International Affairs

Biweekly Washington D.C. Updates for the Week Ending on September 8, 2023

Written by: Amanda Nguyen

This Week in Washington

This Week in Washington, the Senate confirmed Anna Gomez as the fifth FCC commissioner, President Biden nominated Michael G. Whitaker to serve as FAA Administrator, and the FAA closed its investigation of the SpaceX Starship Heavy launch incident.

United States Space Policy Updates

  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to the request from House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) to investigate the decision to locate U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) headquarters in Colorado. (Washington Examiner, August 28)
  • The NASA Advisory Council (NAC) Science Committee raised concerns regarding the strain on NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) due to increasing mission demands. The Committee considered escalating the issue to the National Space Council, but formal recommendations cannot be made to NASA until they are approved by the full NAC. (NASA, August 29)
  • NASA is preparing for the arrival of the OSIRIS-REx capsule, the agency’s first asteroid return mission, on September 24. (NASA, August 30)
  • NASA awarded four contracts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Sounder for Microwave-Based Applications (SMBA) Study to provide critical data on atmospheric properties that enable weather forecasts. (NASA, August 30)
  • The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and USSPACECOM released an executive summary outlining a new framework to protect commercial remote sensing space assets. (NRO, August 31)
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asks for bipartisan cooperation on several critical issues in the remaining months of this year, including the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in a “Dear Colleague” letter. (U.S. Senate, September 1)
  • President Biden announced that Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator, will lead the Presidential Delegation at the Opening Ceremony of the Invictus Games in Düsseldorf, Germany. (The White House, September 6)
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that examined NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) program, recommending that the agency improve transparency on the long-term costs and affordability of the program. (GAO, September 6)
  • The Senate confirmed Anna Gomez (D) as the fifth commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a 55-43 vote, securing a Democratic majority at the Commission. (U.S. Senate, September 7)
  • The G-7 countries have agreed to establish an international code of conduct for artificial intelligence (AI) with plans to present the nonbinding, international rulebook to G-7 leaders in November. (Politico, September 7)
  • President Biden intends to nominate Michael G. Whitaker to serve as Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). (The White House, September 8)
  • The FAA closed its investigation of the SpaceX Starship Heavy launch on April 20, requiring SpaceX to take 63 corrective actions before it can resume launches from Boca Chica, Texas. The FAA stressed that the action “does not signal an immediate resumption of Starship launches.” (Reuters, September 8)

International Space Policy Updates

  • Russia is considering another attempt to land at the lunar south pole in 2025-2026, following the Luna-25 crash last month.  (Interfax, August 25)
  • Space in Africa published its Annual Report on the African Space Industry for 2023. (Space in Africa, August 28)
  • Chinese researchers have raised concerns about the close approaches of U.S. Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Programme (GSSAP) satellites to Chinese spacecraft in the geostationary belt, labeling these encounters as threats. (Space News, August 31)
  • Russia intends to undock and sink its segment of the International Space Station (ISS) when once it withdraws in 2028. (Interfax, September 1)
  • India successfully launched the Aditya-L1 spacecraft, its first space mission, to study the outer atmosphere of the sun. (Washington Post, September 1)
  • China unveiled artists’ renderings of their next-generation spacecraft and lunar lander, featuring a reentry capsule and service section for the spacecraft and a landing and propulsion section for the lunar lander, reaffirming their intention to send crewed missions to the lunar surface before 2030. (China Daily, September 1)
  • The Japanese government intends to allocate around ¥10 billion (approximately $68 million) to subsidize the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) support for space development activities by companies and universities. (Japan News, September 5)
  • South Africa has formally signed on to the China-led International Lunar Research Station Cooperation (ILRS) project to establish a permanent moon base in the 2030s. (Space News, September 7)
  • The European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) reached an agreement to permit the UK’s participation in the Copernicus Earth Observation and Horizon Europe research funding programs. (European Commission, September 7)
  • Japan successfully launched and released its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a lunar exploration spacecraft set to attempt a lunar landing in early 2024. (Reuters, September 7)
  • The European Space Agency (ESA) and ArianeGroup confirmed the successful completion of a hot-fire test for the core stage of the Ariane 6 rocket, marking the first of two crucial tests required before ESA can finalize a launch date for the rocket’s maiden voyage. (Space News, September 8)

Space Industry Updates

  • Viasat confirmed that the Inmarsat-6 F2 satellite faces potential total loss due to a power subsystem anomaly during orbit raising. Viasat and Airbus are currently investigating the cause and assessing mission viability. (Viasat, August 24)
  • Spinlaunch is conducting a feasibility study to assess the suitability of potential launch sites for its orbital accelerator, including two on the south coast of Western Australia. (ABC News, August 25)
  • Space Florida has selected Space Force Colonel Robert A. Long to succeed the retiring Frank DiBello as the next president and CEO. (Florida Today, August 28)
  • TransAstra was awarded an $850,000 NASA contract to manufacture and test an inflatable capture bag to capture orbital debris under the Phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research contract. (Space News, August 29)
  • Starfish Space successfully halted the spin of its Otter Pup satellite docking system, the first orbital mission, and is progressing with preparations for a future satellite rendezvous. (TechCrunch, August 29)
  • Firefly Aerospace signed a multi-launch agreement with L3Harris Technologies to provide three dedicated launches on Firefly’s Alpha vehicle in 2026. (Firefly Aerospace, September 5)
  • Relativity Space is expanding its presence at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, signing an enhanced use lease agreement (EULA) on the vertical test stand at the A-2 complex to support the development of its Terran R rocket. (Relativity Space, September 7)
  • Redwire successfully 3D-printed human tissue in microgravity, producing the first human knee meniscus using its upgraded 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) on the International Space Station (ISS). (Redwire, September 7)

Space Leader Spotlight

Shri S. Somanath

This week’s space leader is Shri S. Somanath, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). He was selected to chair ISRO in 2022, succeeding Dr. K Sivan. Under his Chairmanship, India made history by successfully executing the soft landing of Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander, making India the fourth country in the world to achieve a lunar surface touchdown.

Mr. Somanath is an expert in the area of system engineering of launch vehicles. Before becoming ISRO Chief, he served as a Director at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), the lead Centre responsible for launch vehicle technology development. Prior to that, he served as the Director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC).

He holds a B. Tech degree in mechanical engineering from TKM College of Engineering, Kollam, and a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, where he specialized in Structures, Dynamics, and Control.

Mr. Somanath’s presence and expertise have been integral to the advancement of India’s space ambitions and technical prowess. His leadership and contributions have left an indelible mark on India’s space program and will continue to steer it to new heights.

Reading Corner

The RAND CorporationLeveraging Commercial Space Services

The RAND Corporation published a research paper that examined the commercial positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) market and satellite communications (SATCOM) market, to help the Department of the Air Force (DAF) enhance its procurement process of commercial space services. Their findings and recommendations offer valuable insights into refining the DAF’s existing procurement practices to harness the full potential of commercial innovation.