Report from Washington, D.C.

Space Foundation Report from Washington

Written by: developer

by Jillianne Pierce, Space Foundation Government Affairs Associate

The morning of Dec. 2 was an exciting one for some members of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. In a 20-minute downlink from the International Space Station (ISS), NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren fielded questions from members of the Committee about life in orbit. The astronauts discussed observing scratches on the exterior of the ISS during their first space walk that highlighted importance of protecting the space environment from additional debris. Kelly also talked about the positive psychological effects of growing plants on the ISS. Lindgren returned from his first space flight on Dec. 11, while Kelly will remain on the ISS until March 3, 2016, as part of NASA’s “Year in Space” experiment.

On Dec. 3, the Senate voted 83/16 to approve Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, a five-year federal highway bill that, among other things, reinstates the charter of the U.S. Export-Import bank. For many aerospace businesses, this is a welcome end to more than five months of tension after the bank’s charter expired on June 30. The Ex-Im Bank provides loans and loan guarantees which allow international customers to purchase U.S. goods and services.

On Dec. 10, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Environment and Subcommittee on Oversight held a hearing entitled “An Overview of the Nation’s Weather Satellite Programs and Policies.” The hearing featured witnesses Dr. Stephen Volz, Assistant Administrator, National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Services (“NESDIS”), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) and David Powner, Director, Information Technology Management Issues, Government Accountability Office (“GAO”).

During the hearing, members of the subcommittees discussed the need for more transparency and inquired about NOAA’s use of commercially-available solutions, such as purchasing data sets to supplement numerical weather models and utilizing the Air Force’s hosted payload solutions approach for buying space on commercial space vehicles. Dr. Volz indicated that NOAA’s revised commercial space policy will be released before the end of the year, and also will release a draft of the NESDIS process for engagement with industry in January or February.

Around 2:00 a.m. local time on Dec. 16, the 2,009 page omnibus spending bill was released, which contained good news for NASA, NOAA and DoD space programs. NASA will receive $19.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2016, $785 million more than the President’s budget request for FY16, to include increased funding for the SLS program and full funding for Commercial Crew. NOAA received full funding for its Polar Follow On Program, as well $3 million for a commercial weather data pilot program. Meanwhile, the debate over the use of Russian-manufactured RD-180 engines continues to be a contentious policy issue. Click here for Space Foundation budget analysis.

This article is part of Space Watch: January 2016 (Volume: 15, Issue: 1).