The Senate is debating this week S. 3254, its version of the fiscal year 2013 defense authorization bill, including handling a mountain of proposed amendments to the bill: more than 360 as of this writing. A couple have space policy implications, as Space News reported yesterday. One amendment deals with export control, while the other is a grabbag of provisions dealing with NASA and commercial launch.
One amendment (S.Amdt.3179), introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), is essentially the text of a standalone bill he introduced in May to return to the President the authority to remove satellites and related items from the US Munitions List. The language is slightly different from what is included in the House version of the defense authorization bill (which has some provisions that the administration is opposed to) that would need to be reconciled in conference. Bennet’s amendment has four co-sponsors: Mark Warner (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Mark Udall (D-CO).
The other amendment, (S.Admt.3078), was introduced by retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). It contains three provisions lagrely unrelated to both each other and the general defense authorization bill. The first would extend the commercial launch indemnification system by two years, similar to what the House passed earlier this month. The second would extend NASA’s waiver from the Iran North Korea Syria Non-Proliferation Act (INKSNA) from July 2016 through December 2020, allowing it to continue to purchase goods and services from Russia to support the ISS.
The third, and perhaps most interesting provision, would attempt to fix the proportional spending levels on NASA’s Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket, and associated ground systems in the next two fiscal years:
(e) Level of Effort Assurance.–
(1) IN GENERAL.–To ensure sufficient resources for the development of Federal and commercial launch capabilities under titles III and IV of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (42 U.S.C. 18301 et seq.; 124 Stat. 2805), for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 the proportionate funding levels for the Space Launch System, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, known as Orion, and related Ground Systems and technology developments, shall be no less than the proportion as provided in the aggregate within the Exploration account for fiscal year 2013.
(2) EXCEPTION.–Paragraph (1) shall not apply if the amounts provided for the activities under paragraph (1) for fiscal year 2014 or fiscal year 2015 are equal to or greater than the aggregate amounts provided for each of those activities for fiscal year 2012 or 2013, whichever is greater, by an Act of Congress.
It should be noted that SLS, Orion, and Ground Systems account for the majority of the Exploration account already, combined in one subsection called “Exploration Systems Development”. The other two main elements of the Exploration account are Commercial Spaceflight (i.e., commercial crew), and Exploration Research and Development. Thus, this provision could be seen as an attempt to make sure that, should NASA’s budget be cut in the next Congress, NASA would not be able to shift funding from those Exploration Systems programs to commercial crew or technology development.