Congress, NASA

Comparing the House and Senate NASA authorization bills

Last week, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced that he was introducing in the Senate a version of a NASA authorization bill that would be different in many respects than the House version. That Senate bill got lost in the debate over that House bill, as well as consideration of separate appropriations bills in the House and Senate than fund NASA, but the text of the Senate bill, S. 1317, is worth a look. First, a comparison of the authorized spending levels for fiscal year 2014 between the House and Senate bills (amounts in millions of dollars):

Account House Senate Difference
Exploration $4,007.4 $4,275.0 $267.6
- SLS $1,802.4 $1,600.0 -$202.4
- Orion $1,200.0 $1,200.0 $0.0
- Exploration Ground Systems $0.0 $350.0 $350.0
- Exploration R&D $305.0 $325.0 $20.0
- Commercial Crew $700.0 $800.0 $100.0
Space Operations $3,817.9 $3,832.0 $14.1
- ISS $2,984.1 $3,000.0 $15.9
- Space and Flight Support $833.8 $832.0 -$1.8
Science $4,626.9 $5,154.0 $527.1
- Earth Science $1,200.0 $1,800.0 $600.0
- Planetary Science $1,500.0 $1,400.0 -$100.0
- Astrophysics $642.3 $642.0 -$0.3
- JWST $658.2 $658.0 -$0.2
- Heliophysics $626.4 $654.0 $27.6
Aeronautics $565.7 $570.0 $4.3
Space Technology $500.0 $635.0 $135.0
Education $125.0 $136.0 $11.0
Cross Agency Support $2,600.0 $2,850.0 $250.0
Construction $587.0 $610.0 $23.0
Inspector General $35.3 $38.0 $2.7
TOTAL $16,865.2 $18,100.0 $1,234.8

One of the biggest differences is in Earth sciences, where the Senate bill authorizes 50 percent more money than the House, $1.8 versus $1.2 billion, something that was expected given Nelson’s comments on the draft House bill last month. There’s also smaller increases for space technology, commercial crew, and cross-agency support, which combined account for most of the larger value of the Senate authorization.

Unlike the House appropriations and authorization bills, the Senate authorization bill contains no prohibition on spending for NASA’s proposed asteroid redirection mission. It instead calls for NASA to develop an “exploration strategy” 270 days after the bills enactment, and every two years thereafter. That strategy would outline how NASA would perform its exploration goals, including landing humans on Mars (something explicitly included in this bill), “through a series of successive, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion, and other capabilities.” Those “other capabilities” would include international partnerships and work with private industry.

Regarding the ISS, the bill would require NASA to provide a report on extending the life of the station beyond 2020 “to at least 2028,” including technical requirements, costs, and interest from international partners in such an extension. The bill also seeks “to clarify the roles and responsibilities” of NASA and other organizations involved in managing ISS research.

On commercial crew, the bill would have NASA provide a report on the agency’s strategy for transitioning from Space Act Agreements to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contracts for the procurement of crew transportation services. It also asks NASA to evaluate the costs and benefits of having multiple commercial crew and cargo providers, citing specifically “the potential need for diversified cargo and sample return capabilities.”

9 comments to Comparing the House and Senate NASA authorization bills

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “It instead calls for NASA to develop an ‘exploration strategy’ 270 days after the bills enactment, and every two years thereafter. That strategy would outline how NASA would perform its exploration goals, including landing humans on Mars (something explicitly included in this bill), ‘through a series of successive, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion…’”

    So we’ve spent three-odd years and upwards of $10 billion on SLS and Orion/MPCV to date and _now_ the Senate decides it would be a good idea to spend another year setting some exploration goals and developing an exploration strategy to make use of these vehicles?

    Ready, fire, aim!

    Idiots…

    • James

      Not only is the Congress a bunch if idiots, I have not heard any one at NASA say anything about the folly of the SLS

      Only Dr. Steve Squire seems to have the integrity to point out the SLS 1 flight per 2 or maybe 4 years is unsupportable within NASA’s budget

      Lori and Charlie keep touting its usefulness but their in-authenticity is dripping w faux enthusiasm.

      Egad. What a cluster government led human space flight exploration is becoming.

  • amightywind

    It also asks NASA to evaluate the costs and benefits of having multiple commercial crew and cargo providers, citing specifically “the potential need for diversified cargo and sample return capabilities.”

    NASA has followed the age old method of developing commercial crew, “why buy one when you can have two at twice the price!” We are spending billions on vehicles with a year year mission, at best.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      We are spending billions on vehicles with a year year mission, at best.

