What’s Happening in Space Policy November 15-21, 2020

 In Uncategorized, Space

Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of November 15-21, 2020 and any insight we can offer about them.  The House and Senate are in session this week.

During the Week

Yes, it’s another one of those ultra-busy weeks. As a reminder, our home page lists only the next 20 events and there are many more than that this week.  Click on “View All Events” or see the list below.

The first big event this week is held over from last week — the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-1 to the International Space Station (ISS) on its first operational mission. The launch was postponed from yesterday to today (Sunday) because Hurricane Eta prevented SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship from leaving port on time to get into position for the launch. The Falcon 9 first stage will land on the ship and be reused for the Crew-2 mission next spring.

NASA TV begins today at 3:15 pm ET, with launch scheduled for 7:27 pm ET (Vice President Pence plans to attend).  A post-launch press briefing is scheduled for about 9:00 pm ET (check NASA’s Twitter feed for the exact time).  Docking will be about 11:00 pm ET tomorrow (Monday) followed by a welcome ceremony and post-docking press conference in the wee hours (ET) of Tuesday morning. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins is already on the ISS. On Thursday she will join her four new crewmates (Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins from NASA and Soichi Noguchi from JAXA) for an on-orbit press conference.  The time is TBD though it’s on the NASA TV schedule for 9:55 am ET.

Having said all that, the weather forecast is only 50% “go” today according to the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base. If the launch slips again, the next attempt will wait till Wednesday because of other activities at the ISS (e.g. a Russian spacewalk) and rendezvous times. How long it takes to get from KSC to ISS changes due to orbital mechanics. For example, if they had launched on Saturday, the crew would have arrived in just 8.5 hours, but with just a one-day delay, it will take 27 hours if they launch tonight.

Two other launches of particular interest this week are coming up. Rocket Lab will conducts its 16th launch from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand on Wednesday at 8:44 pm ET (Thursday local time at the launch site). For the first time it will attempt to recover the Electron rocket’s first stage.  In this test, it will descend under parachute and splashdown in the ocean, but in the future they hope to catch it by helicopter. (Electron is much smaller than SpaceX’s Falcon 9.)  The launch has some interesting payloads including a 3-D printed gnome (yes, a gnome) that is associated with gaming software developer Gabe Newell who will donate 1 dollar to a children’s hospital in NZ for every person who watches the launch on Rocket Lab’s website. Rocket Lab gives itself a two-week launch window and weather often interferes, so keep up to date on the launch via its Twitter feed (@RocketLab).

On Saturday, NASA will launch the European-U.S. Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich ocean altimetry satellite on a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg. It is named in honor of the late Michael Freilich who headed NASA’s earth science program for more than a decade and lost his battle with cancer earlier this year.  NASA will have a science briefing and a pre-launch briefing on Friday.

Back in Washington, both the House and Senate return to work for the lame duck session of the 116th Congress.  Although Democrats and Republicans both say they want to pass another COVID-relief package, they are far apart on the specifics. Also at the top of their to-do list is passing FY2021 appropriations. The House has passed 10 of the 12 bills and the Senate decided to skip over most of the steps (subcommittee markup, committee markup, Senate consideration) and just start working with the House using the text of bills they released on Tuesday. Both sides say they want to pass the bills before the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires on December 11.

Some congressional election outcomes are still pending.  The way things are looking at the moment, the House will remain in Democratic hands, but with a smaller margin. In the Senate, so far there will be 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats, but which party controls the Senate depends on the outcome of two Georgia run-off elections in January.  Whoever wins will decide the majority party. If Democrats win both, the breakdown would be 50-50 and the Vice President is the tie-breaker. Although President Trump is still challenging the results, it appears to most everyone that the Biden-Harris team won, so that would put the Senate in Democratic hands. But most betting is that Republicans will get at least one of those seats and remain in control with a tiny margin.

One imminent change will alter the composition from 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats (including two independents who usually vote with Democrats) to 52-48. That’s because former astronaut Mark Kelly won the Senate race in Arizona against Martha McSally, who has conceded. The race was to fill the final two years of Sen. John McCain’s term, so Kelly does not have to wait until January to take office. Arizona certifies its election results on November 30, so he will be sworn in soon thereafter.

As for happenings on Capitol Hill this week, on Wednesday the Senate Commerce Committee will markup Sen. Wicker’s bill (S. 4827) to create a Bureau of Space Commerce at the Department of Commerce and formally assign it the Space Traffic Management role pursuant to Space Policy Directive-3. The SPACE (Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency) Act authorizes $15 million for FY2021, but Senate Appropriators approved $11.8 million for the combined Office of Space Commerce and Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (up from a combined total of $4.1 million in FY2020). But appropriators did NOT agree to elevating them to the Office of the Secretary of Commerce, which is what Wicker’s bill would do. House appropriators did not agree either to the funding increase or the office move.

Online, the BIG EVENT is AIAA’s ASCEND extravaganza. Originally envisioned as 3,000 people interacting in person in Las Vegas to engage in “Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery,” COVID-19 forced the event online. And what an event it is.  Three days of “Mega” and “Macro” sessions, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops, technical sessions, award presentations, and tutorials. It starts tomorrow with a Mega session featuring Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett  Other luminaries scheduled over the three days include Space Force’s Gen. Jay Raymond, NASA’s Jim Bridenstine and Kathy Lueders, and author Andy Weir (the latter three are on a panel together Tuesday morning). Your SpacePolicyOnline.com editor has the honor of moderating the very last panel discussion on Wednesday where members of ASCEND’s Guiding Coalition will offer their thoughts on what just transpired and next steps.

Lots of other great events on tap, including a CSIS panel on Tuesday on Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management, former NASA Administrator (and former astronaut) Charlie Bolden talking at SSPI-SE on The Diplomatic Power of Space Exploration, on Wednesday author Alan Ladwig (See You in Orbit? Our Dream of Spaceflight) at Aerospace Corp.’s Space Policy Show on Thursday, the annual Space Weather Enterprise Forum on Thursday and Friday, and a meeting of the National Academies Space Technology Industry, Government, and University Roundtable (STIGUR) on Friday.

Those and other events we know about as of Sunday morning are shown below.  Check back throughout the week for others we add to our Calendar or revisions to these (especially the launches).

Sunday, November 15

  • Crew-1 Launch to the ISS, Kennedy Space Center, FL
    • 3:15 pm ET, NASA TV coverage begins
    • 7:27 pm ET, launch
    • 9:00 pm ET, post-launch press conference (time approximate)

Monday, November 16

  • Crew-1 Arrival at ISS, Earth orbit, approximately 11:00 pm ET (NASA TV provides continuous coverage from launch through docking)

Monday-Wednesday, November 16-18

Tuesday, November 17

Wednesday, November 18

Wednesday-Thursday, November 18-19

Thursday, November 19

Thursday-Friday, November 19-20

Friday, November 20

Saturday, November 21

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