With help from Bryan Bender
— The space community is thrilled the National Space Council is here to stay. But what are the White House’s next steps?
— Rep. Mike Levin says the FCC must “act now” to better regulate mega-constellations to control pollution in space.
— OPINION: Space needs to be treated as critical infrastructure to ensure it gets the resources to defend it, two leading government analysts contend.
WELCOME TO POLITICO SPACE, our must-read briefing on the policies and personalities shaping the new space age in Washington and beyond, where we’re celebrating this newsletter’s third birthday on Tuesday! Thanks to everyone who has read since we launched (pun intended) in 2018. Email us at [email protected] or [email protected] 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 COUNCIL NEXT STEPS: The White House told POLITICO this week that it would maintain the National Space Council that was revived by former President Donald Trump, more evidence that space policy is one of the few areas where President Joe Biden agrees with his predecessor. The space community, which had been lobbying the administration to keep the high-level panel, universally supported the White House’s decision to maintain the government-wide focus on space.
But what comes next for the panel is a bit murky as how it is structured and its mission is up to each administration’s discretion. The vice president has been required by law to chair the group, ever since former President John F. Kennedy asked Congress to amend the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 so he could hand off the duties to lead the panel to his veep, Lyndon Johnson.
The Trump executive order that set the membership is still on the books. That means that unless Biden edits or replaces that directive, this next iteration will include the same members, including leaders of the State, Defense, and Commerce Departments, as well as NASA and the Office of Management and Budget. Under the order, the vice president also has the authority to add “heads of other executive departments or agencies” without actually amending the document.
The council’s staffing, however, is not mandated by the order and could take an entirely different approach to who works for the council and how they write policy. “The only thing the law says about staff is its capped at six paid staff and the only role dictated by anything is executive secretary,” a former White House official told us. “There doesn’t have to be a chief of staff or a communications director. We operated how it worked for us. It doesn’t have to operate that way.”
The Biden administration’s first step should be hiring an executive secretary who can help the White House answer these questions about staffing levels and how the council will actually work, said Jared Zambrano-Stout, a former chief of staff for the panel who is now the director of congressional and regulatory policy at Meeks, Butera and Israel.
Vice President Kamala Harris was not a top voice on space in the Senate, but as senator from California, she represented a robust commercial space industry, including SpaceX and Planet Labs; the Air Force’s West Coast launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base; and two NASA centers. She’s demonstrated an increased interest in space since becoming vice president, including calling NASA astronaut Victor Glover aboard the International Space Station in February.
“She seemed genuinely engaged,” the former White House official said. “It’s fun to see because … we haven’t seen her talk a lot about space in her career. … I think she’s got the makings to be a great chair.”
CROSS BORDER ADVOCACY: The Planetary Society’s annual Day of Action on Wednesday, which traditionally only canvases the halls of Congress, included the Canadian Parliament for the first time, Brendan Curry, the chief of Washington operations at the nonprofit, told us. Nearly 150 members of the society — who are not space professionals but are passionate about the field — had 155 meetings with lawmakers and staff in both Washington and Ottawa lobbying lawmakers to invest in planetary science missions.
“Perseverance is on everyone’s lips,” Curry said of lawmakers’ interest in the rover that recently landed on Mars. Other top priorities for the society include funding future portions of the mission to bring a sample of Mars back to Earth, the Europa Clipper program, which would study Jupiter’s moon, and a NASA project to detect near-Earth asteroids that could threaten Earth.
TV personality Bill Nye, who leads the group, met with lawmakers including Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Brian Babin (R-Texas), the chair and ranking member of the House Science Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics. Nye and members of the society’s board also met with Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Space Subcommittee, and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), who leads the House appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA.
THE ‘DIRECT THREAT’ OF ORBITAL DEBRIS: The FCC must address the growing threat of orbital debris before it damages spacecraft, pollutes the environment and even creates unsafe conditions on Earth, Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) appealed to acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel on Thursday. Specifically, he is asking the FCC to better regulate planned constellations of hundreds of thousands of small satellites and study the cumulative impact they could have on the environment.
