What’s Happening in Space Policy October 31-November 6, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 31-November 6, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of October 31-November 6, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

The weather in Florida was perfect for the launch of Crew-3 early this morning. Alas, it was not along the ascent flight path so the launch had to be postponed to Wednesday. The Crew Dragon spacecraft can separate from the Falcon 9 rocket at any time during launch if anything goes awry, so weather conditions up along the Eastern seaboard and over towards Ireland have to be conducive to recovery operations if needed. NASA decided early yesterday morning that forecast winds and waves would be too high for launch today so the four-person crew will have to wait a bit longer to launch, and the Crew-2 crew already on the International Space Station will have to wait a few extra days to come home.

Crew-3 arrives at Kennedy Space Center, October 26, 2021 (L-R): Matthias Maurer (ESA), Tom Marshburn (NASA), Raja Chari (NASA), Kayla Barron (NASA). Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

NASA TV will provide continuous coverage from Tuesday evening at 8:45 pm ET to launch on Wednesday at 1:10 am ET to docking at about 11:00 pm ET Wednesday and hatch opening and the welcoming ceremony early Thursday morning.

Another big event this week is release of the astronomy and astrophysics Decadal Survey from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The science community has been eagerly awaiting this new Decadal that will identify the top science questions in astronomy and astrophysics and recommend how NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of High Energy Physics should invest funding to answer them over the next 10 years (a decade, hence the term Decadal Survey). The Academies will hold a webinar on Thursday with the co-chairs of the study, Fiona Harrison (Caltech) and Rob Kennicutt (University of Arizona/Texas A&M) to summarize the key findings and recommendations from the report, Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s.

Up on Capitol Hill, the House will try once more to pass those infrastructure bills. The approximately $1 trillion physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, rail, etc.) bill has bipartisan support and already passed the Senate. President Biden is willing to sign it, so once it passes the House it’s a done deal. The “human infrastructure” (social programs, climate change, etc.) bill has only Democratic support so Democrats are trying to pass it through a budget procedure called reconciliation that cannot be filibustered in the Senate. That bill, H.R. 5376, has $1.115 billion for NASA in it.

All 48 Democrats and the two Independents who usually vote with Democrats will have vote of favor of it, plus Vice President Harris as the tie-breaker. Two Democratic Senators (Manchin of WV and Sinema of AZ) have forced the rest of their party to scale the package back from $3.5 trillion to $1.75 trillion and reportedly have signalled in private they now will go along with it, but have not said so publicly. Progressives in the House, already unhappy with halving what’s in the bill, are leery of passing the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill without guarantees the human infrastructure bill will also make it to the President’s desk and not be further blocked by Manchin and Sinema. Biden met personally with House Democrats last week before leaving for Rome and Glasgow and seemed to think he had a deal, but it was not to be. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to pull the bill from consideration on Thursday, but will try again this week.

Looking at it from the purely parochial view of the space program, $1.115 billion for NASA is far less than what Administrator Bill Nelson originally hoped for ($15.7 billion), but it’s still a billion more than it otherwise would have, which isn’t bad. This money is separate from appropriations, so would be on top of whatever the agency gets through it’s regular funding process. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each approved slightly larger amounts for FY2022 than Biden requested, which was a 6.6 percent increase over FY2021.

The FY2022 Intelligence Authorization bill also may be on tap in the House this week. It was just reported from the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday (H.R. 5412, H. Rept. 117-156). House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has it on the list for “possible consideration.” Among other things noted in the unclassified version of the report, it requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to ensure all elements of the Intelligence Community that have data on unidentified aerial phenomena report it to the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force and the DNI must report quarterly to Congress on the Task Force’s findings. It also allows the Secretary of the Air Force to establish a National Space Intelligence Center as a field operating agency of the U.S. Space Force notwithstanding any other provision of law.

Elsewhere, the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) holds its annual meeting in Baltimore. It is primarily an in-person event, but some sessions will be livestreamed. The opening keynotes on Wednesday are by Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and newly minted Virgin Galactic astronaut Sirisha Bandla, who is the company’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Research Operations. She conducted a NASA-sponsored experiment during her flight on Unity 22 this summer. NASA has conducted and plans to conduct many more experiments on both Virgin Galactic’s and Blue Origin’s suborbital vehicles with and without people on board.

Sirisha Bandla, second from right, with her Unity 22 crewmates. Credit: Virgin Galactic

The conference has a really terrific line up. A list of the sessions that will be livestreamed is on the ASGSR website. Registration for the conference is not necessary to watch the livestreams.

The ISS National Lab’s (ISSNL’s) new User Advisory Committee will hold its first meeting on Tuesday in conjunction with this conference. It is virtual and registration is separate from the conference and required. ISSNL is the new branding of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) that oversees non-NASA use of the U.S. science facilities on the International Space Station.

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, November 1

Tuesday, November 2

Tuesday-Thursday, November 2-4

Wednesday, November 3

Wednesday-Thursday, November 3-4

Wednesday-Saturday, November 3-6

Thursday, November 4

Friday, November 5

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