What’s Happening in Space Policy October 17-23, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 17-23, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of October 17-23, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The week has started already with the landing of Soyuz MS-18 on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 12:35 am EDT this morning (Sunday). Professional cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky returned to Earth after 191 days on the International Space Station (ISS) along with film director Klim Shipenko and acress Yulia Peresild who spent 12 days on the ISS filming scenes for a movie, Challenge. Peresild portrays a surgeon who must fly to space to tend to an ill cosmonaut. Novitsky played the latter role. A film crew was at the landing site capturing scenes of the three as they were extracted from the spacecraft and placed in chairs to enjoy their first breaths of fresh air. Then someone, presumably another actor in the movie, did repeated takes of shaking Novitsky’s hand and kissing Peresild’s to welcome them home.

With their return, ISS resumes its nominal crew complement of seven: three Americans, two Russians, and one each from Japan and Europe/France. China just launched a new three-person crew to its space station, so there are 10 people living in space right now.

The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft appeared to perform nominally despite a flubbed engine test a day earlier when it was still docked to the ISS and disrupted the station’s orientation. It was the second time malfunctioning Russian engines created an emergency situation, starting with the arrival of the Nauka module in July. While these anomalous movements do not directly threaten the crew, they put stresses on hardware on the exterior of the aging ISS, like the solar arrays.

The space subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee happens to be holding a hearing this week (Thursday) on “International Collaboration and Competition in Space: Oversight of NASA’s Role and Programs.”  The ISS is a centerpiece of NASA’s international cooperation, so perhaps questions will be asked about the Nauka and Soyuz MS-18 incidents although there are no NASA witnesses to answer them. Two former NASA officials — Jim Bridenstine and Mike Gold — will be there, but no one representing the agency. However, Mary Lynne Dittmar, who joined Axiom earlier this year after a long stint heading the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration, is one of the witnesses. Axiom has a strong vested interest in ISS. It is building a module to attach to the ISS in 2024. Eventually the module will separate and become a stand-alone commercial space station, but it starts as an add-on to ISS. Not to mention that Axiom is flying private astronauts to the ISS beginning with February’s Ax-1 mission. The fourth witness, Pat Sanders, chairs NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. Perhaps she and Dittmar will have some insight into whether the Nauka and Soyuz MS-18 incidents negatively impacted ISS’s health.

International cooperation in the Artemis program is certain to come up. It was a hallmark of Bridenstine’s tenure as NASA Administrator under former President Trump and Gold was the architect of the Artemis Accords before also leaving NASA and returning to the private sector (he’s now with Redwire). Competition with China is also sure to be on the agenda, having just launched that crew to Tianhe and tested a system that sounds a lot like the old Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS).  Should be very interesting.

The House space subcommittee also has a hearing this week (Wednesday). It will look into the development of space nuclear propulsion for deep space human exploration. NASA will be represented by Bhavya Lal, a nuclear engineer by training who is now serving as NASA Administrator Bill Nelson’s Senior Advisor for Budget and Finance. Before joining the Biden-Harris Administration she was at IDA’s Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) and was a member of a National Academies committee looking at this very issue. Roger Myers, who co-chaired the study with Bobby Braun (JPL), will also testify. Joining them are Greg Meholic of the Aerospace Corporation, Mike French from the Aerospace Industries Association, and former astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz, founder and CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company that is developing the VASIMR engine.

Speaking of propulsion, NASA and Boeing will brief the media on Tuesday about the status of determining why 13 valves in Starliner’s propulsion system did not open during the attempted launch of the uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) on August 3, scrubbing the launch. NASA officials have been hinting that the next attempt to launch OFT-2 won’t be until well into next year and Boeing’s own John Vollmer told Space News’ Jeff Foust the other day that the launch could be “as late as the middle of 2022.” Vollmer is Boeing’s VP and Program Manager for Commercial Crew and will participate in the briefing along with Boeing Space and Launch Chief Engineer Michelle Parker. Joining them is Steve Stich, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) will hold a virtual Town Hall meeting tomorrow (Monday) with an update on space science programs. SMD’s Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids, which we wrote about last week, launched successfully yesterday morning on a ULA Atlas V rocket, maintaining the rocket’s 100 percent success record. Lucy is yet another mission that NASA has been able to keep on track despite COVID, no easy feat, and there are quite a few more in the pipeline. COVID is having an impact, though. The cost of the Roman Space Telescope has just gone up $382 million because of it, for example. SMD Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen and his leadership team will talk about it all, hopefully including a Lucy update. Zurbuchen tweeted this afternoon that there’s a problem with one of the two solar arrays that are critical for the mission’s success.

Lots and lots of other interesting events, including the National Space Club’s Goddard Memorial Awards Reception. The Space Club had to cancel both its 2020 and 2021 iconic black tie galas — called the “space prom” —  because of COVID, but wanted to present these awards before hopefully resuming its normal schedule in 2022. D.C. still requires masks to be worn indoors, however, so the Space Club came up with a clever solution — hold the event outside at a unique location.

They picked the Washington Nationals’ baseball stadium as the venue, which should be a lot of fun. Your SpacePolicyOnline.com editor is absolutely thrilled and humbled to be receiving the Space Club’s 2021 Press Award. It is such an honor! Thank you from the bottom of my heart to whoever nominated me. I’m more grateful than I can say and excited to share this event with NASA’s Bob Jacobs, recipient of the Space Club’s 2020 Press Award, and all the other awardees from 2020 and 2021.

Finally, the FAA will hold two virtual public hearings this week (Monday and Wednesday) to brief the public and get feedback on its draft programmatic draft environmental assessment of SpaceX’s activities at its Starbase facility in Boca Chica, TX for the Starship/Super Heavy program. Public comments are being accepted through November 1.

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-Saturday, October 17-23

Monday, October 18

Tuesday, October 19

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 19-20

Tuesday-Thursday, October 19-21

Wednesday, October 20

Thursday, October 21

Thursday-Saturday, October 21-23

Friday, October 22

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