“When we talk about global sustainability, our efforts cannot stop at our geographic border, or even at the limits of our atmosphere,” he wrote in the letter obtained by POLITICO. “It is time for the FCC to take responsibility, so we can ensure our planet — and the part of space near Earth — are safe and sustainable for years to come.”
‘WE MUST DO BETTER’: The federal government has designated 16 sectors as “critical infrastructure,” from financial services to energy, food and agriculture, and the defense industrial base. That means “incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.” Now is the time to add space, two leading government space analysts write in a new POLITICO op-ed.
“Designating space systems as critical infrastructure would galvanize the policy and stakeholder attention and resources needed to secure these systems,” write Edward Swallow, senior vice president for civil systems at the federally funded Aerospace Corporation, and Samuel Visner, a technical fellow and former director of national cybersecurity at the government-funded MITRE Corporation. “While communications satellites are already protected, critical infrastructure status would help protect the systems that launch and operate them along with the companies that manufacture space vehicles, myriad components, and all other satellites.”
Doing so would send a “powerful message” and also go a long way toward coordinating what is only becoming a more complicated arena. “The emerging space environment is complex, consisting of U.S. government, commercial, and even foreign-owned systems on which we will become increasingly dependent,” Swallow and Visner contend. “Right now, no central government entity coordinates policy, strategy, programs, or resources to support this infrastructure, and no security standards for space systems exist. We must do better.”
They lay out a series of steps as part of designating space as critical infrastructure, including identifying a lead agency, “possibly the Department of Commerce”; documenting and identifying threats to space systems; and attaining “global consensus through stronger collaboration among space system manufacturers.”
GLOBAL SPACE THREATS ON THE RISE: Russia’s arsenal of weapons to disrupt satellites in orbit grew in 2020, according to a pair of annual space threat assessments from the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Secure World Foundation. The open source assessments found that, though many other industries and countries suffered during the pandemic, Russia’s military space capabilities “kept a steady pace,” the CSIS report found.
Russia conducted two public anti-satellite tests in 2020, including a missile launched to space in December and a satellite placed in orbit in July that was designed to harm nearby spacecraft, the CSIS report said. Moscow is also working on Tobol, a new defensive program to protect its satellites from electronic jamming attacks.
Greg Autry, a former member of the Trump administration’s NASA transition team who was also nominated to be the agency’s chief financial officer, is joining Arizona State University as professor of space leadership, policy and business.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Congratulations to Colin Alberts, vice president of technology policy and legal affairs at Freedom Technologies, for being the first to correctly answer that astronaut Wally Schirra came down with a cold during the Apollo 7 mission.
This week’s question was also suggested by Alberts: The oldest artificial object still in orbit today is the Vanguard 1 satellite, together with its upper stage rocket, launched in 1958. But what is the oldest spacecraft that is still transmitting a signal?
The first person to email [email protected] gets bragging rights and a shoutout in the next newsletter!
— An astronaut’s heart shrank after time in orbit: New York Times
— Elon Musk’s Starship test flights plagued by smoke, fire and shrapnel: Washington Post
— Virgin Galactic unveils new suborbital space plane: Space News
TODAY: NASA holds an event aboard the International Space Station to mark the 10th anniversary of the Commercial Crew Program.
TUESDAY: The Maryland Space Business Roundtable hosts a virtual event with Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.)
TUESDAY: Viasat’s two-day Space Innovation Summit begins.
TUESDAY: Gen. James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, speaks at an event hosted by George Washington’s Space Policy Institute.
WEDNESDAY: Space News hosts an event on how special purpose acquisition companies are changing the space industry.
THURSDAY: The Center for Strategic and International Studies and Secure World Foundation discuss their recent reports on global counterspace capabilities.
THURSDAY: The Aerospace Corporation hosts its weekly space policy show with Lt. Gen. Chance Saltzman, Space Force chief operations officer.
FRIDAY: A Russian Soyuz spacecraft is expected to launch to the International Space Station.
This Article firstly Publish on www.politico.com