What’s Happening in Space Policy September 25-October 1, 2022

What’s Happening in Space Policy September 25-October 1, 2022

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of September 25-October 1, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session for part of the week.

During the Week

Perhaps the best word to describe the upcoming week is unsettled.

Tropical Storm Ian, soon to become Hurricane Ian, is complicating NASA’s plans to launch Artemis I and the next crew to the International Space Station, Crew-5. Here in Washington, Congress has only until the end of the week to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating. The fiscal year changes as Friday turns into Saturday and none of the FY2023 appropriations bills has cleared Congress. Without a CR, most of the government would have to shut down for lack of funds.

A government shutdown seems unlikely, but if that were to happen NASA would not have the money to launch either Artemis I or Crew-5 unless they get an exception (an “anomaly”). Sometimes these shutdowns are just for a few hours or few days, but at the moment Artemis I would launch on October 2 and Crew-5 on October 3, so the timing is especially dicey.

Those launch dates already are in flux because of Ian, however. Yesterday NASA decided to forgo the September 27 launch opportunity for Artemis I and said it would decide today whether it needed to roll the Space Launch System/Orion stack back the Vehicle Assembly Building for safety. If so, that would delay the launch for several weeks. If not, the October 2 backup date might still be possible. NASA said this morning the roll back decision will be made this evening when more is known about the storm. The National Hurricane Center said “uncertainty in the long-term track and intensity forecast is higher than usual.” We’ll update this article as soon as we get the news. [UPDATE, 9:15 pm ET — NASA has decided to wait until tomorrow to make a decision as they wait for the path of the storm to become clearer.]

Crew-5 is still on track for launch on October 3, but yesterday NASA delayed the arrival of the crew at Kennedy Space Center because of Ian. They were supposed to arrive tomorrow (Monday). A new date was not announced, but the Flight Readiness Review is still scheduled for tomorrow as far as we know.

Meanwhile, the hold-up on the CR is the otherwise unrelated issue of shortening the amount of time the government has to give regulatory approval for permits to build oil and gas infrastructure like pipelines — Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) “energy permitting” bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised Manchin he’d get a vote on the energy permitting bill if Manchin voted for the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the “reconciliation” bill that includes money to deal with climate change and many other Democratic priorities. Manchin’s vote was critical to getting that passed. Many Republicans support Manchin’s energy permitting bill, but are angry with him for allowing the IRA to pass. They’re trying to get a different version attached to the CR. At least one Senator who usually votes with Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is strongly opposed to the permitting bill for environmental reasons. It will take 60 votes to pass the CR in the Senate, so the outcome is murky.

The Senate doesn’t meet until Tuesday afternoon and the House until Wednesday in observance of Rosh Hashanah.

Appropriations bills usually originate in the House, but this time House leadership is waiting to see what the Senate does. More than 70 House Democrats publicly oppose the permitting bill, but whether they would let the government shut down over it remains unclear.

It’s not unusual for CRs to come down to the wire and more often than not they work something out. The plan had been for a CR to last through mid-December, but perhaps they’ll agree on a shorter-term “clean” CR that does nothing but keep the government open until the permitting issue can be resolved. There doesn’t appear to be any interest in a government shutdown so while we are well aware of the risks of trying to guess what Congress will do, we’re relatively optimistic they’ll find a way to keep the government operating.

One event that *is* certain to happen is that tomorrow night (Monday), a NASA spacecraft will try to move an asteroid, or the moon of an asteroid to be exact. The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) has its date with destiny at 7:14 pm ET tomorrow evening. Launched last November, DART is on track to crash into Dimorphos, the tiny (525-foot) moon of the small (2,560-foot) asteroid Dimorphos to test whether the kinetic energy imparted by the impact will change the moon’s orbit. It’s a test to determine if this method could be used on a larger scale if a hazardous asteroid was headed to Earth. This one poses no threat to Earth either before or after the test.

