Commercial Space News
The Senate Appropriations Committee publicly released its report today on the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that it marked up last week. Some of the winners and losers were clear already, but the report illustrates less obvious changes resulting, in part, from the committee shifting programs from one account to another.
One example is NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). NASA's request was $725 million. The Senate committee cut that to $600 million, but it also shifted the Restore-L satellite servicing project from the Space Operations account into Space Technology and specified $150 million for that program alone. So in addition to cutting the total for space technology activities, a substantial amount is earmarked for a specific project that was not part of that request.
During the April 16, 2015 CJS subcommittee hearing on NASA's budget request, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) pointedly asked NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden why the request for the satellite servicing technology program at Goddard Space Flight Center (in Maryland) was so low -- $65 million compared to the $130 million it received in FY2015. Bolden asked to speak to her about it privately, while adding that he could not determine who would be the customers for NASA satellite servicing technology since the private sector is already working on those technologies. Apparently he was not convincing. The committee allocated $150 million, $20 million more than FY2015, and shifted it from International Space Station (ISS) Research in the Space Operations account into Space Technology. It further directed NASA not to include any carry-over funds from prior years in the $150 million allocation. The report states refueling Landsat 7 or another U.S. government satellite is a pathfinder mission and although pathfinder technologies were demonstrated on ISS, it is now time to have a "full-scale stand-alone demonstration which will benefit multiple NASA mission directorates and, therefore, is more appropriately funded within Space Technology" although the program is to be co-managed by STMD and the Science Mission Directorate.
NASA's Earth science program, which was cut deeply in the House-passed version of the CJS bill, fared very well in the Senate version. The $1.947 billion request was cut only by $16 million and NASA is directed to accelerate development of the next Landsat satellite, Landsat 9, so that it is ready by 2020 instead of 2023. The committee denied funding for a Landsat-related free-flying thermal infrared instrument, TIR-FF, NASA wants to build to ensure there is no gap in providing that type of data, presumably because if Landsat 9 is ready by 2020, the risk of such a gap is minimized. (For a comparison of the House-passed and Senate committee-approved funding levels, see SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request.)
The Senate committee did not specify additional funds for a planetary mission to Europa, and, in fact, cut the planetary science budget by $40 million. The House increased planetary science substantially, including adding $110 million to the $30 million requested for Europa. One place the two do agree is that the Europa mission should be designed to utilize the Space Launch System.
The Senate committee shifted the commercial crew program from Exploration to Space Operations, which makes apples-to-oranges comparisons of the request and committee-approved levels for those accounts more difficult than may appear at first glance. While Exploration appears to get a deep cut, in fact the SLS program gets a $543.5 million increase compared to the request, of which $100 million is for the Exploration Upper Stage, and Orion gets a $104 million boost compared to the request. The total for Exploration is less because commercial crew is shifted to Space Operations, where it is cut to $900 million from the $1.244 billion request. Commercial crew is tasked with developing systems to take crews to and from ISS and the committee said it wanted to consolidate all ISS funding in a single account.
Overall, the Senate committee recommends a $239.6 million cut to NASA's budget request of $18,529.1 million, approving $18,289.5 million. To obtain that net reduction, the committee favored science programs, exploration, and education, while reducing aeronautics, space technology, and NASA's internal accounts. Space Operations is an amalgam that is difficult to analyze at the level of detail provided in the committee's report. Commercial crew was shifted into Space Operations, but satellite servicing was moved out, so looking only at the total on paper -- $4,756.4 million compared to the $3,957.3 million request -- does not tell the whole story.
During markup, Mikulski offered an amendment to add $300 million for commercial crew, $46 million for the WFIRST space telescope, $50 million for the Mars 2020 program, $54 million for space technology, and $50 million for Orion, but it was rejected on party lines. Senate Democrats continue to insist that the budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) need to be revised for non-defense spending before they will allow any appropriations bills to be debated on the Senate floor. So far the Republicans do not seem interested in negotiating a new budget deal. They are interested in adding money for defense and are accomplishing that by adding it in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations). Congressional Democrats and the President call it a gimmick and the President has vowed to veto any appropriations bills that conform with the BCA caps.
Note: The figures for NASA's total budget request, total recommended by this committee, and the amount of the cut have been clarified.
