International Affairs

Biweekly Washington D.C. Updates for the Week Ending on October 6, 2023

Written by: Amanda Nguyen

This Week in Washington

This Week in Washington, Congress approved a three-month FAA extension, the FCC issued its first space debris enforcement action, and the 74th International Aeronautic Congress took place in Baku, Azerbaijan.

United States Space Policy Updates

  • NASA published the second Independent Review Board report for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. While emphasizing the mission’s scientific significance, the report raised concerns about budget issues, identifying 59 recommendations for action. (NASA, September 21)
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously adopted two new rules to streamline the satellite and earth station application process and establish a spectrum licensing framework for commercial space launches. (FCC, September 21)
  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced legislation to extend the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) moratorium on regulating commercial human spaceflight for an additional eight years. (H.R.5617, September 21)
  • NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully completed its 7-year mission, making history by delivering the first-ever sample of surface material from the asteroid Bennu. (NASA, September 24)
  • Charity Weeden was named the new Associate Administrator for NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS). (NASA, September 25)
  • Rep. Eric Sorensen (D-IL), Ranking Member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, highlighted the complexity of regulating human spaceflight within multiple agencies and expressed intentions to address this issue in the NASA reauthorization bill under consideration. (Payload, September 26)
  • The FAA has closed its investigation into the Blue Origin New Shepard 23 mishap and has specified 21 corrective actions that must be addressed before resuming launches. (FAA, September 27)
  • Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-OH) launched the Girls in S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) initiative, which aims to inspire and encourage girls and young women Ohio’s 13th Congressional District to explore and pursue careers in space exploration. (Rep. Sykes, September 27)
  • Leadership from the U.S. Air Force (USAF), U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), and U.S. Space Force (USSF) appeared before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) to discuss the basing process for USSPACECOM headquarters. During the hearing, HASC Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) requested the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General issue a report on the decision-making process and expressed his intention to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that prohibits the expenditure of any funds for the construction of a permanent headquarters in Colorado. (HASC, September 28)
  • The DOD has concluded a study examining the possibility of spectrum sharing with commercial telecommunications companies to support 5G technology. (DOD, September 28)
  • NASA approved a plan to extend the New Horizons mission, currently approved for operations until the end of fiscal year 2024, until the spacecraft exits the Kuiper Belt to allow for the collection of heliophysics data. (NASA, September 29)
  • The Senate unanimously voted to confirm Geoffrey Starks (D) and Brendan Carr (R) to serve as Commissioners at the FCC for another five-year term. (FCC, September 30)
  • Congress approved extending the authorities of the FAA through December 31, as part of the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government for 45 days. (H.R. 5860, September 30)
  • The FCC reached a $150,000 penalty settlement related to space debris with Dish Network, which admitted liability for improper disposal of the EchoStar-7 satellite, marking the Commission’s first space debris enforcement action. (FCC, October 2)
  • The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (SCC) held a confirmation hearing for Michael Whitaker, the nominee for FAA Administrator. (SCC, October 4)

International Space Policy Updates

  • Türkiye announced plans to launch Türksat 6A, the country’s first domestic communication satellite, in June 2024. (TS2, September 22)
  • India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the U.S. (I2U2) have announced a joint venture to develop a space-based tool for policymakers, institutions, and entrepreneurs that will support their work on environmental and climate change challenges. (Department of State, September 22)
  • SpaceX submitted an application to the Turkish Telecommunications Authority (BTK) for a Global Mobile Personal Communication by Satellite (GMPCS) license, seeking permission to provide Starlink internet services. (Turkish Minute, September 25)
  • The Beijing Municipal Government released an implementation plan to foster innovation in multiple sectors, including space, with a particular focus on accelerating the development of (1) medium and large commercial rockets, (2) 3D printed rockets, (3) high-thrust reusable rocket engines, and (4) recoverable commercial payload spacecraft. (SpaceNews, September 25)
  • The USSF has held internal discussions on establishing a direct line of communication with its Chinese counterpart for potential crisis situations but has not initiated formal discussions with China on the matter. (Reuters, September 25)
  • The UAE and the Kingdom of the Netherlands have reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing collaboration in future industries, emphasizing joint investments and ventures in the space industry. (WAM, September 26)
  • The UAE held bilateral discussions with French officials and private sector representatives to strengthen economic relations and explore investment opportunities in the space and aviation sectors. (Zawya, September 26)
  • The China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced plans to launch its Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission next year to collect surface material from the far side of the moon. (SpaceNews, September 29)
  • The 74th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) commenced in Baku, Azerbaijan on October 2 and will conclude on October 6. (IAC, October 2)
  • A working group of Artemis Accords signatories convened on the sideline of IAC to discuss the importance of transparency and international coordination in civil space activities. They reiterated the need to disclose mission details, including launch and landing dates, mission duration, and scientific activities, to avoid interference and ensure mission safety. (SpaceNews, October 3)
  • Russia has identified a malfunction in the onboard control unit as the cause of the Luna-25 failure. Roscosmos plans to expedite the timeline for two follow-on missions – Luna-26 and Luna-27 – in response to the incident. (Reuters, October 3)
  • The UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have signed a cooperation agreement. Specific details of the collaboration have not been disclosed. (Trend, October 4)
  • The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) shared plans to expand the Tiangong Space Station, increasing its modules from three to six in the coming years. (SpaceNews, October 4)
  • JAXA announced that the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) spacecraft will attempt a lunar landing in January. (SpaceNews, October 5)