Illustration of the DART spacecraft about to impact Dimorphos with Didymos on the right. Credit: John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

DART is managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and NASA will provide two live video feeds from there tomorrow night. One begins at 5:30 pm ET on NASA’s Media Channel and will be images from the DRACO camera on DART as it hones in on Dimorphos. That channel will show only images, without commentary. Full coverage starts on NASA TV’s Public Channel at 6:00 pm ET with experts on hand to explain what’s happening. A post-impact media briefing is at 8:00 pm ET.

The screen will go dark at the moment of impact as the spacecraft gives its all for science. The Italian Space Agency provided a small cubesat, LICIACube, that went along for the ride and now has separated from DART. It will collect images post-impact, but slow data rates mean it could take a while for them to get back to Earth. The main observing action is here on Earth where telescopes and radars will be monitoring the collision to see how much the orbit changes. It will take a few days to weeks to make that determination.

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (Italy) will become the first European woman to command the ISS on Wednesday.

Also in the sure-to-happen category is that three Russian cosmonauts will return to Earth on Thursday. Soyuz MS-21 will land on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 6:57 am ET (no hurricanes there!). Their replacements on Soyuz MS-22 arrived last week.

The departure of Soyuz MS-21 signals a change in “Expeditions” and Expedition 67 commander Oleg Artemyev will turn command over to ESA’s Samantha Cristoforetti (Italy) for Expedition 68. She will be the first European woman to command the ISS. She’s a member of Crew-4 and they are getting ready to return to Earth on October 10, so it’ll be a short command assignment, but noteworthy nonetheless. NASA TV will cover the change-of-command ceremony on Wednesday morning and the undocking and landing of Soyuz MS-21 early Thursday morning ET.

The 27th annual Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Conference (AMOS) takes place this week as usual on the Hawaiian island of Maui, site of many DOD instruments that track everything in Earth orbit. In-person registration is closed, but one may still sign up to attend virtually and get access to video of the sessions. That’s handy since Hawaii is 6 hours behind Eastern Daylight Time so some of the sessions are pretty late on the East Coast. They have an outstanding line-up of speakers from the technical and policy, military and civilian, government and non-government sides of the space situational/domain awareness field. It’s preceded by the three-day Emer-Gen program for young professionals and a series of short courses.

The AMOS conference itself is Wednesday-Friday. Keynote talks will be presented by Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, Commander of the U.S. Space Force’s Space Systems Command (Wednesday), Ezinne Uzo-Okoro, Assistant Director for Space Policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (Thursday), and Richard DalBello, Director, Office of Space Commerce at NOAA in the Department of Commerce (Friday). Diane Howard, Director of Commercial Space Policy at the White House National Space Council will speak on Thursday, as well. Many, many other excellent speakers, too.

Jessica Rosenworcel, Chairwoman, Federal Communications Commission, will chair a meeting on Thursday that will consider changes to orbital debris rules.

Space situational awareness is all about not just tracking satellites, but all that orbital debris. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which assigns frequencies for U.S. commercial users of the electromagnetic spectrum, by default has become the regulator of how long satellites can remain in orbit past their operational lifetimes. Right now the limit is 25 years, but on Thursday it will consider a revised rule to lower that to 5 years. The draft order was released earlier this month. It will be interesting to hear what the four commissioners (two Democrats and two Republicans, the fifth person is awaiting Senate confirmation) have to say.

The meeting will be livestreamed on the FCC website. FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is getting increasingly interested in commercial space activities and opened a new “Space Innovation” Docket in August, so there’s more to come from the FCC.

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.

Sunday-Tuesday, September 25-27

Monday, September 26

Monday-Tuesday, September 26-27

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 27-28

Tuesday-Friday, September 27-30

Wednesday, September 28

Wednesday-Thursday, September 28-29

Thursday, September 29

Thursday-Friday, September 29-30

Friday, September 30

Saturday, October 1


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