Here is our list of space policy related events for the week of June 15-19, 2015 and any insight we can offer about them. The House and Senate are in session this week.
During the Week
The Senate resumes consideration of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Floor debate began on June 3 and progress has been slow due to internal Senate politics. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said late last week that the bill has become "unstuck" now so he is hoping for quick resolution.
The Senate Republican leadership also wants to take up the FY2016 Defense Appropriations Act this week. We'll see how that goes. Democrats have vowed to prevent any funding bills from reaching the floor until Republicans agree to negotiate over the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) funding caps. So far the Republicans don't seem interested.
One space issue has split Senate appropriators and authorizers. In the NDAA, McCain is holding DOD's feet to the fire to discontinue using Russian RD-180 engines by 2019. He spoke on the Senate floor on Thursday about the need to stop sending money to Russian President Putin and his cronies. At the same time that day, however, the Senate appropriations committee was approving a bill that would relax that requirement. McCain's friend and ally (and Presidential candidate) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) offered an amendment to strike the language in the bill offering that flexibility, but strong bipartisan opposition led him to withdraw it.
The House already has passed its versions of the NDAA and defense appropriations act. This week it will take up the FY2016 Intelligence Authorization Act, H.R. 2596. Most of that is classified, but the House Intelligence Committee said that it "invests in the resiliency of our national security space architecture." It is set for consideration by the House Rules Committee tomorrow, with floor debate on Tuesday.
The biennial Paris Air Show is being held this week at Le Bourget (outside Paris) which usually creates a lot of news, so stay tuned. And the annual Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon) will be held in Chicago all week. NASA and university scientists will hold a panel discussion on Tuesday afternoon that will be broadcast on NASA TV.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Sunday-Friday, June 14-19 (continued from last week)
Monday-Friday, June 15-19
Monday-Sunday, June 15-21
Tuesday, June 16
Wednesday, June 17
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) may want to hold DOD's feet to the fire to stop using Russian RD-180 engines by 2019, but the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) isn't so sure. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) objected to a provision in SAC's defense appropriations bill, which was marked up today, that would provide more flexibility as to when use of the RD-180s must end, but his amendment to delete the language won little support and he withdrew it.
SASC chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has been a leader in motivating DOD and the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to replace the Russian rocket engines for ULA's Atlas V rocket with an American alternative. McCain and others who share his point of view do not want American dollars going to Russian President Vladimir Putin or his "cronies." They want an American-built engine to replace the RD-180 by 2019, a requirement included in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), although waivers are possible for national security reasons.
The Air Force and ULA are seeking to change that language to allow use of the RD-180s into the early 2020s. They insist that although they might be able to develop a new engine by 2019, it will be 2021 or 2022 before the engine is integrated into a new rocket, tested, and certified for launching expensive, critical national security satellites. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) agreed and softened the requirement in its version of the FY2016 NDAA.
McCain and other SASC members, however, expressed their displeasure with the Air Force's slow pace during a May 2015 hearing and did not provide any relief in the Senate version of the FY2016 NDAA, which is now being debated on the Senate floor (McCain spoke on the RD-180 issue today). The Air Force wants to be able to procure 14 more RD-180s, while SASC wants to limit that number to nine.
The Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree with SASC. Although the text of the bill is not yet publicly available, Graham offered an amendment today to delete section 8045 that apparently allows greater flexibility in how many RD-180s may be purchased. Democrats and Republicans both objected to the amendment.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) insisted that sufficient time is needed for an alternative U.S. engine to be developed so that the Air Force does not "jump from one monopoly to another." He cited a letter from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper endorsing the Air Force's position that more time is needed.
ULA has been a monopoly provider of launches for the national security sector since it was created in 2006 as a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture when the launch market could not sustain two competitors. ULA offers the Altas V, Delta IV Medium, and Delta IV Heavy rockets. It recently decided to discontinue the Delta IV Medium, leaving it with only Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy. The Atlas V is powered by RD-180s and Delta IV Heavy, at $400 million per launch, is not cost competitive.
Last month, the Air Force finally certified SpaceX to compete for national security launches. ULA supporters therefore argue that if ULA is not allowed to launch Atlas V after 2019 because it cannot obtain more RD-180s, and the Delta IV is not competitive, SpaceX with its Falcon rockets will become a de facto monopoly provider. Since the goal is to lower costs through competition, the argument goes, SpaceX should not be allowed to replace ULA as a monopoly provider and therefpre Atlas V launches are needed until ULA can offer a new rocket using a new American engine (or other competitors emerge).
