Report from Washington, D.C.

Update on Space-related Bills on the Hill

Written by: developer

During June, space-related bills continued to move on Capitol Hill.

On the civil side, on June 3, the House adopted an amendment sponsored by Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) and co-sponsored by Bill Posey (R-FL) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), which added $250,000 to the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) in the FY2016 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill. The addition was only one-sixth of what the Administration requested, but better than the draft bill which didn't add any funds to the account. On June 9, the House passed the T-HUD appropriations bill.

The House passed the FY2016 Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bill on June 3, which includes funding for NASA and NOAA. No changes were made to the NASA section of the bill after it passed the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, described in last month's Report from Washington.

The Senate CJS Subcommittee approved a bill on June 10 that, among many other things, appropriated $900 million to Commercial Crew (compared to the President's Budget Request of $1.244 billion and the House appropriation for $1 billion). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden expressed his disappointment at the amount of funds allotted in the measure for Commercial Crew.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee on June 11, and included provisions relating to the hotly-debated use of Russian RD-180 engines for national security launches. Specifically, the bill adds an additional $143.6 million for the Air Force to pursue development of an American-made rocket engine. The NDAA passed the Senate on June 18, but the appropriations bill was blocked from consideration for political reasons. Briefly, Congressional Republicans have encouraged the use of Overseas Contingency Operations ("OCO") funds for national security spending, which Congressional Democrats are calling a "gimmick." Accordingly, the President has threatened to veto any appropriations bill that conforms with budget caps put in place under sequestration. The House passed its version of the defense appropriations bill on June 11.

Many in Washington are predicting a long appropriations cycle, due to the contested nature of the budgets. In the same vein, the key national security space issue is "assured access to space" for national security payloads. Several hearings have taken place on the Hill regarding the issue -- most recently, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee held a hearing on June 26, entitled, "Assuring National Security Space: Investing in American Industry to End Reliance on Russian Rocket Engines." The hearing featured two panels full of industry experts, including representatives from ULA, Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital ATK, SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force, and addressed the current state of affairs regarding the push to end American reliance on the Russian RD-180 engine. Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) was adamant that he envisioned a replacement engine to "drop into" the Atlas V rocket, while many of the panelists expressed that a new launch system is the way to best proceed.

This article is part of Space Watch: July 2015 (Volume: 14, Issue: 7).