess and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are in agreement on the need to move quickly, but that hasn’t been possible so far.

The House is unable to do any legislative work because House Republicans ousted their leader, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), on October 5 and so far have been unable to choose a replacement. An interim “Speaker Pro Tempore” was appointed, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), but he has very limited powers and basically can only call the House into and out of session for the purpose of electing a new Speaker.

For all the policy wonks out there, here’s a quick recap of what happened over the past week. The House Republican Conference held two votes to nominate someone for Speaker, but none of the three candidates so far appear to have enough support to win on the House floor.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman and current Republican nominee for Speaker Jim Jordan (R-OH).

A majority of votes cast is needed to win in the Conference, composed of the 221 Republicans in the House. If all are present and voting 111 is the magic number. But on the floor it’s a vote of all 433 members (there are two vacancies) so 217 votes are needed. Democrats don’t usually vote for a Republican to be Speaker, so that means under ordinary circumstances all 217 votes have to come from the 221 Republicans and only five have to vote no for a nominee to lose. That’s what happened when they unseated McCarthy. Eight members of the ultra-conservative Republican House Freedom Caucus (HFC) were able to remove him even though 210 Republicans wanted him to stay.

Last Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) beat House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) in the Conference, but only by a vote of 113-99. He tried to win more Members over to his side, but concluded he couldn’t get to 217 and withdrew. Jordan, a founder of the HFC, then stood again for Speaker, this time against Austin Scott (R-GA) who only entered the race a few hours before the vote because he wanted there to be an alternative to Jordan. Scott lost 124-81, but political pundits were surprised Jordan’s group of supporters had grown by so few (99 to 124) after two days of lobbying, and Scott got so many without hardly trying. The Conference later held another vote asking how many would vote for Jordan on the floor and 152 said yes, but 55 said no, with one voting present, according to Roll Call.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).

While Jordan officially is the Republican nominee for Speaker and a vote could take place at any time, it does not appear he could win with Republican votes only. On Friday, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) stood on the steps of the Capitol with all the Democratic House members and called for a bipartisan solution to get the House back to work. Saying Republicans were “tripling down” on chaos, dysfunction, and extremism by choosing Jordan, an “extremist extraordinare,” he called for “traditional” Republicans to “break away from the extremism and partner with Democrats on an enlightened, bipartisan path forward so we can end the recklessness and get back to doing the business of the American people.”

We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but for the moment the House cannot conduct legislative business because of intra-party Republican politics.

As we said earlier, the Senate is back at work, though, and the space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday on commercial human spaceflight. The CR extended the prohibition on the FAA promulgating new regulations for the commercial human spaceflight industry for another three months (it would have expired on September 30), but Congress needs to do something for the longer term. Just before he was ousted as Speaker, McCarthy, who represents the California district that includes Mojave Air and Space Port,  introduced a bill, H.R. 5617, to extend the moratorium for another 8 years to 2031. But there’s no similar bill in the Senate. This hearing may be a step in that direction.

Caryn Schenewerk, CS Consulting, testified to the House Science Committee about commercial human spaceflight regulations on July 13, 2023. She’ll testify to the Senate Commerce Committee on the same topic this Wednesday.

Witnesses are Caryn Schenewerk, now a consultant but previously with SpaceX and then Relativity Space; Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith (Ret.), former Commander of the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, then head of FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation, now with National Aerospace Solutions; Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Research who got a chance to fly on SpaceShipTwo herself along with Richard Branson in July 2021; Bill Gerstenmaier, former long-time head of NASA’s human spaceflight program, now SpaceX’s Vice President of Build and Reliability; and Phil Joyce, Senior Vice President of the New Shepard business unit for Blue Origin. The House held a hearing on this topic in July and Schenewerk testified there, too. She chairs the regulatory subcommittee of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC).