The debate pits two groups against each other. Both agree on the need to end U.S. reliance on Russian rocket engines and reduce launch costs through competition. The debate is over the timing.
One group is anxious to end reliance on Russia as soon as possible because of its annexation of Crimea last year and its continued action in Ukraine. Some also are SpaceX advocates intent on lowering government costs for launching satellites through competition with ULA. On the other side are ULA supporters who want to give the company time to develop and test an alternative engine and remain in the space launch business as well as those sympathetic to Air Force arguments that it needs more time to learn how to interact with the private sector in this new era of public-private partnerships.
SASC is in the first camp, while SAC appears to be in the other, though some SAC members clearly are in tune with the desire to end reliance on Russia sooner rather than later. Durbin pointed out today that the provision in the appropriations bill, which provides $143.6 million to develop a new U.S. engine, calls it the "Competitive Rocket Innovation Modernization Engine Assembly" or CRIMEA. "The acronym tells the story," Durbin said.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the CJS subcommittee, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of SAC, both spoke against the Graham amendment, stressing that the bill provides money to develop a new engine and the Air Force and ULA need sufficient time to succeed.
Graham insisted that the authorizing committee (SASC) already had this debate and decided that the current 2019 deadline was achievable. We are "not enhancing competition" by allowing ULA to use more than nine RD-180s, "we're enhancing the reliance on a Russian engine that we need to get away from," Graham insisted and a "date certain" is needed to "break this dependency." Realizing the lack of support for his amendment, however, he withdrew it and said he would continue to work with Shelby on the issue.
Strictly speaking, authorizing committees set policy while the appropriations committee sets funding levels, so this could be an interesting case of jurisdictional and parliamentary dispute depending on the exact wording of the provision in the appropriations bill.
The committee approved its version of the FY2016 defense appropriations bill, but it is not clear when it will be debated on the Senate floor. Senate Democrats have vowed to work to prevent any appropriations measures from being debated until Republicans agree to negotiate over revising or revoking the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.
The House passed its version of the defense appropriations bill (H.R. 2685) this afternoon.
Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) offered an amendment to the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill during full committee markup today that would have added money above the level recommended yesterday by the CJS subcommittee for several NASA programs, including commercial crew. The amendment was rejected 14-16 along party lines.
Debate on the CJS bill, as well as the FY2016 Defense Appropriations bill that also was approved by the committee today, followed familiar themes. Democrats want to negotiate a new budget deal that replaces budget caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) with more flexible limits. Republicans insist that non-defense spending must stay within those caps, but are adding money for defense in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations) to which the caps do not apply. Democrats in Congress and the White House are railing against what they call a "gimmick" to add money for defense while shortchanging domestic needs.
Yesterday, the CJS subcommittee approved a bill that provides about $240 million less for NASA in FY2016 than requested by the Obama Administration. The commercial crew program was one of those cut most deeply. Only $900 million was approved versus the $1.244 billion requested.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden repeatedly warns that if the full request is not approved, he can not guarantee that U.S. systems capable of taking astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) will be ready by 2017. He argues that if Congress had fully funded the program in the past, the systems would be ready now, so 2017 is already a two-year delay. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the Senate floor yesterday that if the Senate cuts the program to $900 million, another two-year slip will be incurred.
Mikulski's amendment would have added $300 million for commercial crew above the subcommittee's recommendation, bringing it close to the requested level. She also sought to add funds for NASA programs in science ($96 million above the subcommittee's recommendation -- $46 million for WFIRST and $50 million for Mars 2020), space technology ($54 million), and the Orion spacecraft ($50 million).
The NASA additions were part of an overall $2.784 billion increase Mikulski sought for various activities in the CJS bill.
The amendment was defeated by a 14-16 party line vote. CJS subcommittee chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) opposed the amendment, but said that if a new budget deal is indeed negotiated, he will work with Mikulski on how to allocate any additional funding.
Meanwhile, however, NASA would be held to the subcommittee levels if this bill passes the Senate and is signed into law. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said Democrats will work to prevent any appropriations bills from reaching the Senate floor for debate until a new budget deal is reached, so the future of this and the other appropriations bills in the Senate is uncertain. President Obama vowed to veto any funding bills that abide by the 2011 BCA caps.
