From the Chief Advocate
In an unusually active month of space news, one story rose above all to dominate news coverage: the supposed Russian withdrawal from the International Space Station (ISS) partnership in 2024. A stream of breathless articles repeated statements by Yury Borisov, the new head of Roscosmos, stating that Russia intended to leave the partnership “after 2024.” A casual reader would be forgiven for assuming the end of the ISS was nigh.
In the various interviews I gave after the news broke, I repeated my metric for evaluating Russian statements on their space program: look at actions, not words. And despite the rhetoric, the only recent actions taken by Roscosmos have been to agree on a series of crew launch exchanges with NASA to the ISS. Not exactly a sign of an impending exit.
NASA officials were quick to state that they had received no formal notice of an impending departure, as required by ISS partnership agreement. But more to the point is that Russia has no alternative destination for its human spaceflight program beyond the ISS. Proposals for a new space station remain conceptual at best, and the myriad problems suffered by their latest ISS addition, Nauka, call into question Roscomos’ ability to rapidly and reliably build and launch new hardware by 2030.
A week later, to much less fanfare, Borisov clarified his statement. Blaming the ambiguities of translation, he said that Russia was merely exploring their post-ISS future, which they expect as sometime in the late 2020s, contingent on existing hardware performance and the availability of a new space station. NASA is similarly exploring its own options with commercial partners in the 2030s. The ISS partnership appears steady for now.
Meanwhile, real and meaningful space legislation progressed in the United States. The Senate released its draft fiscal year 2023 funding bill for NASA and passed the “CHIPS and Science” bill, which contained NASA’s first authorization in five years. This latter bill was signed into law by President Biden yesterday.
The NASA Authorization formally endorsed NASA’s planetary defense work, codified the NEO Surveyor spacecraft to be launched as soon as “practicable,” and created a Moon-to-Mars program office at NASA to help manage Artemis.
The budget draft would provide an increase of $1.9 billion to NASA in 2023, which is nearly half a billion more than that proposed by the House of Representatives. NEO Surveyor would see partial funding restoration, and other Planetary Society priorities like Mars Sample Return, Europa Clipper, and the Human Landing System would receive their full requested amounts.
This coming month will see another noteworthy event: the first launch of the SLS. and a small contingent of Society staff will be there at Cape Canaveral to cover this major event. Despite how you feel about the SLS from a technical perspective, the program enjoys deep levels of political support. I think one can make a good argument that the SLS is driving support for Artemis itself — now that the U.S. has a Moon rocket where else can we really go?
Ad lunam, via politica.
The Planetary Society
Space Policy Highlights
Russia is not planning to leave the ISS in 2024 (spacepolicyonline.com) "The new head of Russia’s space agency, Yuri Borisov, clarified Russia’s space station plans in an interview with Russian television. Russia is assessing how much longer the Russian modules can last and preparing for what comes next. He reiterated that Russia will fulfill its commitment to the other ISS partners and provide the required one-year’s notice when the time comes."
Why we have the SLS (planetary.org) "Depending on how you look at it, the SLS is either a product of a broken system that curries favor to wealthy industries or an example of representative democracy working as it should — with members of Congress responding to the local needs of their constituents. Perhaps it’s a bit of both. But there are real and durable reasons for why we have (and will continue to have) the SLS for many years to come."
Draft Senate appropriations bill provides nearly half a billion more dollars for NASA than the House (spacenews.com) "The CJS bill includes $25.974 billion for NASA, the same overall level the agency requested in its fiscal year 2023 budget proposal... there are differences among the various programs. Science, exploration and space operations would each get small increases, while space technology would get less than requested. The bill includes support for NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission, a space telescope to look for potentially hazardous asteroids. NASA sought just $40 million for the mission in 2023, far less than previously projected, and would delay its 2026 launch by at least two years in order to cover increased costs for other planetary science missions. The Senate bill would double the requested funding for NEO Surveyor."
You can view our FY 2023 NASA Budget tracking page for more details and source documents.
Latest NASA authorization bill supports Artemis and planetary defense (spacepolicyonline.com) "[The bill] requires NASA to establish a Moon to Mars Program that includes 'Artemis missions and activities, to achieve the goal of human exploration of Mars'...it also explicitly states that each Artemis mission must demonstrate or advance a technology or operational concept that will enable human missions to Mars. The bill requires NASA to proceed with development of the Near Earth Object (NEO) Surveyor mission for launch in 2026 'or as soon as practicable'."
This bill was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Biden on August 9th.
Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition
As NASA's deputy administrator, “Escaping Gravity” author Lori Garver fought to cancel the Constellation program and shift NASA to use commercial partnerships in spaceflight. She failed at the first but succeeded at the second. She joins the show to discuss the lessons she learned from her time at NASA, key strategies for bringing change to a reticent bureaucracy, and the ways in which NASA should serve the nation and the public.