What’s Happening in Space Policy September 5-12, 2021

What’s Happening in Space Policy September 5-12, 2021

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week plus a day of September 5-12, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The Senate is in recess, except for pro forma sessions, until September 13. For the next two weeks, the House schedule is a mixture of committee work days and district work days (that include the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). The House meets only in pro forma sessions through September 20.

During the Week

The week begins tomorrow (Monday) with a federal holiday, Labor Day. That signals the beginning of the annual ritual of counting down to the end of the month to see what Congress does about funding the federal government for the next fiscal year — FY2022 in this case — which begins on October 1. Already the phrase “government shutdown” is appearing in various press reports as a worry. It rarely happens, but can’t be ruled out. Nine of the 12 appropriations bills have passed the House. The Senate has not passed any (three have been reported from committee). Usually Congress passes a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government going for days, weeks or months while they continue to work on the bills, but with the rancor on Capitol Hill and the party split so marginal, it’s tough to guess what will happen this year.

On top of appropriations, Congress will have to do something about the debt limit. Republicans were more than happy to raise the debt limit during the four years a Republican President was in the White House, but now that it’s a Democrat they are back to casting stones and Democrats reportedly will try to embarass them over it.

And on top of that is finshing action on the $1 trillion physical infrastructure bill and the parallel $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that funds climate change research and social programs among other things. The physical infrastructure bill has bipartisan support and passed the Senate 69-30 in August, but the House wants the Senate to pass the human infrastructure bill before taking up the first one. The latter has only Democratic support and can only pass the Senate through a process called reconciliation that cannot be filibustered. Even then, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will need every one of his 48 Democrats plus the two Independents who usually vote with Democrats to agree. At the moment, he is at least one short with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) calling for a “pause” in those deliberations.

The human infrastructure legislation has not been written yet, actually. The House and Senate passed a Budget Resolution on party-line votes instructing many committees to write conforming bills. They will be submitted to the Budget Committees and packaged into a single bill that must pass both chambers. This is “direct spending,” separate from the appropriations process and a case where authorization committees have a much stronger role in determining how much money agencies get.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee is ready. It will mark up its bill on Thursday. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is hoping to get $15.7 billion for NASA through this process, in addition to the $24.8 billion requested by the President for FY2022. It will be really interesting to see what the committee proposes. The Budget Resolution directs the committee to “report changes in laws within its jurisdiction that increase the deficit by not more than $45,510,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2031.” That’s for all the agencies it oversees, not just NASA. The committee recently has focused on increasing resources for the National Science Foundation and for climate change research and other environmental issues, though it did have a hearing on NASA’s “urgent” infrastructure needs in July.

The big event this week off the Hill is the Satellite 2021 conference, celebrating its 40th anniversary. Like the Space Symposium, this annual conference has been through a lot to get a firm place on the calendar due to COVID. Typically held in March, Satellite 2020 got in just under the COVID wire (and was the last in-person space conference for most of us for a year-and-a-half). Organizers scheduled the next one for July 2021 at its usual venue, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. , but the D.C. government took over the convention center as a COVID vaccination site. So it was pushed to September at the Gaylord Convention Center at National Harbor, MD, just outside D.C.

It will finally take place Tuesday-Friday, but COVID continues to be a disruption. With COVID’s resurgence, the Washington Space Business Roundtable (WSBR) decided to cancel its flagship luncheon, one of the highlights of the event.

The overall program still looks terrific, though.

National Space Council Executive Secretary Chirag Parikh is on the agenda for Thursday from 3:30-4:30 pm ET.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson still will be there, but no longer in a one-on-one chat Thursday morning with conference chair Jeffrey Hill as first announced. Now it is late Wednesday, includes Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart, and the entire conversation will last just 30 minutes (4:30-5:00 pm ET). We’ll see if he has anything to say about the FAA’s investigation into anomalies on his July 11 spaceflight.

Lots of other VIPs will be there. To mention just a few: Iridium CEO Matt Desch, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell, SES CEO Steve Collar, Maxar President and CEO Daniel Jablonsky, OneWeb Executive Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, Head of U.S. Space Systems for Airbus Defence and Space Debra Facktor, United Launch Alliance President and CEO Tory Bruno, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël, and Astra Founder and CEO Chris Kemp.

We’re including Sunday, September 12, in this week’s edition because it’s a spacewalk at the International Space Station that will begin before we publish our next issue. For the first time, the spacewalk will be conducted by two international partner astronauts, Aki Hoshide from JAXA and Thomas Pesquet from ESA, instead of one from NASA and one from a partner. NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei was supposed to do it with Hoshide on August 24, but he has a pinched nerve in his neck so it had to be postponed. Pesquet is replacing him. It’s a testament to international cooperation and mission flexiblity. NASA will have a press conference on Friday to discuss what they plan to accomplish.

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, September 6

Tuesday-Friday, September 7-10

  • Satellite 2021, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, National Harbor, MD

Wednesday, September 8

Thursday, September 9

Friday, September 10

Sunday, September 12

Sunday-Tuesday, September 12-14

  • EMER-GEN, Maui, Hawaii (in conjunction with the September 14-17 AMOS conference)

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