The House passed its version of the CJS bill last week, providing the same total amount requested by the Administration, $18.527 billion, but allocating it differently. For commercial crew, for example, the House approved $1.0 billion, a $244 million cut.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden fired back at the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the agency because of its cut to the commercial crew program. The subcommittee marked up the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) funding bill this morning, cutting the $1.244 billion request for commercial crew to $900 million. Full committee markup is tomorrow.
In a statement, Bolden said the cut would mean continued reliance on Russia to take American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and putting money into Russia's economy instead of our own. Bolden said:
"I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations Committee does not fully support NASA's plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia. Remarkably, the Senate reduces funding for our commercial crew program further than the House already does compared to the President’s Budget. By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own. I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles.”
Bolden has been stressing the need for full funding of the commercial crew request repeatedly this year. He warns that without full funding, NASA may have to renegotiate its milestone-based fixed-price contracts with Boeing and SpaceX and delay the ability of the United States to once again launch people into space. NASA has not been able to launch anyone to space since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.
Bolden points out at every opportunity that if Congress had fully funded the commercial crew program from the beginning, the spacecraft would be flying this year. Instead, the goal now is 2017. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said on the Senate floor today that if the subcommittee recommendation is adopted, it will mean yet another two-year delay.
While many of those in Congress who authorize and appropriate money to NASA agree that America needs its own ability to launch people into space and object to the need to pay Russia for such services, some insist that NASA should support only one company to provide commercial crew services, not two. NASA insists that it needs at least two competitors for redundancy in case one of the systems has a failure and to keep prices down.
NASA awarded Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCAP) contracts to Boeing ($4.2 billion) and SpaceX ($2.6 billion) last fall as the last phase of the commercial crew program.
Updated with reaction from Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
The Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee, led by two of NASA's strongest congressional supporters, approved a FY2016 CJS bill today with less funding than requested by the Obama Administration, albeit an increase compared to its current level. Only a few details are available so far, but the total is $18.3 billion compared to the $18.529 billion requested. NASA's current FY2015 funding level is $18.010 billion.
The CJS subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and the top Democrat is Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). Mikulski pointed out during subcommittee markup this morning that more money is needed overall. Democrats argue that the spending caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) need to be revised or revoked. Republicans are insisting that non-defense spending stay within those caps, while adding money to defense spending by placing it in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations) to which the caps do not apply. President Obama and congressional Democrats rail against that "gimmick." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said Democrats will not allow any of the appropriations bills to pass until Republicans agree to discuss a solution. The President has vowed to veto any bills that abide by the BCA caps.
Shelby and Mikulski both are strong NASA supporters. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is in Alabama and Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is in Maryland. Not surprisingly, Shelby is especially supportive of the Space Launch System (SLS) being built by MSFC and Mikulski of science programs at GSFC. Both fare well in the CJS subcommittee-approved bill, although details of how the science funding is allocated were not released today. The NASA earth science community is concerned at the cuts approved to those programs in the House-passed CJS bill.
Mikulski is expected to introduce at least one amendment to add more money for NASA during full committee markup tomorrow (Thursday). Unless she has offsetting cuts to propose elsewhere in the CJS bill, however, getting agreement to any amendment adding money is a challenge because the subcommittee was allocated a fixed amount of money to spend pursuant to the FY2016 Budget Resolution.
Few details about the allocation of funds within the $18.3 billion total for NASA were released today. The following is what is known publicly at the moment. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more information on current funding, the President's FY2016 request, and congressional action to date.)
Full committee markup for this bill, the defense appropriations bill, as well as the legislative branch appropriations bill, begins tomorrow (June 11) at 10:30 am ET.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) voiced his objections to the $344 million cut to commercial crew on the Senate floor following the markup. He said if the cut is sustained, it will delay the ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets two more years, which means paying Russia for two more years, costing at least as much. "We need to wake up to what's happening," he implored, adding that Mikulski will offer an amendment tomorrow to restore the commercial crew funding and urging his fellow Senators to support it.
Russia's space agency Roscosmos released a new schedule for Russian launches to the International Space Station (ISS) for the rest of 2015 today. The schedule, approved by a State Commission, shows the expected path forward following the Progress M-27M failure last month.
