What’s Happening in Space Policy June 26-July 2, 2022

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Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of June 26-July 2, 2022 and any insight we can offer about them. The House will meet only in pro forma sessions this week, but committees will meet Tuesday-Thursday. The Senate is in session this week, but could leave a bit early for the July 4 recess.

During the Week

From the halls of Congress to the shores of New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, it’s going to be an interesting week.

Illustration of the CAPSTONE satellite orbiting the Moon with Earth in the background. Credit: NASA/Daniel Rutter

Let’s start in New Zealand, where Rocket Lab is getting ready to launch NASA’s CAPSTONE cubesat to the Moon. The launch was scheduled for tomorrow (Monday) at 6:00 am ET, but just as this issue of What’s Happening was about to be published, NASA announced another delay. CAPSTONE can launch any day between now and July 27 and still get to the Moon on November 13 and they don’t seem to be in any hurry. It still could happen this week (Tuesday is the next opportunity) so we’ll keep it here, but stay tuned for updates.

Once at the Moon, the plucky little satellite will test out a special orbit NASA plans to use for a lunar space station as well as demonstrate the utility of very small satellites — this one is the size of a microwave oven — beyond Earth orbit as part of the Artemis program. The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) will go into an elliptical Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon that will bring it as close as 1,000 miles of one lunar pole but 43,500 miles from the other every seven days.

Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1, Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab

It is the first satellite to be placed into such an orbit and the point is to validate NASA’s models of requirements for  power and propulsion to maintain the orbit. It also will test navigation capabilities using another NASA satellite that’s been orbiting the Moon since 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, as a reference point.

CAPSTONE will be launched on one of the smallest commercial rockets available, Rocket Lab’s Electron, and take the slow route to the Moon using solar electric propulsion. The journey will last about four months. The original plan was to launch CAPSTONE from Rocket Lab’s new Launch Complex-2 at Wallops Island, VA, but NASA did not certify the new autonomous flight termination system it is developing with Rocket Lab in time. So it will launch from Rocket Lab’s home base, Launch Complex-1 on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. Launches from there are frequently delayed due to weather (usually winds), but the delay announced today was to give Rocket Lab more time to perform system checks.

Another interesting launch this week is on Thursday. The Space Force will launch USSF-12 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL.  ULA said today the weather forecast is 70 percent favorable, but did not disclose the launch time saying only it would be announced “closer to launch.”  That’s not unusual for classified launches though the Space Force is being somewhat open about what’s being launched — a Wide Field of View (WFOV) testbed sensor for missile warning/tracking/defense, and the “USSF-12 Ring” that can deploy multiple payloads. The WFOV testbed will inform development of sensors for the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (NextGen OPIR) program, the follow-on to the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIS) early warning satellite system. The Ring will “validate the ability to host multiple missions on one structure.”

It’s not on any launch schedule yet, but Artemis I is getting closer and closer. NASA has declared the Wet Dress Rehearsal a success and just after midnight on Friday will roll the Space Launch System rocket/Orion spacecraft stack back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to get ready for its inaugural flight. NASA has shown the previous rollouts/rollback on the Kennedy Newsroom YouTube channel and may do so again this time. The 4-mile trip takes 8-12 hours. Artemis I is an uncrewed test flight of SLS/Orion. It can only take place during roughly two-week windows each month to satisfy test criteria like returning to Earth in daylight. The next window is August 23-September 6 (but not August 30, 31 or September 1). The one after that is September 20-October 4 (but not September 29). We have a list of all the opportunities remaining this year.

The Space Launch System rocket with an Orion spacecraft attached to the Mobile Launcher on top of the Crawler-Transporter on the way to Launch Complex 39-B June 6, 2022. It will make the reverse trip on Friday, July 1. PHoto Credit: NASA

All those DOD and NASA space programs require money, of course, and the House Appropriations Committee is making progress on the FY2023 bills. It finished the DOD bill last week, making some relatively minor adjustments to Space Force funding, but chastising the service for submitting budget projections for the future that are not credible. The Space Force request was $24.60 billion, a 36 percent increase over FY2022. The committee approved $24.23 billion.

The Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee that funds NASA and NOAA, and the Transportation-HUD (THUD) subcommittee that oversees the FAA and its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST), approved their bills last week. The full committee will take them up this week, CJS on Tuesday and THUD on Thursday. The CJS subcommittee did not approve the full increase for NASA requested by President Biden, recommending $25.45 billion instead of $25.97 billion, so half a billion less. The information currently available for the CJS and THUD bills is not detailed enough to show what they recommended for NOAA’s space activities or FAA/AST. More details should be out this week in conjunction with the full committee markups.

All 12 appropriations bills will be through committee by the end of the week. The House will be out next week for the July 4 recess, returning for legislative business on July 12. The schedule for bringing the appropriations bills to the House floor has not been announced yet, but the House strives to get as many as possible passed before the August recess, with mixed success. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted on any of the bills yet.

We will note that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees (HASC and SASC) also have completed work on the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act. Both committees recommended substantial increases above the President’s request of $773 billion. SASC added $45 billion when it approved its version of the bill on June 16. HASC added $37 billion during its markup on June 23-24. The House Appropriations Committee did not go along with the HASC-recommended increase. As it turns out they were marking up their bills at the very same time and the $37 billion was added as an amendment during the HASC markup. How willing the appropriators and the rest of House are to increase the defense budget that much, and where the money will come from if they do, is one of the issues to be debated on the floor.

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 (especially the CAPSTONE launch).

Monday, June 27

Monday-Friday, June 27-July 1

Tuesday, June 28

Thursday, June 30

Friday, July 1

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