A provision of the fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriation bill approved last month requires NASA to conduct “an independent benefit-cost analysis” of its commercial crew program “that takes into consideration the total Federal investment in the commercial crew program and the expected operational life of the International Space Station.” The bill withholds $171 million of the $696 million provided for commercial crew until NASA certifies to Congress that the analysis has bee completed.
At last week’s FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight at NASA, said that study was underway, but didn’t say when he expected the study to be complete. “We are actively working that,” he said. “We hope to be able to clear that hurdle and satisfy that Congressional language and get those funds released as soon as possible.”
Last August, Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced the Suborbital and Orbital Advancement and Regulatory Streamlining (SOARS) Act, legislation that they say would “streamline” commercial spaceflight regulations. There’s been little action on the bill, though, since its introduction, other that brief testimony about the bill that McCarthy—the House Majority Whip—gave to the House Science Committee in November.
At the FAA conference last week, Congressional staffers were noncommittal about the fate of the legislation as either a standalone bill or incorporation into something like a planned update of the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA). Tom Hammond of the House Science Committee staff noted that some of the provisions of the SOARS Act, such as allowing a vehicle that obtains a launch license to retain its experimental permit, have also been discussed for inclusion in the proposed CSLA update. Ann Zulkosky of the Senate Commerce Committee staff said she was unaware of any member of the committee interested in a Senate companion bill to the SOARS Act, with plans instead to address those issues in a CSLA update.