The ISS partnership -- the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada and 11 European countries -- already announced that the Soyuz TMA-15M crew will return to Earth on Thursday, June 11, about a month later than planned. The schedule announced by Russia today shows the following launches to ISS of Progress robotic cargo spacecraft and Soyuz spacecraft that transport crews:
In addition to these Russian launches, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) today confirmed the date for the launch of its next HTV robotic cargo spacecraft, HTV-5 (Kounotori 5). It will launch at approximately 10:01 pm on August 16 Japan Standard Time (9:01 am August 16 EDT).
The next U.S. launch to ISS is SpaceX CRS-7 (SpX-7) on June 26 at 11:09 am EDT. The robotic SpaceX Dragon spacecraft will deliver cargo. Three more U.S. cargo launches (2 SpaceX, 1 Orbital ATK) also are expected this year.
The Soyuz TMA-17M crew will be composed of Russia's Oleg Kononenko, Japan's Kimiya Yui, and America's Kjell Lindgren. Their launch was delayed from May 26 because of the Progress M-27M failure.
Soyuz TMA-18M was supposed to take singer Sarah Brightman to the ISS as a spaceflight participant, but she dropped out of the flight last month. It is not clear if her backup, Japan's Satoshi Takamatsu (an advertising executive) or someone else will replace her. The other two crew members who will launch on Soyuz TMA-18M are Russia's Sergei Volkov and ESA's Andreas Mogensen.
Soyuz TMA-19M will launch with Russia's Yuri Malenchenko, ESA's Timothy Peake and NASA's Timothy Kopra.
Those crews are a combination of regular ISS crews rotating on typical 4-6 month missions and short-term (1 week) visitors. As they come and go, NASA's Scott Kelly and Roscosmos' Mikhail Kornienko are remaining aboard for their one-year mission that began in March 2015 and will end in March 2016. They are scheduled to return on the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft.
NASA designates the Progress and Soyuz missions numerically based on how many of those missions have gone to ISS. Soyuz has been in service since 1967 and has undergone several upgrades, as has Progress, whose first flight was in 1977. The Russians therefore have different designations reflecting their decades of operation and the various modifications. For NASA, Progress M-28M is Progress 60 ("60P"); M-29M is Progress 61 and so forth. Soyuz TMA-18M is Soyuz 44, for example.
UPDATE: The Planetary Society's telepresser on Wednesday re LightSail has been added.
Here is our list of space policy events for the week of June 8-12, 2015 and any insight we can provide about them. The House and Senate are in session.
During the Week
The House and Senate will start off the week by continuing debate on the FY2016 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill and the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) respectively. Last week, an amendment was adopted by the House to the T-HUD bill adding a small amount of money for FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation ($250,000, compared to the $1.5 million increase requested by the Administration and rejected by the Appropriations Committee).
The Senate Appropriations Committee will markup the FY2016 bills for Defense and for Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS, including NASA and NOAA). Subcommittee markup for Defense is on Tuesday, subcommittee markup for CJS is on Wednesday, and the full committee will markup both of those plus one more on Thursday.
One may wonder what the point is of moving the appropriations bills and the NDAA (which passed the House in May) through the committee process considering that the President has vowed to veto all of them because of the larger dispute over budget caps. Congressional Republicans are using what many call a "gimmick" to add money for defense in an off-budget account to which budget limits -- "caps" -- agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) do not apply while leaving non-defense spending subject to the caps. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated last week that he and his fellow Democrats will not allow any of the appropriations bills to reach the Senate floor for debate until Republicans are willing to negotiate a solution. There is a widespread expectation that eventually Republicans and Democrats will reach a compromise similar to the one engineered in 2013 by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray (the Ryan-Murray agreement) to provide more flexibility. Of course, back then Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans had the House, while today both chambers have Republican majorities so the politics are quite different now. Time will tell how it all turns out, but it looks like it will be a long appropriations season.
