International Affairs

Biweekly Washington D.C. Updates for the Week Ending on March 8, 2024

Written by: Amanda Nguyen

This Week in Washington

  • The Senate Armed Service Committee held a hearing with the U.S. Strategic Command and the U.S. Space Command. Read Space Foundation’s summary of the hearing here.
  • Congress has passed a six-bill appropriations package, allocating $24.875 billion to NASA for FY2024.
  • Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Don Bacon (R-NE) announced the relaunch of the bipartisan Planetary Science Caucus.
  • The Office of Space Commerce released a request for information (RFI) on private remote-sensing satellite disposal and debris mitigation.

United States Space Policy Updates

  • NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit of the Mars Sample Return (MSR) program, emphasizing the need for a stable design and reliable cost and schedule estimates to enable NASA to evaluate MSR and determine a realistic path forward for the program. (NASA OIG, February 28)
  • A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Secure U.S. Leadership in Space Act of 2024 in both the House and Senate. The bill would amend the tax code to grant spaceports the same eligibility for tax-exempt municipal revenue bonds as airports and seaports. (H.R. 7470 / S. 3823, February 28)
  • General Stephen Whiting, Commander of U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Read Space Foundation’s summary of the hearing here. (SASC, February 29)
  • NASA has decided to discontinue the On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing 1 (OSAM-1) project due to continued technical, cost, and schedule challenges, as well as a broader shift away from refueling unprepared spacecraft, resulting in a lack of a committed partner. (NASA, March 1)
  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Space and Science, announced she will not seek re-election in 2024. (Sen. Sinema, March 5)
  • Congress approved H.R. 4366, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which allocates $24.875 billion to NASA for FY2024, a 2% decrease from FY2023 funding levels and an 8.5% reduction from the agency’s budget request. (House Appropriations Committee, March 6)
  • Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and Don Bacon (R-NE) announced the relaunch of the bipartisan Planetary Science Caucus to support space science, research, and exploration amidst anticipated budget cuts in FY2024 and FY2025. (Rep. Chu, March 6)
  • Reps. Robert Garcia (D-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) have issued a letter to Gwynne Shotwell, President of SpaceX, inquiring whether the company has implemented adequate safeguards to prevent Russia from utilizing its Starlink satellite internet service in the war against Ukraine. The lawmakers have requested responses to several questions and a staff briefing on this matter by March 20, 2024. (House Oversight Committee, March 7)
  • Congress has approved the H.R. 7454, Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2024, ensuring continued authorization for the FAA for an additional two months. The bill extends the “learning period” that prohibits the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) from issuing new regulations for commercial human spaceflight until May 11. (H.R. 7454, March 7)
  • The Office of Space Commerce’s (OSC) Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) division released a request for information (RFI) on private remote sensing satellite disposal and debris mitigation. (Federal Register, March 8)

International Space Policy Updates

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during a visit to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, announced space projects worth about $217 million, reviewed the Gaganyaan mission, and honored four astronaut-designates. (Press Information Bureau, February 27)
  • The Department of Defense (DOD) has confirmed that NASA’s Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics Mission (TIMED) spacecraft and the Russian Cosmos 2221 satellite passed each other safely in orbit after monitoring indicated that the two non-maneuverable satellites were expected to make their closest pass. (NASA, February 28)
  • Poland announced plans to launch a series of military observation satellites and to develop a space force alongside other units in 2025. (Reuters, February 29)
  • The UK Space Agency (UKSA) has granted contracts to twelve applicants for feasibility studies as part of the Unlocking Space for Business project, an 18-month initiative aimed at combining satellite data and services with other data sources and technology to drive business benefits for those outside the space industry. (UKSA, February 29)
  • Gilmour Space’s Bowen Orbital Spaceport in Australia has been granted the country’s first orbital launch facility license by the Federal Minister for Industry and Science under the Space (Launches & Returns) Act 2018. (Gilmour Space, March 4)
  • The Indian Government has approved amendments to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Policy for the space sector to attract foreign participation and private companies. The amendments introduce three categories of space activities, including launch vehicles and spaceport creation, satellite manufacturing and operation, and manufacturing of satellite components and systems, with varying foreign investment limits. (Press Information Bureau, March 5)
  • Roscosmos is “seriously considering” plans to install a nuclear reactor on the moon in collaboration with Chinese partners, targeting completion between 2033 and 2035 to supply power for future lunar settlements. (Forbes, March 5)
  • China has submitted a document to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) affirming that it views space resource utilization as permissible, provided it adheres to the principles outlined in the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967. (Space News, March 6)
  • Abdullah Al-Swaha, the Saudi Minister of Communications and Information Technology, announced that Saudi Arabia is working to release a national space strategy. (Arab News, March 6)
  • The UK SaxaVord Spaceport will receive £10 million in direct funding from the UK government. (SaxaVord Spaceport, March 6)

Space Industry Updates

  • Tony Frazier, previously Executive Vice President at Maxar Technologies, has been named as the new CEO of LeoLabs. (LeoLabs, February 26)
  • Redwire has announced the opening of a new office in Chantilly, Virginia, to support a growing number of national security programs and customers. (Redwire, February 27)
  • Northrop Grumman has notified its employees in Southern California of potential job cuts, with up to 1,000 space sector positions at risk. (Northrop Grumman, February 28)
  • SpaceX and NASA performed full-scale qualification testing of the docking system that will connect SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System (HLS) with Orion and later Gateway in lunar orbit during future crewed Artemis missions. (NASA, February 28)
  • Lockheed Martin proposed to acquire satellite manufacturer Terran Orbital. (SEC, March 1)
  • Clay Mowry, Chief Revenue Officer, has announced his departure from Voyager Space. (LinkedIn, March 5)
  • The third test flight test of SpaceX’s Starship is scheduled to potentially launch as early as March 14, pending regulatory approval. (SpaceX, March 6)
  • Slingshot Aerospace has announced the expansion of its international operations with the launch of Slingshot Aerospace Ltd., which will operate from the company’s first international offices located in Cornwall and London. (Slingshot, March 8)

Space Leader Spotlight

Dana Weigel

This week’s space leader is Dana Weigel, the incoming International Space Station (ISS) Program Manager, beginning on April 7, 2024. As program manager, Weigel will be responsible for the day-to-day management, development, integration, and operation of the ISS. She has served as the Deputy ISS Program Manager since 2021.

Weigel brings decades of experience and leadership to her new role. Starting her career at Barrios Technology as an Extravehicular Activity Officer, she joined NASA in 2004. During her time at the agency, she served in various positions, including Flight Director from 2004 to 2014 and deputy chief of the Flight Director Office from 2012 through 2014. As her career progressed, Weigel also served as ISS Vehicle Office Manager, Deputy Chief of the Flight Director Office, and Deputy Manager of the Mission Operations Space Transportation Division.

Weigel holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University. Throughout her career, Weigel has been recognized for achievements, including the Astronauts’ Silver Snoopy Award in 2002, the Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2008, and the Distinguished Service Medal in 2022.

As Weigel embarks on leading the ISS program into the next chapter, her wealth of expertise and experience with the International Space Station Program will be instrumental in the continuation of exploration and experimentation in low Earth orbit for the benefit of humanity.

Reading Corner

JAXA 2001 CC21 Naming Campaign

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Program (JAXA) campaign to name asteroid 2001 CC21 is underway, offering a unique opportunity for individuals worldwide to contribute to the history of space exploration. This initiative, part of the Hayabusa2 Extended Mission, seeks to select a name that encapsulates the essence of the celestial body before its flyby in July 2026. Submissions for names are open until May 9, 2024.