What’s Happening in Space Policy October 7-13, 2018

What’s Happening in Space Policy October 7-13, 2018

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of Octber 7-13, 2018 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is scheduled to meet this week beginning Tuesday. The House is in recess except for pro forma sessions.

During the Week

Tonight (Sunday), SpaceX will attempt to land a Falcon 9 first stage back at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB).  While SpaceX launches and first stage landings have become routine on the East Coast, launches are less common on the West Coast and this will be the first landing at VAFB.  VAFB officials issued an alert to central California residents about the sonic booms that accompany landings so they are not taken by surprise.  Launch of Argentina’s synthetic aperture radar satellite SAOCOM 1A is scheduled for 7:21 pm Pacific Daylight Time (10:21 pm Eastern).  It has an instantaneous launch window. Thursday is the backup date (same time).  The first stage landing will occur 7 minutes 46 seconds after launch.  SpaceX will provide a webcast.  SpaceX tweeted a photo of its VAFB landing zone yesterday

The work week starts off tomorrow (Monday) with a Federal holiday, Columbus Day, and U.S. government offices will be closed.

Wednesday is a very busy day.  It starts off with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Air Force readiness with Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.  It is almost a sure best that Space Force will come up.  It seems to be THE topic of the day every day when discussing the Air Force. Recent rumors — and that’s all they are, rumors — that President Trump may replace Wilson because he thinks she is trying to kill or delay the Space Force with her $12.9 billion pricetag makes the topic even more irresistible.

At almost the same hour (unfortunately), CSIS will have a very timely panel discussion on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) with Bhavya Lal from IDA’s Science and Technology Policy Institute, Victoria Samson from the Secure World Foundation, and Audrey Schaffer from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  U.S. Strategic Command just announced on Friday that it is expanding how much SSA data it is making available on its public Space-Track.org website to “enhance SSA data sharing, transparency, spaceflight safety, based on guidance in Space Policy Directive-3…”  SPD-3 calls for the Department of Commerce to take over responsibility from the Air Force for sharing SSA data with non-military users.  The CSIS event will be webcast.

Also on Wednesday morning, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will release a new report, The Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe, that was required by Sec. 509 of the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act.  The chair of the committee that wrote the report, Barbara Sherwood Lollar of the University of Toronto, and committee member Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution will discuss the report’s recommendations.  The event will be webcast and one can follow along on Twitter with hashtag #AstrobioScience and email questions to astrobiology@nas.edu.

Wednesday furthermore is the first day of the two-day annual International Symposium on Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  As always it has a terrific set of speakers from government and industry (big and small). This year’s theme is “The Tipping Point.” The first keynote on Wednesday, by Mark Vande Hei, is entitled “Tipping Point? We’ve Already Tipped!”  Vande Hei is a NASA astronaut who is listed on the program as technical assistant for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at headquarters. He returned from a 168-day International Space Station (ISS) mission in February 2018.

Early Thursday morning (EDT), NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin will launch to the ISS on Soyuz MS-10.  NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will be at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch and will meet with Roscosmos General Director Dmitry Rogozin in person for the first time.

One of the topics undoubtedly will be the investigation of the hole that was discovered in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that is still docked to the ISS.  Rogozin has implied that someone aboard the ISS may have drilled the hole. Bridenstine and Rogozin met via telecon in September and issued statements attempting to tamp down rumors circulating in the Russian media about why someone might have done that, but how and when it got there remains unknown (publicly at least).  NASA issued a rather odd press release last week during the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany that Bridenstine attended (Rogozin was not there). It did not quote Rogozin directly, but instead cited Russian media reports asserting that Rogozin insists the hole is not a manufacturing defect (which he said on Russian television on Monday).  Thus, it would not affect other spacecraft and the MS-10 spacecraft apparently is fine.  NASA says it is participating in the MS-09 investigation, so why it is relying on the Russian media instead of first-hand reports is peculiar.  (We asked NASA, but did not get a reply, though a spokeswoman said the press release was issued in response to questions from reporters about Rogozin’s comment.)  The bottom line is that the MS-10 launch is going ahead even though they have not solved the MS-09 mystery. (The MS-09 launch was fine. The hole was discovered weeks after it was safely docked with ISS. It is in a part of the spacecraft that detaches and burns up in the atmosphere during reentry so poses no safety hazard to the MS-09 crew when they come back to Earth.)  NASA will webcast the 4:40 am EDT launch of Soyuz MS-10 and docking  at ISS six hours later.

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.

Sunday, October 7

Sunday-Wednesday, October 7-10 (continued from October 4)

Monday, October 8

Monday-Friday, October 8-12

Wednesday, October 10

Wednesday-Thursday, October 10-11

Wednesday-Friday, October 10-12

Thursday, October 11

Friday, October 12

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