On Thursday, three International Space Station (ISS) crew members will return to Earth, just about a month later than originally planned. NASA's Terry Virts, ESA's Samantha Cristoforetti, and Roscosmos's Anton Shkaplerov will undock from the ISS at 6:20 am ET and land in Kazakhstan at 9:43 am ET. NASA TV will provide coverage. Their return was delayed while Russia investigated the April 28 Progress M-27M failure. Russian experts have concluded it was caused by a "design peculiarity"related to frequency-dynamic characteristics between the robotic Progress spacecraft and its Soyuz- 2.1a rocket. In a bit of a surprise, Russia launched a Soyuz-2.1a rocket carrying a military satellite on Friday, perhaps as a demonstration that they are confident the problem will not recur. The same day, Russia and NASA confirmed that the ISS crew will return on June 11.
Those and other events we know about as of Sunday afternoon are listed below.
Monday-Wednesday, June 8-10
Tuesday, June 9
Tuesday-Thursday, June 9-11
Wednesday, June 10
Wednesday, June 10 - Friday, June 19
Thursday, June 11
Thursday-Friday, June 11-12
UPDATE, June 10, 2015: The House passed the T-HUD bill on June 9, with this modest increase included. The bill passed by a narrow margin, 216-210.
ORIGINAL STORY, June 4, 2015: During floor debate on the FY2016 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill, the House adopted an amendment to add a small amount of money for the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).
The House Appropriations Committee held AST to its FY2015 funding level of $16.605 million. The Obama Administration is requesting an increase of $1.5 million, to $18.115 billion, to pay for additional staff needed to cope with increasing demand for launch licenses.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), adds $250,000. That is only one-sixth of what the Administration requested and a very small amount of money in Washington terms, but every dollar counts. Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) were co-sponsors. Amendments that seek to add money must be offset by a comparable reduction elsewhere in the bill. The amendment cuts FAA's finance and management activities by $250,000. The amendment was adopted by voice vote yesterday (June 3).
Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Eric Stallmer praised passage of the amendment and thanked Bridenstine, Posey and Rohrabacher for their leadership and support of the commercial space industry. "As many commercial companies begin their flight test phase, the number of applications will continue to grow, highlighting the importance of providing the necessary resources for the agency to fulfill its critical responsibilities and continue to encourage growth of the burgeoning sector."
The House began consideration of the T-HUD appropriations bill (H.R. 2577) yesterday after passing the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill (H.R. 2578) that includes NASA and NOAA. It resumed consideration of T-HUD today, but adjourned before finishing it. Debate will continue next week.
This article is updated throughout to integrate the congressional action on June 2 and June 3.
The House of Representatives passed the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill (H.R. 2578) on June 3, 2015 after a marathon debate. The bill funds NASA and NOAA among other departments and agencies. No amendments were adopted affecting the House Appropriations Committee's recommendations for NASA or for NOAA's satellite programs, though several were considered.
NASA. No amendments were offered specifically to the NASA section of the bill. House Appropriations CJS subcommittee chairman John Culberson (R-TX), however, engaged in colloquies with three Members to air their interests in adding money to the committee's recommendations for commercial crew and Orion. Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX), who represents Johnson Space Center, argued for more commercial crew funding. The bill cuts $244 million from the $1.244 billion request. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Ed Perlmultter (D-CO) urged more funding for Orion. Posey represents Kennedy Space Center. Perlmutter's district is near Denver where Lockheed Martin Space Systems is headquartered. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion. The bill provides the same amount as requested by the Obama Administration, $1.096 billion.
Culberson responded to them, as he had earlier in an exchange about NASA's science programs, that if more money becomes available as the appropriations process plays out, he will try to "fill the holes" in NASA's budget. He is an avid supporter of NASA, but had a fixed amount of money to spend on the agencies under his subcommittee's purview. House Republicans are insisting that non-defense funding stay within budget caps agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). Under those circumstances, the fact that the bill provides the same total for NASA as the President requested, $18.529 billion, which is a $519 million increase over current spending, is no small feat. The bill allocates the money differently than the Administration proposed, however, with a substantial increase above the request for the Space Launch System, for example, and a steep cut to the request for earth science. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NASA's FY2016 budget request for more details on the committee's recommendations.)
Engaging in a colloquy is one mechanism for Members to engage in a dialogue to express their points of view publicly. They are non-binding discussions. A Babin amendment was published in the Congressional Record that would have reduced NASA's science budget by $103.7 million and added $67 million for Orion, but he chose not to offer it today, settling for the colloquy and arguing in favor of commercial crew rather than Orion.
