2010/07/20

House readies its NASA authorization bill

Late Monday the House Science and Technology Committee announced that it has completed its draft of a NASA authorization bill and plays a markup session Thursday morning (10 am, Rayburn 2318). The press release states that the committee “is releasing the legislative text of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010″, although the text of the legislation itself is not included with the release. However, the release does provide some details about the legislation, summarized below in bulleted form:

  • The overall funding for NASA in the legislation is at the president’s requested level for each of the fiscal years 2011-15.
  • It provides for a balanced set of NASA activities in science, aeronautics, and human space flight and exploration.
  • It funds science and aeronautics above the president’s proposed levels;
  • It authorizes a new Space Technology program to develop innovative and transformational technologies and funds it at the president’s requested level;
  • It provides more than $4.9 billion in funding for commercial crew- and commercial cargo-related initiatives
  • It extends the International Space Station program to at least 2020 and adds funding for ISS research and for a ground- and space-based life and physical sciences microgravity research program;
  • It funds the Space Shuttle program at the president’s requested level and adds funds to aid the Shuttle workforce and affected communities with the post-Shuttle transition;
  • It funds NASA’s education programs at the president’s requested level and seeks to enhance the contribution of NASA’s existing programs to STEM goals;
  • It restructures NASA’s exploration program to allow it to continue to make meaningful progress under a constrained budget, directing NASA to develop a crew transportation system that will both minimize the post-Shuttle human space flight “gap” and directly support the expeditious development of a heavy lift launch vehicle and capsule to enable challenging crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit.

A couple notes from the summary above: the $4.9 billion for commercial crew development is about $1.1 billion less than what was in the president’s proposal over the same period (2011-2015). [As the text of the legislation and the comments below note, the $4.9 billion is for both commercial crew and cargo, with very little clearly identified specifically for commercial crew development.] (This also suggests this is a five-year authorization bill, unlike the Senate’s three-year legislation.) Also, there’s no mention above of authorizing an additional shuttle flight, only that shuttle will be funded at the same level as in the administration’s proposal.

Update: The text of the legislation is now available. A quick read shows one major difference between the Senate and House authorization bills, namely, the priorities for developing a government launch vehicle and crewed spacecraft. The Senate version focused on the development of a heavy-lift vehicle (70-100 tons to LEO) that could carry a Orion-derived crew capsule. The House version, instead, focuses on the development of a crew transportation system that leverages previous work on Orion and Ares 1, but sets no specific performance target for the launch system. “[T]he Administrator shall pursue the expeditious and cost-efficient development of a heavy lift launch system that utilizes the systems and flight and ground test activities of the crew transportation system developed under this section to the maximum extent practicable,” it states. While the legislation sets a goal of having the crew transportation system in service by the end of 2015, “the Administrator shall strive to meet the goal of having the heavy lift launch vehicle authorized in this paragraph available for operational missions by the end of the current decade.” Whether either of those goals is reasonable with the projected funding levels is another matter.

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