CIVIL IN-DEPTH

NASA is an exceptional agency that has inspired billions of people and transformed the human condition.  It has taken humans to the moon and expanded our knowledge of the universe.  In spite of its amazing accomplishments, the United States has seen NASA devolve from a human presence on the moon, to maintaining a presence only in low Earth orbit, and now finding itself dependent on Russia for human access to space.

While this may seem bleak, NASA has made steady progress in commercializing its enterprise in low Earth orbit in order to share costs with various market segments, the Department of Defense, and international partners.  American Commercial enterprise now regularly resupplies the International Space Station and will soon reestablish capabilities to take American astronauts to the ISS.  When space exploration is in the national interest, and the capital costs and risks are too high for commercial enterprise, NASA should focus on pioneering space with a purpose to retire risk and commercialize programs.

Over the past twenty years, 27 NASA programs have been cancelled at a cost of over $20 billion to the taxpayer.  Many of these have come as a result of changes in presidential administrations.  Due to the decades-long timelines of many NASA programs, the NASA administrator should have a set term that spans multiple administrations.  And instead of ever-changing Congressional budgets, NASA should be given certainty and flexibility to spend resources where most critical. In return for this stability, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure programs remain on track and leadership is held to account.

The National Research Council reported in 2014 that NASAís current budgets, strategies, and missions will not get the United States to Mars.  Mars should be the horizon goal, and a clear plan entailing necessary funding levels and strategic missions is critical to success.

SECTION-BY-SECTION WITH EXPLAINERS

Defines Administrator and NASA.

NASA is an exceptional agency that has inspired billions of people and transformed the human condition.  In spite of its amazing accomplishments, the United States has seen NASA devolve from a presence on the moon, to maintaining a presence only in low Earth orbit, and now dependent on Russia for human access to space.

Over the past four and a half decades, NASA has not had a singular, driving objective that focused all of its resources, both money and manpower, on a common goal.  Divergent responsibilities, objectives, and priorities have been added by various Congresses and presidential administrations, pulling NASA’s focus in many different directions depending on who is in elected office and who has been chosen to lead NASA.  NASA is the only agency charged with human space exploration.

The American Space Renaissance Act begins the process of looking at how NASA fits into the space enterprise and what needs to be changed to enable NASA to continue its leadership role in the future.

Expresses a sense of Congress that uncertainty in leadership and budget prevents NASA from having a clear purpose and that NASA should reorganize, refocus, and eliminate extraneous activities.

Amends the Space Act of 1958 – Alters the objectives of NASA’s aeronautical and space activities to align NASA’s mission with a doctrine of pioneering space.  Directs NASA to be the first to arrive at space destinations, expand access, and put in place infrastructure necessary to facilitate utilization and development.

Streamlines the National Civil Space Enterprise – Requires NASA Administrator to retain an independent outside entity to prepare a report identifying activities and assets inconsistent with NASA’s newly defined mission and determine which activities can be transferred to other Federal Agencies, commercial entities, or eliminated.  Requires the report be delivered to Congress within one year.  Expresses a sense of Congress that the Administrator should take any actions in the report permitted by law and that Congress should consider legislation to implement recommendations of the report.

The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program was reorganized in 1982 in order to create structures and policies that would ensure consistency.  It was determined that the director of this program of great national import would be appointed for an 8 year term. In the 1970s, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was given a fixed 10 year term for consistency. These changes ensure that the leadership and direction of these agencies are not subject to the whims of politicians or presidential cycles.

Correspondingly, NASA is an agency carrying out programs of national importance which take years and decades to formulate, develop, and carry out. The United States should remove the NASA Administrator from political cycles and require long term planning to allow for continuity and stability.

Administrator – Establishes a five year term for the NASA Administrator to ensure that NASA has continuous leadership through political cycles.

Long Term Plans – Requires NASA to develop 20-year and 10-year plans every five years.  The 20-year plan will outline broad goals.  The 10-year plan will provide specific objectives and budget profiles based on goals outlined in the 20-year plan.