One of the more interesting exchanges took place between Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Culberson. Farr spoke in favor of a Bonamici (D-OR) amendment that would have provided an additional $21.6 million for ocean acidification research. The Administration requested $30 million, but the committee approved only $8.4 million. Farr wondered why funding for protecting Earth's oceans was cut while the committee added $110 million above the request for a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Culberson, one of the strongest congressional supporters for a Europa mission, responded that oceans on Earth are important, but investigating Europa is even more important because of the possibility of finding life there. The amendment was withdrawn.
Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ) wanted to eliminate all funding for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). It was not aimed specifically at NASA, but NASA is one of the agencies that has funded EPSCoR for decades. NASA's FY2016 request is $9 million, half of what it received in FY2015. The House Appropriations Committee recommended $18 million, keeping it at the FY2015 level. Culberson and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) argued against the amendment, which was defeated by voice vote on June 2 and by recorded vote (195-232) on June 3.
NOAA Satellite Programs. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) offered an amendment to restore funding for NOAA's Polar Follow On (PFO) program. The committee zeroed the $380 million request to begin the PFO program to build the next two Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites, JPSS 3 and 4. Culberson reserved a point of order against the amendment and Bonamici conceded that she had not identified offsets for the money, and withdrew it. Funding cannot be added unless it is offset by a commensurate cut elsewhere in the bill. (See SpacePolicyOnline.com's fact sheet on NOAA's FY2016 budget request for satellite programs for more information on the committee's recommendations.)
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) offered an amendment to allocate $9 million to fund a pilot program for commercial space-based weather data that was authorized in the Weather Research and Forecast Innovation Act that passed the House last month. He withdrew the amendment after Culberson promised to work to add the money in conference with the Senate.
Proposed Across-the-Board Cuts. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) sought a one percent across-the-board cut to everything in the bill (with a few exceptions). Culberson argued strongly against the amendment in part because of the harm it would do to NASA. The amendment was defeated by a voice vote on June 2 and by a recorded vote (168-257) on June 3.
Another amendment to make an even greater across-the-board cut -- 2.48 percent -- was offered by Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) on June 3. Culberson similarly argued against that amendment, saying it would cut NASA by $450 million for example. Nonetheless it was initially approved by voice vote. Culberson asked for a recorded vote, however, and that time it failed on a 134-290 vote.
Final Passage and Next Steps. The bill passed the House on June 3 by a vote of 242-183. Passage came after a 12-hour marathon session that began about 2:00 pm on June 2 and lasted until 2:00 am ET on June 3, then resumed around 2:00 pm ET on June 3 and concluded 5 hours later.
After all that effort, the bill's future is not clear. President Obama threatened to veto the bill for a variety of reasons including several objections to the committee's recommendations on NASA and NOAA that were not resolved during the amendment process. Indeed, only 12 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. In total, 230 Republicans and 12 Democrats voted yes, while 10 Republicans and 173 Democrats voted no. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), the top Democrat on the CJS subcommittee, and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), top Democrat on the full Appropriations Commtitee, both voted no.
Culberson himself repeatedly told colleagues during the debate that he hopes that more money will be available as the appropriations process moves forward through Senate action and conference negotiations.
FY2016 appropriations for all of the government are caught up in a dispute between President Obama and congressional Democrats on the one hand, and congressional Republicans -- who control both chambers of Congress -- on the other. Republicans are holding non-defense spending like that in the CJS bill to budget caps agreed to in the 2011 BCA. Officially, they are also holding spending for DOD's "base budget" to the BCA caps, but they got around the caps by adding tens of billions in an off-budget account (Overseas Contingency Operations -- OCO). The President and congressional Democrats insist that non-defense programs should also receive more funding.
Washington pundits think the two parties will reach an accommodation similar to the Ryan-Murray agreement that relaxed the caps for FY2014 and FY2015. Culberson's comments hint that he is hoping for such an outcome. Until agreement is reached, however, the President has vowed to veto all appropriations bills that hold to the 2011 BCA caps or use "gimmicks" to get around them for defense spending.
A long and difficult appropriations seasons seems inevitable.
Note: This article, originally entitled "House Debates FY2016 Funding Bill for NASA. NOAA" and published about midnight on June 2, was updated throughout on June 3 to reflect the second day of action and final passage of the bill.