      Asking NASA to look into extending the ISS is not something new, and Congress explicitly asking NASA to look into extending in this bill shows that Congress doesn’t want to throw away a valuable asset. And unless you’re a Putin lover of some sort, creating a domestic crew transportation system not only makes fiscal sense, but it strengthens our U.S. space industry. Hard to argue with that.

      But maybe you mean the Orion/MPCV and the SLS?

      Other than the test program for each, Congress has refused to fund ANY uses for them. In fact, the House wants to officially ban a potential use for the Orion/MPCV (the Asteroid Retrieval Mission), which wouldn’t make sense if they thought it was important.

      And the SLS? One flight every four years? Maybe?

      Once Commercial Crew is operational, NASA only has to pay for the flights they need. For the SLS, NASA will be paying launch crews to sit on their butts for years. Even in “Windy World”, the SLS makes no sense.

    • Coastal Ron

      amightywind said:

      NASA has followed the age old method of developing commercial crew, “why buy one when you can have two at twice the price!

      It is interesting the philosophical divide that this brings up.

      You represent the side that thinks all space transportation should be done by the Government, and that there should be no competition, and no redundancy. Pretty much you want to continue what we had with the Shuttle, even though looking back most experts agree the Shuttle model was very bad.

      The Commercial Cargo & Crew supporters (sometimes referred to as “NewSpace”) think that competition and redundancy are important, both from an operational standpoint and from a cost standpoint.

      So essentially you feel that the government should control everything, regardless of cost, and the commercial supporters feel that money and redundancy are important. What would your political idol Ronald Reagan say about that?

  • Coastal Ron

    Well I guess there are two positives that I see in this chart as opposed to the one on July 23rd.

    1. The numbers for what the House would fund the ISS have gone up slightly.

    2. The numbers for what the House would fund Commercial Crew have gone up significantly (to $700M vs $500M).

    I also like the part about being more explicit about what it would take to extend the life of the ISS. I would like to see it’s service life extended, but we should be making a decision based on a foundation of solid cost information…

    …which brings us to the SLS. Still no information for how much the SLS will cost, but as DBN points out, they want to know what NASA’s exploration plans are (which no doubt would include some SLS flights to mollify Shelby & Nelson).

    That’s actually pretty easy to figure out, since if we assume that Congress won’t be giving NASA a budget boost, then as long as the SLS is being developed the answer is “We Can’t Afford To Go Anywhere”.

  • MrEarl

    “calls for NASA to develop an “exploration strategy” 270 days after the bills enactment, and every two years thereafter. That strategy would outline how NASA would perform its exploration goals, including landing humans on Mars (something explicitly included in this bill), “through a series of successive, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion, and other capabilities.” Those “other capabilities” would include international partnerships and work with private industry.”

    I could be reading more into this but it seems congress is interested in the L2 exploration gateway. This will obviously cost money so call Congress’s bluff. Lay out a real plan for exploration, not this asteroid nonsense, and include use of SLS and Orion with realistic costs estimates, on the high side. If they reject the plan and the cost then NASA can tell congress it doesn’t need SLS and Orion.

    • Coastal Ron

      MrEarl said:

      I could be reading more into this but it seems congress is interested in the L2 exploration gateway.

      I didn’t see that, but it would be nice.

      If they reject the plan and the cost then NASA can tell congress it doesn’t need SLS and Orion.

      That would be nice, but it doesn’t work that way. NASA didn’t ask for the SLS, and it doesn’t get enough funding to use it, yet Congress told NASA to build it.

      Nevertheless, it would be nice if NASA was allowed to present a long-term exploration plan, WITH projected costs, and the priorities it sees for what needs to be developed (and when). Better yet, a menu of possible plans, so that it’s easier to see what the trade-offs are.

  • Hiram

    I too think that this exploration strategy business smells a little like a Lagrange point Gateway, if just that it’s a reasonably affordable way to use cis-lunar space (as opposed to outpost development on the Moon) to develop technologies and capabilities that you’d need for going Mars-ward. Given that Congress is so endeared to this idea of an “exploration strategy”, it is worth giving some thought to what corners NASA is backed into in presenting them with one. I too think that a Gateway would be nice. But what other options are there for human space flight? If you want Mars eventually, we have to be talking about a recipe for sending humans far away for a long time where your ingredients are cis-lunar space, Orion, SLS, and maybe ISS.

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