What’s Happening in Space Policy March 28-April 3, 2021


Here is SpacePolicyOnline.com’s list of space policy events for the week of March 28-April 3, 2021 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in recess (except for pro forma sessions) for two weeks.

During the Week

COVID-19 or not, it’s Spring Break for a lot of people, including Congress. The House and Senate are taking two weeks off over the Passover and Easter holidays. The Senate returns for legislative business on April 12; the House on April 13.

This next week thus is a bit quieter than usual, but two potential events are not on our Calendar because they are too indefinite. They will be of great interest if they happen.

First, Bloomberg reported last week that the Biden Administration will release the discretionary portion of its FY2022 budget request this week. That includes NASA, NOAA, DOD and all the other departments and agencies for which Congress appropriates funding each year. We hope the rumor’s true. The request will illustrate where Biden’s space priorities are, so we are eager to see it!

Second, SpaceX is expected to make a fourth try to successfully launch and land another Starship prototype, Serial Number 11 (SN11), perhaps tomorrow.  After an attempt on Friday was scrubbed, Elon Musk tweeted “Standing down SN11 until probably Monday. Additional checkouts are needed. Doing our best to land & fully recover.”  He is trying to launch a three-engine prototype to an altitude of 10 kilometers, have it translate over a bit and return to land on an adjacent pad. The first three times everything went perfectly until the landing, where SN8, SN9 and SN10 each crashed and burned in turn for different reasons. These are prototype vehicles and SpaceX churns them out regularly, so the failures are embraced as learning experiences and the company moves on to the next one. These SpaceX tests are totally different from NASA’s recent hot fire test of the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage. That is the actual vehicle that will fly into space. Such an ending would have been very bad news indeed for SLS so NASA and Boeing had to be very careful not to damage it during the test. And SLS is built with taxpayer dollars, allocated by Congress, which also makes a huge difference in public reaction to failures.

Anyway, the SN11 test could be Monday, or not. SpaceX goes when it’s ready. It provides a live webcast, which begins a few minutes before the launch, with little advance notice. The best way to keep track is to watch webcasts by dedicated teams of amateurs who have their own cameras trained on SpaceX’s test site at Boca Chica, TX, and provide illuminating commentary, such as NASASpaceflight.com (not a NASA website).

As for the events that definitely are scheduled for this week, two seem particularly interesting.  Tomorrow (Monday), The Moon Dialogs will hold the next in its series of “salons.” This one originally was entitled “Peaceful Moon Salon: Fractured Lunar Futures?,” but has been renamed “Peaceful Moon Salon: International Collaboration for Lunar Bases.”  The word “international” is the key, with speakers from China, Russia and Canada. The recent agreement between China and Russia to cooperate in building an International Scientific Lunar Station sparked a lot of interest.  Although they don’t appear to be government representatives, this webinar has two speakers from China — Yuguang Yang, China’s regional coordinator for the Moon Village Association and vice-chair of IAF’s Space Transportation Committee, and Jinyuan Su, a professor at Wuhan University and space law expert — and one from Russia, Olga Volynskaya, an independent expert on space law and policy. Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, perhaps most famous internationally for his rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity when he was aboard ISS, fills out the panel, which is moderated by Chelsea Robinson of the Open Lunar Foundation.

On Friday, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will hold the first session of a workshop to discuss options to replace the 305-meter dish at the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico that dramatically collapsed last year. The workshop itself will take place virtually in several sessions during the month of June. Friday’s webinar will provide an update on the Arecibo Observatory, which still has other scientific and education facilities, and review the overall goals of the workshop.  NASA used Arecibo as part of its planetary defense efforts to characterize asteroids once their orbits were well known.  It is now using a planetary radar at Goldstone that was recently restored to full operation, so it is not clear what role if any NASA will have in rebuilding and/or using whatever replaces Arecibo’s 305-meter dish, but the future of Arecibo may be of interest to readers of this website in any case.

We will also mention that Sierra Nevada Corporation is holding a virtual press conference on Wednesday, but it is not clear if the public will be able to watch. The media invitation does not include a link, but does invite questions via social media. We’re listing it and will add any more information we get to that calendar entry.  Company officials including Janet Kavandi and Steve Lindsay will talk about the company’s plans for LEO commercialization. It is building an inflatable (oops–make that expandable) space station, the LIFE Habitat, as well as the Dream Chaser spaceplane and a cargo transport vehicle called Shooting Star.

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.

Monday, March 29

Tuesday, March 30

Wednesday, March 31

Friday, April 2