What’s Happening in Space Policy October 23-28, 2017

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 23-28, 2017

Here is our list of space policy events for the week of October 23-28, 2017 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

It’s another busy week, and most (not all, but most) of the action is outside Washington, D.C.

Three of the space-related standing committees of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine are meeting this week:

  • CAA, the Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, which operates jointly under the aegis of the Space Studies Board (SSB) and the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA), meets in Irvine, CA;
  • CESAS, the Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space (SSB), meets in Boulder, CO; and
  • CSSP, the Committee on Solar and Space Physics (SSB), meets in Irvine.

The CAA meeting Tuesday-Wednesday looks especially interesting as the committee will learn about the recently-announced delay to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and the results of an independent review of its follow-on, the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).  Last year an Academies’ study committee recommended that NASA conduct such a review.  (Academy study committees are created to perform a study on a particular topic and dissolve once the study is completed.  Standing committees are permanent, so reporting back to CAA on the review’s findings is a way of responding to the now-expired study committee.)

On Tuesday, Eric Smith, Program Director for the $8 billion JWST, will brief CAA on the recent launch delay from October 2018 to March 31 – June 29, 2019.  The delay is primarily due to spacecraft integration challenges at prime contractor Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (NGAS).  JWST has suffered many schedule delays and cost increases over the years, consuming resources that could have been used for other NASA astrophysics projects. Anything like a launch delay that could require more money is of concern to the astrophysics community represented by CAA.  Smith briefed an internal NASA advisory committee last week, offering assurances that the cost of this delay will be covered by reserves and other programs will not be impacted.  He noted, however, that an actual launch date cannot be set until NASA renegotiates its contract with NGAS and NASA also must replace or rework all 16 small monopropellant thruster valves on the spacecraft.  NASA rebaselined the JWST program in 2011 after continuing overruns and delays. The rebaselined program included significant cost and schedule reserves to handle “unknown unknowns.” It had been staying on track to meet the October 2018 launch date until now.

One of the NASA astrophysics projects impacted by the JWST overruns is WFIRST, a project recommended by the most recent Decadal Survey produced by the Academies.  Its launch was expected in 2020, but formulation did not begin until 2016 because resources were needed for JWST.  Now WFIRST is running into problems.  An independent, external review completed last week identified enough issues that NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen has directed Goddard Space Flight Center to downsize it.  Goddard manages both JWST and WFIRST.   Zurbuchen and the co-chairs of the independent review will brief CAA on Wednesday.

CAA is meeting at the National Academies Beckman Center in Irvine, CA.  The meeting will be available remotely by WebEx/telecon.  Note that all times on the agenda are in Pacific Daylight Time (add 3 for Eastern).

Huntsville, AL is the site of another very interesting meeting — the American Astronautical Society’s annual Von Braun symposium, will be held Wednesday-Thursday (with an opening reception Tuesday evening).  The entire conference will be webcast except for luncheons. Lots of interesting sessions as always, but for readers of this website, the policy panel on Wednesday may be of special note.  The commercial space flight panel that afternoon and the NEXTStep panel Thursday morning also look especially good.  Note that all times on the agenda are in Central Daylight Time (add 1 for Eastern).

Seattle, WA is the next stop.  The American Society for Gravitational and Space Research holds its annual meeting there Wednesday-Saturday.  Many of the sessions will be webcast, including one on Wednesday on China’s human spaceflight program.  Note that all times on the agenda are in Pacific Daylight Time (add 3 for Eastern).

Many other events inside and outside the United States are on tap — too many to mention here.  See our list below.

The only other event we will highlight is the Senate Commerce Committee’s hearing on Wednesday on The Commercial Satellite Industry: What’s Up and What’s on the Horizon.  Witnesses include Patricia Cooper from SpaceX, Mark Dankburg from ViaSat, Stephen Spengler from Intelsat, and Greg Wyler from OneWeb.  The hearing will be webcast.

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.

Monday, October 23

Monday-Tuesday, October 23-24

Monday-Friday, October 23-27

  • GEO Week 2017 (Group on Earth Observations), Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC

Tuesday-Wednesday, October 24-25

Tuesday-Thursday, October 24-26

Wednesday, October 25

Wednesday-Saturday, October 25-28

Friday, October 27

Saturday, October 28



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