Last week the Senate passed a defense authorization bill that included none of the space-related amendments that had been proposed, including export control reform language and provisions to extend commercial launch indemnification and NASA’s waiver from the Iran North Korea Syria Non-Proliferation Act (INKSNA) so it can continue to purchase ISS-related goods and services from Russia. Fo export control reform, the lack of an amendment in the Senate bill is less of a concern, since export control language is in the House version of the defense authorization bill and thus may remain in the final version of the bill. However, the other amendments do not have counterparts in the House bill (the House passed a two-year launch indemnification extension as a standalone bill last month.)
To address those other issues, Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced late last week S.3661, “A bill to reaffirm and amend the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010.” The text of the legislation isn’t yet posted, but according to Space News, the bill offers a combination of provisions that the two senators had sought to include as amendments to the defense authorization bill. They include a two-year extension of commercial launch indemnification; a permanent extension of NASA’s INKSNA waiver; “language meant to ensure that NASA adequately funds” the SLS, Orion, and commercial crew programs; and a report to Congress on how NASA’s human spaceflight program could establish a presence beyond Earth orbit “through the robust utilization of cis-lunar space.”
Not surprisingly, prospects for the bill aren’t too great. Introduced less than a month before the new Congress convenes, and with many other issues to deal with, including the infamous “fiscal cliff,” the chances that the bill will even be taken up, let alone make it through the Senate and House, are low. The Space News notes that the INKSNA provision in particular might generate opposition by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In that case, the best scenario might be for the Senate to pass the House’s commercial launch indemnification bill (perhaps through unanimous consent since it is not a particularly controversial bill), as indemnification is set to expire at the end of the calendar year unless Congress acts, and take up an INKSNA extension and other provisions in the next Congress.