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Space Watch

Report on Legislative Proposals for Civil, Commercial and National Security Space

The month of May was a transformative time for many pieces of space legislation. Legislative proposals for civil, commercial and national security space were introduced, marked up and voted on. Here’s a top-line view of where they stand at present.

Civil Space: On May 20, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY16 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which passed out of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee on May 14. In the May 14 markup, Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson said that this bill prioritizes NASA planetary science and NOAA weather satellites, including the JPSS and GOES programs. Chairman Culberson stated that Congress needs to “find ways to unleash” NASA by providing more resources while allowing NASA the freedom to innovate. The chairman is particularly excited about finding Earth-like planets beyond our own solar system and the potential for life on other planets and Europa. The bill includes funding for a new program known as the “Ocean Worlds Exploration Program,” but has been criticized by NASA and the White House for its cuts to Earth science. The bill also zeroes out NOAA’s Polar Follow On polar-orbiting satellite program.

Commercial Space: On May 20, the Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee passed S. 1297, a bipartisan bill called the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. This bill extends the International Space Station until 2024 and aims to ensure a stable regulatory environment for emerging space companies, operators and investors by – among other things – extending the commercial industry’s regulatory grace period until 2020.

On May 13, the House Science Committee marked up four commercial space bills – the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015, the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act (“to promote the development of a United States commercial space resource exploration and utilization industry and to increase the exploration and utilization of resources in outer space”), the Commercial Remote Sensing Act (“to facilitate the continued development of the commercial remote sensing industry and protect national security”), and the Office of Space Commerce Act (“to rename the Office of Space Commerce and for other purposes”) – passing each out of committee along party lines. Later, all four bills were combined under the auspices of H.R. 2262, the SPACE Act.

The SPACE Act also intends to secure a predictable environment conducive to the development of a robust commercial space industry. It provides clarification regarding the definition of government astronauts, aims to assist FAA in its efforts to facilitate a safe regulatory regime and explores the controversial issue of private property rights of U.S. companies on celestial objects.

On May 21, the SPACE Act was debated on the House floor and passed 284-133 (with approximately 50 Democrats joining Republicans in voting for it).

In addition, the House passed H.R. 1561, the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2015 on the evening of May 19. This bill aims to advance NOAA’s weather research through a “focused program of investment on affordable and attainable advances in observational, computing, and modeling capabilities to support substantial improvement in weather forecasting and prediction of high impact weather events” and to expand opportunities for the commercial provision of weather data. On May 20, the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled, “Advancing Commercial Weather Data: Collaborative Efforts to Improve Forecasts,” which focused on policies and acquisition strategies of weather data for NOAA.

National Security Space: On May 15, the House passed H.R. 1735, the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The NDAA would – among other things – establish a unified major force program for national security space and clarify language from the FY15 NDAA. Specifically, this year’s version clarifies limits on the use of Russian-made RD-180 engines for national security launches, requires a plan for the development of a new American rocket engine by 2019, and specifies that funding authorized for the development of a new American rocket propulsion system may be spent solely for the development of a propulsion system “and the necessary interfaces to the launch vehicle.”

The Senate version of the bill, which was marked up by the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 14, also proscribes the use of funds for the Defense Meteorological Satellite program (DMSP) and the launch of DMSP satellite #20 until the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provide a certification that non-material or lower cost solutions are insufficient.

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