What’s Happening in Space Policy October 22-28, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 22-28, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of October 22-28, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in session this week. The House schedule is uncertain.

During the Week

As hard as it is to believe, we are entering a third week with the House paralyzed for lack of a Speaker.

It’s another busy, busy week in space policy, including two major conferences — AIAA’s ASCEND in Las Vegas and AAS’s Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium in Huntsville — but we’ll start with a recap of what’s happening on Capitol Hill since it is the most important space policy issue. There’ll be no funding for government space activities — and a lot of commercial space companies depend on the government either as a partner or a customer — unless Congress passes appropriations bills.  The Continuing Resolution (CR) keeping the government operating right now expires on November 17. On top of that, if all 12 regular appropriations bills aren’t enacted by the end of the year, a 1 percent across-the-board cut to all discretionary spending, defense and nondefense, goes into effect.

The situation in the House can be summed up in one word, paralysis.  The House has not been able to conduct any legislative business since former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted on October 3 by eight ultra-conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus. They hold outsized power because the party split is so narrow: 221 Republicans and 212 Democrats, with 2 vacancies. Not surprisingly, Democrats almost always vote for a Democrat for Speaker and Republicans vote for a Republican, so a Republican can only lose 5 votes to fail. That’s what happened to McCarthy when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) demanded a “Motion to Vacate” the chair after McCarthy worked in a bipartisan manner with Democrats to pass the CR. Gaetz and his seven HFC colleagues were able to push McCarthy out even though 210 Republicans wanted him to stay.

On Friday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) received fewer votes from his Republican colleagues than in two prior attempts. Screengrab from C-SPAN. Jeffries is the Democratic leader and received 210 of 212 Democratic votes (2 did not vote). Jordan received 194 votes and 25 Republicans voted for a Republican other than Jordan (2 did not vote).

The House Republican Conference initially selected Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) as their candidate to stand for election as Speaker, but any candidate needs 217 votes to win if all Members are present and voting. Scalise withdrew when he realized he didn’t have that level of support. His opponent, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), then won the vote to stand as their candidate, but last week failed three times on the House floor, losing a few more votes with each attempt. On Friday, the Conference voted by secret ballot to revoke their support for his candidacy. Although he’d received 194 votes during the public vote on the House floor, he got only 86 when they could vote secretly.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), House Majority Whip, is said to be one of the leading candidates to be next to try to become Speaker of the House.

So House Republicans are back to square one. Tomorrow (Monday) the Conference plans to hold a candidate forum to hear from the nine Members who signalled their interest in the job by today’s noon deadline: Jack Bergman (MI), Byron Donalds (FL), Tom Emmer (MN), Kevin Hern (OK), Mike Johnson (LA), Dan Meuser (PA), Gary Palmer (AL), Austin Scott (GA), and Pete Sessions (TX) per Conference Chair Elise Stefanik @RepStefanik. A vote within the Conference to pick one is expected on Tuesday and that person’s name could be voted on by the full House anytime after that.

Emmer, currently the Majority Whip, is said to be a top contender. He posted a letter to his colleagues on X lauding what House Republicans have accomplished so far including passing “the first Republican-only NDAA … fighting against a woke Defense Department agenda while investing in our troops and our strategic capabilities.”

Historically, the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has broad bipartisan support on both sides of Capitol Hill. It has been enacted every year since 1961 despite past partisan divides on other issues. This year’s passed the House Armed Services Committee by a strong bipartisan vote of 58-1, but it changed considerably after that with Republicans adding social policy provisions (anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, and anti-diversity) that are anathema to Democrats. It passed the House on primarily partisan lines 219-210, which is what Emmer is praising. (Actually it wasn’t “Republican-only.” Four Democrats voted for it and four Republicans voted against.)

A brief attempt last week to give acting Speaker Patrick McHenry (R-NC) more authority so the House could get back to work while waiting to choose a new Speaker failed, so until the gavel passes to a McCarthy successor, the House cannot do anything legislatively.

That’s a problem with the appropriations clock ticking and now President Biden has sent a supplemental request for a package of $105 billion for aid to Ukraine and Israel, border security, humanitarian aid, and Indo-Pacific security assistance.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has cleared all 12 FY2024 bills and a hearing on the supplemental is scheduled for October 31. A number of Senators are in Israel this weekend so the Senate won’t begin work until Tuesday, but they could take up a package of three appropriations bills that has been pending for several weeks. As we explained last week, that effort is stymied because one Senator (Ron Johnson) is blocking a Unanimous Consent request to combine the three instead of voting on them individually.