Space Industry Updates

  • Dave Limp, the lead for Amazon’s Project Kuiper, is set to become the CEO of Blue Origin, succeeding current CEO Bob Smith, who is set to step down at the end of the year. (Via Satellite, September 26)
  • BlueHalo conducted a successful demonstration of its BADGER system, a multi-band, deployable ground terminal enabling resilient satellite communication, as part of the $1.4 billion USSF Satellite Communication Augmentation Resource (SCAR) program. (BlueHalo, September 26)
  • Sidus Space has named Leonardo Riera, former Director, as the Chair of the Board, and Jared Novick, former Senior Vice President of strategy and Special Projects, as the Chief Operating Officer (COO). (Sidus Space, September 27)
  • Astroscale was awarded a $25.5 million contract by Space Systems Command’s Assured Access to Space (AATS) Directorate to develop a servicing vehicle prototype that can provide in-space satellite refueling. (USSF September 27)
  • Eutelsat completed its all-share merger with OneWeb to form the Eutelsat Group, the world’s first GEO-LEO operator.  (Eutelsat, September 28)
  • ispace Technologies U.S. announced its new U.S. headquarters in Denver, Colorado, where it will design, manufacture, and operate the APEX 1.0 lunar lander to be launched from U.S. soil. (ispace, September 28)
  • SpaceX secured a one-year, $70 million contract from the USSF for its Starshield services, a secured satellite network leveraging Starlink technology to support national security initiatives. (The Verge, September 28)
  • NASA issued a final Request for Proposal (RFP) to procure safe, reliable, and cost-effective deorbit services for the International Space Station (ISS) and held a pre-proposal conference on October 3. (NASA, October 2)
  • NASA has selected seven companies – Airbus DS Geo, Capella Space, GHGSat, Maxar, PlanetiQ, Spire Global, and Umbra – to compete for contracts under the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition Program to support the agency’s Earth science research. (NASA, October 2)
  • Axiom Space announced a partnership with Italian luxury fashion house Prada to develop NASA’s Artemis III spacesuits. (Axiom Space, October 4)
  • Northrop Grumman has pivoted from plans to develop its own commercial space station to partner with Voyager Space on fully autonomous rendezvous and docking technology for Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, as well as providing cargo resupply services for the Starlab space station. (Voyager Space, October 4)
  • The USSF awarded Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) a 7-year, $630 million contract to support systems engineering and integration of missile warning, environmental monitoring, and surveillance satellites. (BAH October 4)
  • SRI International has selected Leidos and Scout Space Inc. as subcontractors to support its contract with the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the advanced R&D arm under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), for the Space Debris Identification and Tracking (SINTRA) Project. (SRI, October 4)
  • Virgin Galactic is set to launch the ‘Galactic 04’ spaceflight on October 6, the company’s fifth spaceflight in five months. (Virgin Galactic, October 6)

Space Leader Spotlight

Charity Weeden

This week’s space leader is Charity Weeden, the recently appointed Associate Administrator for NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS). In her new role, Weeden will lead OTPS in the development of high-quality, evidence-driven guidance on policy issues, strategic planning, and technology investments for NASA leadership.

With over three decades of experience in aerospace operations, advocacy, and diplomacy, Weeden has established herself as a prominent figure in the aerospace community. Before her appointment, she served as the Vice President for Global Space Policy and Government Relations at Astroscale U.S., where she coordinated the company’s global policy efforts on spaceflight safety and space sustainability. She also held the position of Senior Director of Policy at the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) and chaired the Department of Transportation’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) from 2020-2022. In addition, as a 23-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Weeden undertook various assignments that facilitated RCAF space engagements with the U.S. government, industry, and the international community, including a role as a policy officer at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

Weeden holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada and a master’s degree in Space Science from the University of North Dakota. She is also an alumna of the International Space University Summer Session Program. Weeden’s wealth of experience and leadership will undoubtedly ensure her success in this new role and will be instrumental in the ongoing progress and contributions of OTPS.

Reading Corner

NASA OTPS | Artemis, Ethics and Society: Synthesis from a Workshop

NASA’s Office of Technology, Policy, and Strategy (OTPS) released a report that synthesizes and presents discussions and key observations from the Artemis and Ethics Workshop convened in April 2023. The workshop was an initial foray into the ethical, legal, and societal implications of space activities tied to Artemis and the Moon and Mars efforts and possible options for addressing them.