Speaking of commercial human spaceflight, Axiom Space will hold a media teleconference tomorrow morning with the Axiom-3 crew: Michael Lopez-Alegria (Axiom), Walter Villadei (Italian Air Force), Alper Gezeravci (Turkish Air Force), and Marcus Wandt (ESA/Sweden, former Swedish Air Force). They’ll visit the International Space Station “no earlier than” January 2024. The media telecon will be webcast. As the name implies, this is Axiom’s third commercial human spaceflight mission to ISS with more to come. Axiom is also one of the companies planning to build its own commercial space station to succeed ISS and is building lunar spacesuits for NASA’s Artemis program. Axiom calls this the first all-European commercial astronaut mission (Lopez-Alegria holds dual citizenship in the United States and Spain).

Axiom-3 crew: Michael Lopez-Alegria (Axiom), Walter Villadei (Italy), Alper Gezeravci (Türkiye), Marcus Wandt (ESA/Sweden). Credit: Axiom

Earlier that day the Senate Commerce committee will vote on a number of nominations, including that of Michael Whitaker to be Administrator of the FAA. He was FAA’s Deputy Administrator from 2013-2017 and currently is with Supernal, a company developing air taxis. President Biden’s first pick for FAA Administrator, Phillip Washington, withdrew when it became apparent he could not win confirmation. Opponents asserted he didn’t have enough relevant experience.

Lots going on off the Hill, too. The National Academies will hold the fall meeting of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) this week along with meetings of the Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space (CBPSS) and the Committee on Planetary Protection (COPP), all at the Beckman Center in California. They’ll be livestreamed. Remember the agendas are in PACIFIC time.

NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee, Earth Science Advisory Committee, and the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) also meet this week.

Orlando Figueroa, who chaired the second Independent Review Board (IRB-2) for the Mars Sample Return mission, will speak to a National Academies committee on Thursday and NASA’s MEPAG on Friday.

At two of those meetings — COPP and MEPAG — we’ll finally get to hear from the chair of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) second Independent Review Board (IRB-2), Orlando Figueroa. The report came out on September 21, but NASA didn’t hold a news conference or media telecon with Figueroa to discuss what they found (as they did with the Psyche IRB). Figueroa and Lisa Pratt, an IRB-2 member and former NASA Planetary Protection Officer, will brief COPP on Thursday and then be on a panel with two NASA officials: Michael Meyer, MSR Lead Scientist, and Michelle Rucker, who leads the Mars Architecture Team for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.

On Friday, MEPAG will hear from Figueroa. He’ll be followed by two panel discussions. The first includes Sandra Connelly, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, who was tasked with leading a team to review the report. She’ll be joined by Jeff Gramling, MSR Program Director, and Meyer. The second panel includes NASA Planetary Science Division Director Lori Glaze and her deputy, Eric Ianson. This meeting actually was supposed to take place last Friday, but had to be delayed because the Psyche launch slipped to that day and people involved in the launch like Glaze couldn’t be in two places at the same time.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to hear from Figueroa directly and from the NASA officials on what they plan to do with the IRB-2 findings and recommendations. The IRB-2 estimated the mission will cost $8-9.6 billion for the current design or up to $11 billion for proposed alternatives. The Senate Appropriations Committee said that if it’s going to cost more than the pricetag in the recent planetary science Decadal Survey, $5.3 billion, it should be cancelled. The House Appropriations Committee hasn’t marked up the NASA bill (Commerce-Justice-Science) yet, so we don’t know if they agree, but they are using lower funding figures for their bills than the Senate committee.

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, October 16

Tuesday, October 17

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 17-18

Tuesday-Thursday, October 17-19

Tuesday-Friday, October 17-20

  • Silicon Valley Space Week, Computer History Museum, 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA
    • October 17-18: Satellite Innovation
    • October 19-20: Milsat Symposium

Wednesday, October 18

Thursday, October 19

Thursday-Friday, October 19-20

Friday, October 20

Saturday, October 21


This article has been updated.

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