Amidst all this, the Senate has been getting a little bit of  work done. It’s mostly confirming nominations and they will take up Michael Whitaker’s nomination to be FAA Administrator on Tuesday. Also, at a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing last week on commercial human spaceflight regulations, Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) said his bill on streamlining the process for getting spectrum for launch and reentry of commercial space vehicles, the Launch Communications Act (S. 1648), might come up for a vote in the Senate this week. The House version, H.R. 682 (Soto), passed on July 25.

We don’t know of any other space-related activities on the Hill this week so far at least. Off the Hill, there’s lots and lots going on.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy will speak at AIAA’s ASCEND conference this week in Las Vegas and online.

AIAA’s three-day Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery or ASCEND conference in Las Vegas and online begins tomorrow.  As always it has a dizzying array of Macro, Meta, Micro, and Technical Paper sessions along with networking  and special programming events. The program lists 358 “featured speakers.” A few names that caught our eye include Pam Melroy, NASA Deputy Administrator; Nicky Fox, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate; Lisa Carnell, SMD Division Director for Biological and Physical Sciences; A.C. Charania, NASA Chief Technologist; Amit Kshatriya, NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Deputy AA for Moon to Mars; Roberta Ewart, Chief Technology Officer for the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command; Jeremy Leader, Deputy Director of USSF’s Commercial Space Office; Debra Facktor, Head of U.S. Space Systems for Airbus U.S. Space and Defense; Mike French, Vice President of Space Systems for the Aerospace Industries Association; Bill Gerstenmaier, SpaceX Vice President for Build and Reliability; Mike Gold, Chief Growth Officer for Redwire; and two of our favorite space reporters, Jeff Foust from Space News and Bloomberg’s Loren Grush. The list literally does go on and on.

Nicky Fox, NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, will speak at AIAA’s ASCEND conference and then at the AAS Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium this week.

Jeff Foust will be pulling double duty this week. He’s also on a panel at the American Astronautical Society’s Von Braun Space Exploration Symposium, in Huntsville and online, with two other top notch space reporters, Marcia Dunn from AP and Lee Roop from AL.com. They’ll talk about “Cosmic Communicators: The Vital Role of Space Media” with Kristina Hendrix of the University of Alabama Huntsville.

AAS has modified the title of this symposium to emphasize it’s about space exploration. It kicks off on Wednesday with panels on Artemis; “Leading the Way from Moon to Mars” with four of the NASA Associate Administrators  — Science (Nicky Fox, who’s pulling double duty, too), Exploration Systems Development (Jim Free), Space Operations (Ken Bowersox) and Space Technology (Prasun Desai, acting); and on a sustainable cislunar ecosystem with government and industry experts. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is the luncheon keynote speaker, preceded by a discussion with Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s program manager for the Human Landing System, and representatives of the two companies with HLS contracts, SpaceX (Benji Reed) and Blue Origin (John Couluris).  That’s just the first day!  The next two are equally spectacular.

So many other interesting events on tap including a meeting of the National Academies’ Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science where there will be more discussions about the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board-2 report. That’s just one of many topics during the Tuesday-Thursday meeting, which will be livestreamed.  On Thursday, NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel holds a telecon to summarize its latest findings and recommendations.

The Secure World Foundations’ Victoria Samson will moderate a discussion on whether space security diplomacy is making progress or spinning its wheels on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, the Secure World Foundation will hold a webinar to discuss the outcome of the U.N. Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) on Reducing Space Threats. The working group met over four sessions in 2022 and 2023, but ended with a bit of thud when Russia refused to agree to even allow the group to submit a summary report. SWF’s Victoria Samson will moderate a discussion with three experts on “A Vibe Check on Space Security Diplomacy: Progress or More Spinning Wheels?”  Joining her are Almunda Azcarate from UNIDIR, Cláudio Mederios Leopoldina from the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Jessica West from Canada’s Project Ploughshares (who did a terrific job live-tweeting the OEWG sessions).

The last event we’ll mention is that China is expected to launch a new crew to the Tiangong-3 space station this week. As usual China is providing very little information, but did release photos of the Long March-2F rocket and Shenzhou-17 spacecraft rolling to the launch pad at their Jiuquan launch site in the Gobi desert.  They said the launch would take place “at the appropriate time in the near future.” Bob Christy @OrbitalFocus calculates the most likely time is October 26 at 3:13:57 UTC plus or minus 10 seconds, which would be October 25, 11:13:47 EDT.

Shenzhou-17 spacecraft atop a Long March-2F rocket rolling to the launch pad at Jiuquan, China, October 19, 2023. Credit: Xinhua

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-Tuesday, October 23-24

Monday-Wednesday, October 23-25

Tuesday, October 24

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 24-25

Tuesday-Thursday, October 24-26

Wednesday, October 25

Wednesday-Thursday, October 25-26

Wednesday-Friday, October 25-27

Thursday, October 26

Friday, October 27

Friday-Saturday, October 27-28

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