NASA’s budget requests and plans get changed as they work through the executive branch.  Optimum plans and ideal budgets are not ever seen by Congress.  Congress believes it is authorizing and appropriating funds to achieve an objective.  But in 2014, the National Research Council informed Congress that NASA’s budgets, plans, and missions will never enable humans to reach Mars.  In order for Congress to provide oversight, we need a way to understand what NASA’s plans will actually achieve and what changes should be made in order to reach desired objectives.

NASA Leadership and Advising Commission – Establishes a 21-person NASA Leadership and Advising Commission consisting of aerospace policy, engineering, technical, science, legal, and finance professionals equally chosen by the majority and minority parties of Congress.  Directs Commission to provide a list of potential Administrators from which the President must choose his nominee.

Commission Budget Analysis – Requires Commission to provide Congress with analysis of NASA’s annual budget submission and long term plans.  Allows for the Commission to recommend changes, hold hearings, obtain documents, and interview NASA personnel.

Congress has not reauthorized NASA since 2010, so policies are routinely decided on a year-by-year basis during the highly politicized appropriations process. Further, Congress neglects to pass individual appropriations bills, instead relying on continuing resolutions and omnibus bills. This gives NASA no consistency from year to year and greatly hinders its ability to plan long term.

Budget and Revolving Fund – Requires NASA to submit a multi-year budget request. Requires all appropriations to be multi-year or no-year appropriations. Establishes a $250 million revolving fund to provide flexibility for programs suffering from development challenges and to support infrastructure upgrades and maintenance.  These new funding protocols will give NASA greater flexibility to plan over longer periods of time.

NASA requires and deserves more flexibility, but with that flexibility comes the need for greater accountability.

Accountability – Requires the directorate head of any program exceeding program life cycle costs by 15 percent or more to be available to testify at any time before the relevant Congressional committees.  Ensures NASA program staff is available to update the relevant Congressional committee staff at least once a quarter.  Subjects NASA programs exceeding program life cycle costs by 30 percent or more to automate cancellation unless Congress specifically authorizes the program to continue.

Administrator Removal – Directs NASA’s Inspector General recommend a mechanism for the automatic removal of the NASA Administrator based on program delays or a lack of adherence to long term plans.  Increases accountability to ensure programs stay on time and on budget.

The National Space Policy of 2010 stated that the government should not compete with the private sector.  NASA should focus on pioneering space with an intent to retire risk and commercial programs.

Spin Offs – Reiterates that NASA should spin off mature capabilities to other public entities or the private sector and continually refocus on pioneering.

Current law requires very large blanket launch insurance policies that were appropriate during the Space Shuttle era.  However, NASA has been successful utilizing the commercial sector for launch.  Insurance policies should be determined on a case by case basis to reduce insurance costs without increasing risks.

Launch Insurance Reform – Beginning on October 1, 2019, requires NASA to determine the maximum probable loss associated with launches procured from commercial launch providers.  Requires launch providers to purchase insurance for either $500 million for third party liability and $100 million for damage to government property, or the maximum probable loss, whichever is less.

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The National Research Council reported in 2014 that NASA’s current budgets, strategies, and missions will not get United States Astronauts to Mars.  Mars should be the horizon goal, and a clear plan entailing necessary funding levels and strategic missions is critical to success.

Mars Priority – Expresses a sense of Congress that NASA should prioritize funding to keep deep space exploration on track to get humans to Mars, utilizing the Moon and cislunar space and leveraging commercial capabilities and assets.

Specifics – Requires the first 20-year plan NASA submits to include a five year range in which NASA intends for astronauts to land on Mars. Instructs NASA in its first 10-year plan to address the concerns laid out by the National Research Council “Pathways to Exploration” report. 

The Asteroid Redirect Mission is greatly concerning to many in Congress. The 2014 NRC report recognized that the ARM would result in dead end technologies and distract from developing the capabilities necessary to get to Mars.  To establish a mission to Mars, NASA should leverage international partnerships, none of which are interested in an asteroid redirect mission.

Cost Savings Priority – Directs NASA to avoid developing capabilities and technologies not applicable to specified objectives including missions to Mars.  Instructs NASA to leverage international partnerships.

