What’s Happening in Space Policy September 20-26, 2020

What’s Happening in Space Policy September 20-26, 2020

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of September 20-26, 2020 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

This could be the week that Congress passes a Continuing Resolution (CR) is keep the government open for the first few weeks of FY2021, which begins on October 1. None of the regular FY2021 appropriations bills have cleared Congress yet.  The House passed 10, but none have even been marked up by the Senate Appropriations Committee never mind gotten to the floor for votes.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow (Monday) to write the rule for House consideration of the CR. One sticking point has been the duration of the CR. Some wanted late November, some December and others as late as February 2021. As of Friday, word was that bipartisan, bicameral agreement had been reached on December 11 as the ending date, but the text of the bill is not yet posted on the Rules Committee’s website to confirm that. The House is expected to pass the bill sometime this week. It’s conceivable the Senate will too, but they have until midnight September 30 to get this done. Plenty of time.

As noted, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not marked up any of the regular FY2021 bills. The whole process was upended by COVID-19 and it is only now, in mid-September, that the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee is holding a hearing on NASA’s $25.2 billion budget request (the House Appropriations Committee did not hold one at all). The hearing is Wednesday afternoon with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as the only witness. It’s a critically important opportunity for him to make the case for the 12 percent increase the Trump Administration is requesting to fund the Artemis program.

The House-passed CJS bill holds NASA to its FY2020 funding level of $22.6 billion and that total includes about $1 billion the Trump Administration did not request because it wants to terminate several earth and space science programs and eliminate NASA’s education program. The Trump Administration proposes those cuts every year and Congress rejects them every year, so it’s no surprise, but it means that in addition to the less-than-requested total, it’s another cache of money that will spent otherwise than the Administration proposed. The House bill does support Artemis, just not on the accelerated schedule prescribed by the White House. NASA is hoping for better news from the Senate, creating a path to an eventual compromise more in line with the request. The hearing will take place in the Russell Senate Office Building, but the Capitol complex remains closed to the public so watch it on the committee’s website.

Separately, Bridenstine and U.S. Space Force (USSF) Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond will participate in a Mitchell Institute Space Power Forum on Tuesday morning. They will talk about NASA/USSF collaboration including “support for human spaceflight, emerging space transportation, standards and best practices for safe operations in space, scientific research, and planetary defense.”  It will air on NASA TV.

Among the many other events this week is the annual NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium from Tuesday through Thursday. These are always fun and full of fascinating visionary concepts. To name just a few on the agenda this year: Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) on the Far-Side of the Moon; Pulsed Plasma Rocket: Shielded, Fast Transits for Humans to Mars; Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus;  Enceladus Vent Explorer; and Self-Guided Beamed Propulsion for Breakthrough Interstellar Missions.  It will be livestreamed.

U.S.-Australian cooperation in the Moon/Mars program will be discussed on Thursday by Megan Clark, head of the Australian Space Agency; Larry Marshall, chief executive of CSIRO (Australia’s science agency); Larry James, Deputy Director of JPL; and Pam Melroy, former astronaut and Director, Space Technology & Policy, Nova Systems.

On Friday, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will participate in pre-launch interviews from Star City, Russia as she gets ready to launch to the International Space Station on Soyuz MS-17 on October 14. They will air on NASA TV.

If all goes according to plan, this is the last Soyuz seat NASA will pay for. It has been purchasing Soyuz seats for U.S., European, Japanese and Canadian astronauts since 2006. Since 2011 when the space shuttle was terminated, that’s been the only way to get to and from ISS. With SpaceX’s Crew Dragon about to begin operational flights and Boeing’s Starliner arriving sometime next year, NASA will be paying U.S. companies rather than Russia for ISS crew transportation. A NASA spokesperson told SpacePolicyOnline.com that the agency has purchased 71 Soyuz seats for a total of about $4 billion from 2006-2020 and the price per seat started at $21.8 million, rising to $90.3 million for Rubins.  NASA’s Inspector General estimates that a SpaceX seat will cost NASA $55 million, while a seat on Boeing’s Starliner will be $90 million.

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, September 21

Monday-Tuesday, September 21-22

Tuesday, September 22

Tuesday-Thursday, September 22-24

Wednesday, September 23

Wednesday-Thursday, September 23-24

Thursday, September 24

Friday, September 25

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