WASHINGTON — Nearly two months after introducing a comprehensive space policy bill, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) says he’s made good progress getting provisions of that bill included into defense authorization and other legislation.
Bridenstine, speaking at an American Bar Association space law conference here June 8, said he’ll continue to work to get additional provisions of the American Space Renaissance Act included in other legislation this year, including a defense spending bill and reauthorizations of the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA.
The bill, which Bridenstine unveiled April 12 at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, runs more than 100 pages and features a broad collection of policy measures related to national security, civil and commercial space. He emphasized long before the bill’s introduction, though, that it was never his intent to pass the bill intact.
“There are too many things in there that are too bold,” he explained in his speech about why passing the bill was unlikely. “We introduced the bill for the purpose of creating a conversation and finding out where we can build consensus.”
Portions of the bill have already been adopted into other legislation. Bridenstine notes that 10 provisions of the act were incorporated in the House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed by the full House May 18. Those provisions include the creation of a pilot program by the Air Force to purchase commercial weather data and support for a separate program to make use of advanced commercial satellite communications.
“We got 10 provisions from the American Space Renaissance Act enacted into the National Defense Authorization Act. That’s a huge success,” he said.
Separately, House versions of a commerce, justice and science appropriations bill and a transportation, housing and urban development appropriations bill, approved by the House Appropriations Committee May 24, includes several provisions from the civil and commercial space portions of the act. The include report language requiring a report on NASA lunar programs, funding for commercial satellite weather data and full funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
Bridenstine said he would continue to work to find opportunities to incorporate other sections of the act into legislation. “Now, what we’ve got to do is look at more bills,” he said, specifically citing a defense appropriations bill and reauthorizations of the FAA and NASA. “There are all areas where we can have a tremendous impact in taking the American Space Renaissance Act, the areas where we can build consensus, and put those provisions in other bills.”
That effort, he said, could include offering amendments to the defense appropriations bill when it’s taken up by the full House. “It is likely,” he said, declining to identify any specific provisions he would plan to introduce as amendments. “I want to get consensus.”
He did, however, mention a desire to win support for a section of the act that calls for the creation of a “venture class” launch services program in the Defense Department. A program by the same name in NASA awarded three contracts last year for launches by companies developing small launch vehicles, and Bridenstine’s bill would authorize $27.6 million for at least four launch contracts.
“We also need to have a venture class rocket program that can launch small satellites into very specific orbits,” he said, contrasting them with much larger vehicles used to launch satellites to geostationary orbit. “That is a big gap that the United States has right now.”
In a conference panel that followed Bridenstine’s speech, government and industry officials praised both the bill in general and specific language they hoped to see enacted. “It really is a seminal piece of legislation,” said Karen Dacres, general counsel of PlanetiQ, a commercial satellite weather data company.
Other panelists addressed a specific provision of the bill that would give the FAA the authority to license “non-traditional” space activities, such as commercial space stations or missions to the moon or asteroids, not overseen by other regulatory agencies. Such oversight, both companies and the FAA have argued, is needed for the United States to comply with its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty to provide “authorization and continuing supervision” of those activities.
In April, Moon Express, a company planning commercial lunar landers and competing in the Google Lunar X Prize, announced it was seeking a payload review of its planned lunar lander mission from the FAA. The company hoped that additional information it provided as part of the review process would be sufficient for an interagency panel to approve the review.
While reports suggest that process is reaching a favorable conclusion, panelists said it does not eliminate the need for a licensing system like that provided in the bill. “What is being looked at right now is a band-aid fix because the system is broken,” said George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation. “There clearly is a problem, and we need to fix that.”
“Moon Express is playing a vital role, and I think that their project demonstrates this is not abstract, this is not theory,” said Mike Gold, chairman of the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee. “There are actual projects going on now that are being impacted by the fact that we have not resolved this issue.”