The United States accomplished a monumental achievement when we landed astronauts on the Moon.  This accomplishment was followed by devolution to low Earth orbit.  Pioneering space requires continuous operations beyond low Earth orbit in order to visit other destinations.   When NASA is first to arrive at a location, it should have a plan to continue operations until the risks and costs enable a transfer to other entities.

Permanent Presence Beyond low Earth Orbit – Requires the long term plans submitted by NASA to specify how NASA will maintain a permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit.

The International Space Station is planned to last until 2024.  The commercial sector is becoming more adept at facilitating operations in low Earth orbit. NASA should become more of a user and less of an operator by utilizing commercial capabilities for operations in low Earth orbit.

Expresses a sense of Congress that the United States should maintain a continuous human presence in low Earth orbit and, to the extent practical and consistent with national security priorities, should utilize commercial capabilities for operations in low Earth orbit.

China is rapidly developing its own space station while the ISS is approaching its end of useful life.  It would be disappointing for the United States to be forced to rely on China for low Earth orbit operations. The United States retired the Space Shuttles without a replacement in operation, forcing dependence on Russia for our human access to low Earth orbit.  We cannot allow the same dependency for our low Earth orbit human operations and experiments.

Not all of America’s international partners have pledged their commitment to the ISS through 2024.  There is also a possibility that the ISS will not be able operate past that date. The United States needs to plan for the next phase of low Earth orbit platforms. NASA should examine all options, including ISS privatization and utilizing commercial habitats.

ISS Plan – Instructs NASA to develop a plan for the remaining life of the ISS.  Requires an end-of-life transition for the ISS and a plan for continued human presence in low Earth orbit. 

Commercial Habitat Pilot Program – Requires NASA to develop and publish standards and specifications necessary for on-orbit habitats to house NASA astronauts and science experiments in low Earth orbit.

Habitat Contract – Requires NASA to enter into at least one competitively bid agreement by the end of 2018 to test the viability of a commercially built habitat.  A private entity will fully fund the development of a habitat. NASA will provide the launch.

NASA has been very successful in commercializing access to low earth orbit.  Commercial resupply missions have been very effective in preserving the International Space Station.  For the first time, American Astronauts will soon be launched from American soil by commercial American launch vehicles to low Earth orbit.  These programs should be continued.

Commercial Resupply and Commercial Crew – Requires that NASA continue its commercial partnerships for resupply and crew movement to the ISS and future low Earth orbit platforms.  Expresses a sense of Congress that commercial crew and resupply programs should be funded at the levels necessary to stay on track and on budget.

In a recent Aviation Week article, the head of Roscosmos acknowledged that Russia is developing space communications architectures and remote sensing constellations (both with military applications) funded by the launch of foreign (non-Russian) satellites and Astronauts.  The United States is paying for Russia’s space-based national security capabilities.  The United States should select international partners based on technical synergies and common goals rather than dependence on foreign capabilities. It is also critical we have a domestic industrial base that can support current and projected launch demand.

Domestic Engines – Instructs NASA to consider bids from launch providers utilizing domestically-built engines as costing 25 percent less than the list cost of the bid for the purposes of the competitive bid process effective January 1, 2023.

This section does not restrict NASA from leveraging international partnerships or entering into Space Act Agreements where not restricted by other laws.

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The growing population of space debris is a threat to future access to space, and the growth of debris will only accelerate as space activity increases. Without doing something, access to space could be at risk.

Expresses a sense of Congress that space debris is a growing threat to space access and that the United States does not currently have a plan for developing space debris remediation capabilities.

Maintaining the space environment requires mitigation.  There are already tens if not hundreds of thousands of objects in space, many dating from eras when responsible end of life and debris mitigation practices were not the norm among spacefaring nations. Capabilities to manage the current debris population are severely lacking.

Remediation Report – Requires NASA, in coordination with other relevant federal agencies, to report to Congress within one year on the feasibility of remediating orbital space debris.  Calls for the report to address technological and cost barriers.

Currently, the government self-insures its payloads, meaning it will either rebuild a payload if it is lost or scrap the mission.  Either way, the taxpayers are at risk.

Requires a GAO report on first party insurance for NASA Class C and D payloads and cargo.  Directs the report to assess whether taxpayers are better served by paying insurance costs for launch or by self-insuring.

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