International Affairs

Biweekly Washington D.C. Updates for the Week Ending on December 1, 2023

Written by: Amanda Nguyen

This Week in Washington

  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is on an official visit to India and the United Arab Emirates.
  • The House Science Committee voted to advance the Commercial Space Act.
  • The Government Accountability Office found that the Artemis III mission is unlikely to occur in 2025.
  • The National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group convened its second public meeting.

United States Space Policy Updates

  • Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced S. 3331, the Alleviating Spaceport Traffic by Rewarding Operators (ASTRO) Act, that would establish a grant program for non-federal spaceports to support infrastructure development and launch services. (S.3331, November 16)
  • In a letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from California has urged the agency to rescind its funding directive that reduced the allocated budget for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in executing the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. (U.S. Congress, November 21)
  • In a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) outlined his priorities for the upcoming work period, highlighting his intention to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the end of the year. (Senate Democrats, November 26)
  • The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) expressed opposition to the National Space Council’s (NSpC) proposed mission authorization legislation in a letter to leaders of the House Science (HSST) and Senate Commerce (SCOM) Committees, citing concerns, including the possibility of “duplicative and conflicting” requirements between the Departments of Commerce (DOC) and Transportation (DOT). (SpaceNews, November 27)
  • NASA has postponed the formal confirmation of its Dragonfly mission to explore Saturn’s moon Titan until mid-2024 due to uncertainties regarding budgets for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. (NASA, November 28)
  • The HSST voted 21-17 to favorably report H.R. 6131, Commercial Space Act, to the House during a full Committee markup. (HSST, November 29)
  • NASA has selected Joseph Westlake to serve as Heliophysics Division Director within the Science Mission Directorate (SMD). He is set to assume his new role on January 16, 2024. (NASA, November 29)
  • The White House has unveiled a National Strategy to enhance U.S. capabilities in measuring and monitoring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Specifically, the strategy directs key federal agencies, including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to spearhead the establishment of a U.S. Greenhouse Gas Center. (The White House, November 29)
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a follow-up report to its September 2022 assessment of the Artemis III mission, noting that although NASA and its contractors have made progress since the previous report, the “Artemis III crewed lunar landing is unlikely to occur in 2025.” (GAO, November 30)
  • The NSpC’s Users Advisory Group (UAG) convened its second public meeting on December 1. The agenda included a discussion on international engagement and partnerships in space, in addition to updates from the six UAG subcommittees. (NASA, December 1)

International Space Policy Updates

  • The Emirati University of Sharjah has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China’s Deep Space Exploration Laboratory to cooperate with the China-led International Lunar Research Station (ILRS). (SpaceNews, November 20)
  • The United Kingdom (UK) is poised to join the Atlantic Constellation, alongside Portugal and Spain, to support the development of a constellation of small satellites for ocean, earth, and climate monitoring. The UK intends to invest £3 million in a new Pathfinder satellite for the constellation. (UKSA, November 21)
  • The Canadian Government has announced that Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Joshua Kutryk has been selected as a mission specialist for NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 Mission to the ISS, the first mission by a CSA astronaut under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Additionally, CSA astronaut Jenni Gibbons has been named as the backup for CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen on NASA’s Artemis II mission. (Government of Canada 1, Government of Canada 2, November 22)
  • Azercosmos and the Brazilian Space Agency have signed a MoU to establish a framework for future collaboration on satellite data applications and academic opportunities for students in space programs in both countries. (Azercosmos, November 22)
  • The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has announced that it has invested $59 million in 12 space-related projects through the Space Clusters Infrastructure Fund (SCIF). This funding will be matched by an equal investment from the private sector, resulting in over $122 million of new public and private investment for the UK space sector. (UKSA, November 22)
  • The European Parliament has called on the European Union (EU) to reinforce its space-based defense capabilities in response to growing threats to the EU’s civilian and military capabilities. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have outlined priority areas for future EU investment, including protection and resilience of systems, response to threats, competitiveness and investment, governance, and cooperation. (European Parliament, November 23)
  • NASA Administrator Bill Nelson will visit India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a series of meetings with key officials to deepen ‘bilateral cooperation across innovation and research-related areas, especially in human exploration and Earth science.’ While in the UAE, Nelson will also take part in the 2023 United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP28). (NASA, November 24)
  • Professor Hadi Goudarzi, the counselor for science and education at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, has announced Iran’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with Russia in space, science, and technology. (Tass, November 28)
  • The United States and Saudi Arabia have announced the commencement of negotiations on a ‘Framework Agreement for Cooperation in Aeronautics and the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.’ (DOS, November 28)
  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced that its central server experienced a cyberattack this summer. A full investigation into the incident has been launched. (The Japan News, November 29)
  • In a ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to Congress, NASA has certified its intent to allow NASA-funded researchers to apply for access to lunar samples collected during the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) Chang’e-5 mission. (Leonard David, November 29)
  • The European Space Agency (ESA), the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and ArianeGroup are targeting the inaugural flight of Ariane 6 between June 15 and July 31, 2024, following the successful combined hot-fire test. (ESA, November 30)

