International Affairs

Biweekly Washington D.C. Updates for the Week Ending on November 17, 2023

Written by: Amanda Nguyen

This Week in Washington

  • Bulgaria joined the Artemis Accords as the 32nd signatory.
  • The National Space Council released a legislative proposal to regulate novel commercial space activities.
  • SpaceX postponed the second launch attempt of the Starship rocket to tomorrow.

United States Space Policy Updates

  • John Plumb, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, participated in an official visit to Japan last week to deepen U.S.-Japan Alliance cooperation on space, extended deterrence, and missile defense. (DoD, November 6)
  • Bulgaria has joined the Artemis Accords, becoming the 32nd signatory. (NASA, November 7)
  • The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Space Bureau issued a letter to SpaceX requesting additional information on satellite and ground-based interference as part of the company’s application to operate the Starlink cellular service over the 1910 to 1995MHz bands. The letter requested a response by November 17, 2023. (FCC, November 7)
  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson confirmed that the Administration’s emergency domestic supplemental appropriation request to Congress includes initial funding for the ISS deorbit vehicle and funding for repairing NASA facilities in Guam and at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in California. (SpacePolicyOnline, November 9)
  • The Office of Space Commerce (OSC) hired Janice Starzyk as Deputy Director and Gabriel Swiney as the Director of the Space Advocacy Division. Additionally, OSC is in the process of onboarding 20 new full-time employees, as approved in the FY 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Act. (NOAA, November 9)
  • The Administration has issued a National Spectrum Strategy and a corresponding Presidential Memorandum aimed at modernizing U.S. spectrum management and access. (The White House, November 13)
  • Robert Cabana, NASA Associate Administrator, announced his retirement from the agency at the end of 2023, following more than 38 years of service. NASA has announced that Jim Free will assume the position of Associate Administrator, succeeding Cabana upon his retirement. Catherine Koerner, Deputy Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD), is set to succeed Free as the next head of the mission directorate. (NASA 1, November 13 and NASA 2, November 15)
  • The House Rules Committee (HRC) advanced H.R. 5893, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act for FY 2024. According to the accompanying report, the Act fully allocates $949.3 million for the Mars Sample Return (MSR) program and $180 million for the International Space Station (ISS) deorbit vehicle, among other items. However, the House voted to oppose the rule in a 225-198 vote on Wednesday, preventing the chamber from considering the measure. (H.R. 5893, November 14)
  • The National Space Council (NSpC) has unveiled the “Authorization and Supervision of Novel Private Sector Space Activities Act,” a legislative proposal directing the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Commerce (DOC) to regulate a range of novel commercial space activities, including human spaceflight, in-space transportation, and debris removal. (The White House, November 15)
  • The House Science, Space and Technology (HSST) Committee conducted a markup of H.R. 6131, Commercial Space Act of 2023. The Committee members adopted six amendments by voice vote, including provisions that direct the DOC in collaboration with NASA to issue a study on space situation awareness and commercial space-based solar power. (HSST, November 15)
  • The Office of the Texas Governor is accepting applications for the position of Executive Director of the newly established Texas Space Commission. (Office of the Texas Governor)

International Space Policy Updates

  • Following the adoption of the Slovenian Space Strategy, Slovenia has submitted a formal application for full membership in the European Space Agency (ESA). The final decision on membership will be made by the ESA Council in 2024. (Republic of Slovenia, November 6)
  • Officials from the U.S. and South Korea participated in the ROK-U.S. Space Forum in Seoul, South Korea last week. The forum featured panel discussions on various space-related topics such as space sustainability, space security, space exploration, and earth observation, as well as special sessions on the role of women in space and investment in space startups. (DOS, November 7)
  • ESA finalized its Zero Debris Charter which aims to reduce orbital debris production by 2030 across all agency missions, programs, and activities. ESA is actively encouraging other space companies and organizations to join the charter. (ESA, November 8)
  • The United Nations (UN) First Committee has approved the establishment of two Open-ended Working Groups (OEWG) on space security. One OEWG, sponsored by the United Kingdom (UK), will focus on ‘Reducing space threats through norms, rules, and principles of responsible behaviors,’ while the other, tabled by Russia, will be dedicated to examining ‘practical measures for the prevention of an arms race in outer space.’ (Breaking Defense, November 8)
  • ESA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Airbus and Voyager Space that outlines cooperation and access to the Starlab Space Station. (ESA, November 9)
  • Ireland is poised to launch its inaugural satellite, the Educational Irish Research Satellite 1 (EIRSAT-1), a 2U CubeSat developed by students from University College Dublin through the ESA Academy’s Fly Your Satellite! program. (EIRSAT-1, November 9)
  • Japan has announced plans to establish a ¥1 trillion fund dedicated to supporting the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and advancing the nation’s space industry. The funds will be allocated to companies, universities, and other entities to promote the development of space technology over a 10-year period. (NHK World Times, November 11)
  • The Republic of Djibouti successfully launched its first satellite, Djibouti 1A, aboard a SpaceX Transporter-9 rideshare. (Space in Africa, November 11)
  • Roscosmos CEO Yury Borisov has stated the agency intends to ‘prolong its operation [of the ISS] as much as possible.’ Russia has committed to extending its operations on the ISS until 2028 (TASS, November 15).

