What a Democratic Senate means for Space

What a Democratic Senate means for Space By JACQUELINE FELDSCHER 01/08/2021 07:00 AM EST With Bryan Bender Quick Fix — New space leaders are coming to the Senate, but don’t expect big policy changes now that Democrats are in the majority. — Biden’s pick to run the Commerce Department has little record on space but would play a role in regulating the commercial space industry. — NASA is preparing to fire up the engines in one of the final hurdles before sending an uncrewed Space Launch System to the moon. WELCOME TO POLITICO SPACE , our must-read briefing on the policies and personalities shaping the new space age in Washington and beyond. Email us at jklimas@politico.com or bbender@politico.com with tips, pitches and feedback, and find us on Twitter at @jacqklimas and @bryandbender . And don’t forget to check out POLITICO’s astropolitics page for articles, Q&As, opinion and more. Space Spotlight SENATE SPACE SHAKEUP? Democrats will now control the Senate but longtime space watchers are not predicting a major shift in spending or oversight priorities. “Democrats and Republicans work really well together , so there may be some reprioritization, and maybe some tweaking around the edges of things, but I think generally I would expect bills to continue to be moved in a very bipartisan way,” said Jared Zambrano-Stout, the director of congressional and regulatory policy at lobby firm Meeks, Butera and Israel who previously worked in Congress and the Trump administration. The personalities who take over key committees could matter, though. “It’s really not [about] the Senate, it is the space subcommittee of the Commerce committee,” said John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “Who is going to be that person in this Congress and how they approach their role are all at this point unanswered questions.” Democrats leading key panels typically have the right of first refusal for the role of chair if it doesn’t conflict with other committee assignments: Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Commerce Committee that oversees NASA, is expected to move up to the top position. Companies such as Blue Origin, SpaceX and Aerojet Rocketdyne all have footprints in Washington state and she is a big booster for investing in space infrastructure . Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is the ranking member of Commerce’s space subcommittee. She has been a supporter of the space industry and is also a co-chair of the Space Force Caucus , but it’s unclear if she’ll take the leadership role, given that her position as the senior senator from her state could open opportunities on other committees. It’s also not yet clear if Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) , a freshman and former astronaut whose platform primarily focused on gun control and climate change, will want to be on the panel. When it comes to the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing NASA, Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who has some contractors in her home state vying to be part of NASA’s Artemis mission , is next in line. None of the lawmakers’ offices responded to a request about their committee plans. While Richard Shelby, the outgoing Appropriations chair, must give up the gavel, Zambrano-Stout predicts he will remain a primary booster of United Launch Alliance, headquartered in his home state of Alabama. COMMERCE SECRETARY NAMED: President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday tapped Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to be Commerce secretary, a Cabinet post that has gained much more influence over space policy in the Trump administration. Over the past four years, the agency has been integral to space policy reforms, especially a presidential directive streamlining commercial space regulations. And if Biden maintains the White House National Space Council, Raimondo will have a seat on the inter-agency panel that helps set the nation’s space policy. She could also have a say in whether the Commerce Department takes the lead on tracking space debris, a Trump administration proposal that has faced opposition on Capitol Hill. She doesn’t have much of a track record on space issues. There are two mentions on her official Twitter feed: one in 2016 commending the Rhode Island School of Design for working on space suit design and another in 2019 congratulating a Rhode Island team of students for participating in the Zero Robotics International Space Station Programming Challenge . What about NASA? It’s too soon to expect a pick to lead NASA, multiple sources said, even though the announcement was originally rumored to come this month. There historically has not been a rush to name a NASA administrator. Trump nominated Jim Bridenstine to lead the space agency in September 2017, more than eight months after taking office. And it took many more months before he was confirmed. The agency was run by Robert Lightfoot in an acting capacity from Inauguration Day until April 30, 2018. In Orbit POWERING UP: This month will mark a milestone in the effort to return American astronauts to the moon when Aerojet Rocketdyne test-fires all four RS-25 engines that will power the Space Launch System. The upcoming hot fire test, which is set for Jan. 17 at the earliest, will simultaneously fire all four RS-25 engines for eight minutes to replicate what the core stage will experience during launch, NASA announced this week. The test, which is the eighth and final in a series known as “Green Run” tests, will mark “the first firing of all four RS-25 engines together,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet’s president. “The next few days are critical,” said Barry Robinson, project manager for SLS core stage Green Run testing at Stennis Space Center. But the engines are not new. Aerojet points out that all four originally flew on the Space Shuttle. “Now these engines are ready to make history again by helping humans return to the Moon,” the contractor said. If the engine test is successful, the megarocket’s core stage will be integrated with the solid rocket boosters and the Orion spacecraft in preparation for the Artemis I launch now scheduled for 2021. It will be a longtime coming. The SLS may be the primary means for the Artemis program to carry astronauts to the moon but it is also the poster child for a government program massively over budget and behind schedule. Top Doc POWERING SPACE EXPLORATION: The Department of Energy will play a role in developing technologies to power future space missions under an “Energy for Space” strategy released Wednesday that outlines the contributions the agency plans to make to achieve the nation’s space goals over the next decade. In addition to working on nuclear and non-nuclear power sources for spaceflight, the department will work to improve the collection and storage of solar energy for missions like powering vehicles on the moon or Mars. The agency is also committed to conducting more space research at its network of national laboratories, provide sensors and other systems to help ensure the peaceful use of space, and share best practices for operations such as clean rooms where satellites are built. The report follows a recent presidential directive on space nuclear power and propulsion, which directed the Energy secretary to leverage nuclear energy to propel spacecraft and power surface operations on the moon or Mars — and coordinate with the Commerce Department to include private companies in the work when possible. QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Congratulations to Matt Harris, a project manager at Facebook, for being the first to correctly answer that Chuck Yeager was selected to break the sound barrier instead of Chalmers Goodlin because Goodlin demanded to be paid $150,000 for the historic flight . This week’s question: NASA introduced its first female astronauts in the eighth class of space explorers named 43 years ago this month. How many women were in the class of 35 people? The first person to email jklimas@politico.com gets bragging rights and a shoutout in the next newsletter! Reading Room — Defending Earth against dangerous asteroids: Q&A with NASA’s Lindley Johnson : Space.com — “Defense Primer: National Security Space Launch” : Congressional Research Service — Lockheed Martin gets $4.9 billion contract to build three missile-warning satellites for U.S. Space Force : Space News — How early warning from space helped the Space Force foil an Iranian missile attack : C4ISRNET — SpaceX’s ambitious plans for 2021 : Observer — Musk outstrips Bezos as richest person on planet : CNBC — It spied on Soviet atomic bombs. Now it’s solving ecological mysteries : The New York Times — These stunning NASA satellite images capture 2020’s extreme climate events : CNN Event Horizon SUNDAY: The virtual 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society begins. MONDAY: AIAA kicks off its two-week SciTech Forum , including remarks from former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake. TUESDAY: The two-day NewSpace Industrialization conference begins online. TUESDAY: The Aerospace Corporation hosts a technical workshop for industry on identifying and tracking cubesats. TUESDAY: Col. Brande Walton, vice commander of the 45th Space Wing, speaks at a virtual lunch hosted by the National Space Club of Florida . […]

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