Space Industry Updates

  • SpaceX’s Starship rocket conducted its second test flight, successfully demonstrating a test of the “hot staging” technique. The flight test concluded when telemetry was lost near the end of the second stage burn, resulting in a ‘loss of the vehicle.’ (SpaceX, November 19)
  • The inaugural crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner vehicle is on schedule to launch in mid-April, marking the first instance of a crewed U.S. capsule making a land landing instead of a traditional ocean splashdown. (SpaceNews, November 21)
  • Astrolab has reached a $160 million agreement with eight customers to use its Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) rover to deploy the customers’ payloads on Astrolab’s upcoming lunar mission, Mission 1. (Astrolab, November 21)
  • Kratos Defense & Security Solutions has secured an eight-year extension, valued at $579 million, to its indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to provide technical services for satellite ground systems for the U.S. Space Force (USSF) and U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM). The contract extension is effective through November 2031. (SpaceNews, November 25)
  • Millennium Space Systems has received approval from Space Systems Command (SSC) to begin production of six EPOCH 1 space vehicles (SVs) for the first medium Earth orbit (MEO) warning and tracking program for ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The SVs are scheduled for launch in late 2026. (Millennium Space Systems, November 27)
  • Following a four-day loan extension, Astra has successfully obtained an additional $2.7 million from investors to extend the company’s short-term financing. (Payload, November 28)
  • SpaceX has announced plans to overhaul Starship, designating the updated version as Starship V2. The company plans to launch four or five additional Starship V1 prototypes before transitioning to the proposed V2 prototype. (Payload, November 28)
  • HEO, an Australian non-Earth imaging and analytics provider, has announced the establishment of HEO USA, a dedicated office in Washington, D.C., focusing on U.S. operations. The office will be led by Nate Notargiacomo, former Vice President of Strategy and Government Relations at Velos. (HEO, December 1)

Space Leader Spotlight

Dr. Vera Rubin

This week’s space leader is Dr. Vera Rubin (1928-2016), a trailblazing American astronomer and devoted champion of women in science. In honor of her significant contributions to the field of astronomy and her steadfast advocacy, the United States Mint has announced Dr. Rubin will be commemorated on the quarter alongside four other women as part of the 2025 American Women Quarter Program.

Dr. Vera Rubin graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree in astronomy from Vassar College in 1948, where she was the sole astronomy graduate at the then all-women institution. Faced with gender-based restrictions, she was denied entry into a graduate astronomy program at Princeton. Undeterred, she enrolled in Cornell University, successfully completing her master’s degree in 1951. Dr. Vera Rubin subsequently pursued and earned her Ph.D. at Georgetown University, and upon completion of her doctorate, she dedicated several years to teaching at Georgetown before securing a research position at the Carnegie Institution.

In the 1970s, Dr. Vera Rubin conducted groundbreaking research on galaxy rotations, providing the first clear observational evidence of dark matter. A discovery that revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. Her significant achievements led to her induction into the National Academy of Sciences and the receipt of the National Medal of Science in 1993. In 1996, she became the second woman in history to be honored with the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society. Recognizing her profound impact, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope was renamed the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in 2019.

In addition to her scientific contributions, Dr. Rubin was a staunch advocate for gender equality in science and dedicated herself to mentoring aspiring women astronomers and championing increased representation of women in scientific committees, conferences, and academic positions. The United States Mint’s choice to honor her as part of the 2025 American Women Quarters Program acknowledges her profound impact on both the field of astronomy and our understanding of the universe.

Reading Corner

The Mitchell Institute | Winds of Change: Environmental Monitoring for an Era of Peer Competition

In its most recent policy paper, the Mitchell Institute underscores the imperative for the Department of Defense to rapidly modernize its aging space-based environmental monitoring architecture, highlighting the 60-year-old Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) as it nears the end of its operational lifespan. The paper, titled “Winds of Change: Environmental Monitoring for an Era of Peer Competition,” advocates for swift action in the recapitalization of the Pentagon’s environmental monitoring satellites to address capability gaps.