Space Industry Updates

  • Kall Morris (KMI) has secured $5 million in contracts from the Department of Defense (DoD) and private investment to advance its active debris removal (ADR) technology development and commercialization initiatives. (Payload, November 6)
  • Virgin Galactic announced that the company will undergo a strategic realignment and a related workforce reduction to support the production of its Delta Class spaceships. (Virgin Galactic, November 7)
  • Lockheed Martin was awarded $33.7 million from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the Joint Emergent Technology Supplying On-Orbit Nuclear (JETSON) High Power program to develop high-power nuclear electric power and spacecraft design. (Lockheed Martin, November 8) 
  • Chris Kemp, Chairman and CEO, and Adam London, Chief Technology Officer, of Astra have proposed to take the company private at a valuation of $30 million, offering to acquire all outstanding stock at $1.50 per share. (Astra, November 9)
  • Starfish Space has suspended efforts for the Otter Pup satellite to conduct an on-orbit rendezvous demonstration after encountering an anomaly with the electric propulsion thruster, resulting in loss of function. Starfish, in collaboration with Exotrail, is investigating the cause of the anomaly. (Geekwire, November 10)
  • Lockheed Martin and Boeing are reportedly in the final stages of selecting a buyer for United Launch Alliance (ULA). Potential buyers include a private equity fund, Blue Origin, and a well-capitalized aerospace firm looking to expand its space portfolio. (Ars Technica, November 14)
  • A coalition of 26 members of the space industry comprising of operators, providers, and users of space-based services, have expressed their support for international commitments to not conduct direct-ascent antisatellite (ASAT) tests. (Secure World Foundation, November 15)
  • ispace has unveiled the final design of its micro rover scheduled to launch to the Moon in Winter 2024, as part of exploration activities during Mission 2. (ispace, November 16)
  • SpaceX has postponed the second launch attempt of the Starship rocket until Saturday, November 18, citing the need to replace a flight control component. (CBC, November 16)
  • Sierra Space has confirmed a company-wide realignment, which involves a workforce reduction of approximately 165 full-time employees. Concurrently, the company is in the process of integrating around 150 employees with security clearances from Sierra Nevada Corporation to contribute to classified contracts. (CNBC, November 16)

Space Leader Spotlight

Robert D. Cabana

This week’s space leader is Robert D. Cabana, NASA Associate Administrator and former Shuttle astronaut. As the agency’s highest-ranking civil servant and chief operating officer, Mr. Cabana oversees more than 18,000 employees, leading 10 center directors and mission directorate associate administrators at NASA Headquarters. After over 38 years of dedicated service, NASA recently announced his retirement from the agency on December 31, 2023.

Mr. Cabana has had numerous stunning achievements during his career. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1971, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1975, Mr. Cabana began pilot training and was designated as a naval aviator in 1976. Graduating with distinction from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1981, he logged over 7,000 hours in more than 50 different kinds of aircraft over his career. In 1985, Mr. Cabana was selected as an astronaut candidate and completed training in 1986, flying in space on four shuttle missions, twice as a commander.

In 2007, Mr. Cabana was appointed as the director of the Stennis Space Center, and a year later, he assumed the role of director of the Kennedy Space Center. He served as director for over a decade before he transitioned to his current position as Associate Administrator. Throughout his remarkable career, Mr. Cabana has received numerous awards, including induction into the Astronaut Hall of Fame, being named an Associate Fellow at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and recognition as a fellow at the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

We extend our congratulations to Mr. Cabana for his distinguished career and express our gratitude for his dedicated service to the nation and the space community.

Reading Corner |  NASA and Japan to Launch World’s First Wooden Satellite

NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are planning for the historic launch of the world’s first wooden satellite, LignoSat, scheduled for Summer 2024. Constructed from magnolia wood, the compact, mug-sized satellite is hoped to be a stride towards sustainable spaceflight practices, with the added potential of reducing costs associated with satellite construction and addressing concerns regarding satellite brightness.