What’s Happening in Space Policy September 3-9, 2023

What’s Happening in Space Policy September 3-9, 2023

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of September 3-9, 2023 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate returns from summer break on Tuesday. The House remains in recess except for pro forma sessions until September 12.

During the Week

Once again the week is already underway as we post this. Crew-6 is returning to Earth a couple days later than planned due to bad weather. They undocked at 7:05 am ET this morning and will splash down off the coast of Jacksonville, FL just after midnight tomorrow at approximatey 12:17 am ET. A post-splashdown media briefing is scheduled for 2:00 am ET.

Ariane 6 fully stacked at the Guiana Space Centre, Kourou, French Guiana, October 17, 2022. Credit: ESA

Tomorrow (Monday) is a federal holiday here in the States — Labor Day — but there’s no time off in the space program. Not only is there the Crew-6 briefing at 2:00 am ET, but four hours later ESA is having a press conference to provide an update on Ariane 6. It’ll be noon in Europe, but 6:00 am here on the U.S. East Coast.

Europe flew their last Ariane 5 in July and is eagerly awaiting Ariane 6. It was supposed to be ready by 2020, but with one delay after another ESA recently conceded it’ll be 2024. More tests are needed before they set an actual date. They just finished one, a test firing of the Vinci upper stage engine and its Auxiliary Power Unit to demonstrate how they operate together. But a four-second firing of the Vulcain 2.1 core stage scheduled for July 19 was postponed to August 29 and then again to September 5.

A longer Vulcain 2.1 test firing was planned for September 26. We’ll find out tomorrow if that’s still on track. Europe’s space launch program is in a bit of pickle right now. Ariane 6 isn’t ready yet for the heaviest payloads. Russia’s medium-class Soyuz is no longer available because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s new rocket for small payloads, Vega-C, isn’t flying because of its own technical problems. The last Vega with the original design is scheduled for launch next month. After that Europe won’t be able to launch anything until Ariane 6 and Vega-C are in service. They’ve already had to buy three launches from Space X. Not a position they wanted to be in. European independence in space is a top priority.

Back here in the States, the Senate returns to work on Tuesday. There are no space-related hearings scheduled, at least as of today, but overall they have a lot of work to do between now and October 1 when Fiscal Year 2024 begins. Foremost is passing appropriations bills, or at least a stop-gap Continuing Resolution and emergency appropriations to pay for disaster relief for Hawaii and Florida among other things.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. The Senate returns to work on Tuesday.

In a Dear Colleague letter published by Politico, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said appropriations will be their first focus. He and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appear to be on the same page that avoiding a government shutdown is paramount. That puts Senate Republicans at odds with their House counterparts, or at least those in the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus who are fine with shutting down the government. As McConnell reportedly said the other day, it’s “a pretty big mess.”

In addition, the FAA’s authorization expires on September 30. The House already passed reauthorization legislation, but it’s stuck in committee in the Senate largely over pilot training requirements.

A prohibition on the FAA promulgating new regulations on commercial human spaceflight also expires on September 30, but that is being dealt with separately. Neither the House nor the Senate have made any legislative progress on that front.

Two other interesting events, both on Wednesday, are a NASA briefing on the Psyche mission and a National Air and Space Museum panel discussion with three of the six women who were in the first group of female NASA astronauts.

Psyche is scheduled to launch October 5 on its 6-year journey to an asteroid by that name in the main asteroid belt. This is the L-30 briefing 30 days before liftoff. Scientists think Psyche is a relatively rare type of asteroid composed mostly of metal. Principal Investigator Lindy Elkins-Tanton and Project Manager Henry Stone will join JPL Director Laurie Leshin and NASA Planetary Science Division Director Lori Glaze to talk about the mission. Psyche also will test the use of optical communications for deep space missions. Abi Biswas, JPL’s project technologist for the Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) technology demonstration, will be there too, as will Serkan Bastug, the mission manager from NASA’s Launch Services Program.

Illustration of the Psyche spacecraft showing where the Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstrator is located. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Psyche has gotten a lot of attention in part because it was supposed to launch a year ago, but last minute problems delayed it until now. To find the money to cover the delay, NASA postponed an unrelated mission to Venus, VERITAS, for at least three years. In addition, two small spacecraft called Janus were supposed to ride along with Psyche and independently study other asteroids on the same trajectory, but the one-year delay changed the route and Janus no longer has any viable targets. NASA directed the Janus team to put the satellites in storage. They’re hoping to find a future opportunity to use them since they’re already built and the money ($49 million) spent.

Whatever becomes of VERITAS and Janus, at least Psyche will soon be on its way. The launch window is open through October 25.

The human spaceflight community is celebrating the 45th anniversary of NASA allowing women in the astronaut corps and the 40th anniversary of the first of those women making a spaceflight. Of the six women selected in 1978, four are still alive (Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died of cancer in 2012; Judy Resnik perished in the 1986 Challenger tragedy) and three will participate in an event at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center outside Washington on Wednesday evening.  Anna Fisher, Rhea Seddon and Kathy Sullivan (the first American woman to make a spacewalk) will be on a panel with NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, herself a former NASA astronaut. The event will be livestreamed but registration is required for either in-person or virtual attendance.

The first six U.S. women astronauts (L-R): Shannon Lucid, Rhea Seddon, Kathy Sullivan, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Sally Ride. Credit: NASA

As we’ve mentioned before, Bloomberg’s Loren Grush just wrote a book about “The Six.” It’s due out next week and is available from publisher Simon & Schuster or your favorite bookseller.

Two launches we wrote about last week were postponed due to weather:  Japan’s launch of the XRISM space telescope and SLIM lunar lander, and the United Launch Alliance’s launch of the NRO/USSF SILENTBARKER satellites. New launch dates have not been announced yet, but we’ll post them to our Calendar as soon as we hear anything.

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-Monday, September 3-4

Monday, September 4

Wednesday, September 6

Wednesday & Thursday, September 6 & 7

  • Common Threads Colorado: Space Resiliency and the Mission (INSA)
    • September 6, Protecting Assets and Maintaining Operations, Colorado Springs, CO, 8:00-10:00 am MOUNTAIN Time
    • September 7, Fireside Chat with Jenna Seidel, Director, NSA/CSS Colorado, Denver, CO, 5:00-7:00 pm MOUNTAIN Time

Thursday, September 7

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