On Thursday, the Future Space Leaders Foundation held Future Space 2014, a conference oriented primarily to students and young professionals to discuss “cross-cutting issues” in space. The event included talks by four members of House, who discussed a range of issues about civil, commercial, and military space policy.
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS), chairman of the space subcommittee of the House Science Committee, said he still expected Congress to pass an update to the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA) this year, even though such legislation has yet to be introduced. “It is my hope, before this Congress is finished, that we will be able to get some updates to the CSLA passed,” he said, without discussing what those changes would be.
Palazzo added that he also expected the Senate to pass a version of the NASA authorization bill that the House approved on a 401-2 vote on June 9. The Senate has yet to take up that bill, or introduce its own, but Palazzo said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), ranking member of the space subcommittee, has been talking to members of the Senate about their plans. He was more doubtful, though, about the ASTEROIDS Act introduced by Reps. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) last week. “We have a limited amount of legislative days this year,” he said. “Our committee is reviewing it as we speak.”
In a separate speech later in the morning, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed support for funding a domestic replacement for the Russian-built RD-180 engine used on the first stage of the Atlas V. “There’s a strong possibility that the Congress will finalize support for a domestically-built alternative later this year,” he said. “I hope it happens sooner, rather than later.”
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who followed Langevin, discussed the need for limiting the liability that private space ventures face. He cited his own experience with the Rocket Racing League, which flew rocket-powered aircraft several years ago but lost funding when a rocket “completely unaffiliated with us blew up.”
“If we truly want to this industry to advance into the future, we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right things to limit liability so those of us who are willing to take risks have the opportunity to that,” he said. Asked after his speech what specific measure he had in mind, he said that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the incoming House Majority Leader, was making “great strides” on this topic. “As it relates to this issue, since it’s his district and he’s got the lead on this, I’m going to to turn to him for his guidance and his leadership,” Bridenstine said. (McCarthy’s district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, home to a number of commercial space companies, including Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace.)
Closing out the event was Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who touched on commercial and military space activities, particularly those in his state. Like Rep. Langevin, Heinrich appeared to endorse development of an RD-180 engine. “It’s clear that over-reliance on assets like the RD-180 for national security launches is something that we need to look at very seriously,” he said in a luncheon speech. “Some argue that it would take years to build a comparable engine here in the United States, and they talk about the cost of building those assets. But I think these arguments only prolong inaction and, frankly, delay a course of action” towards self-reliance.
Heinrich also mentioned a topic he’s championed in military space, Operationally Responsive Space (ORS), which seeks to develop capabilities to rapidly build and launch satellites to support military forces in times of crisis. He has successfully fought efforts by the Air Force to close the ORS Office, based in New Mexico. “I’m very pleased that the Air Force has now agreed in recent years that this program is going to move forward,” he said. “I like to say that ORS is disruptive, and disruptive in the best sense of the word… It creates new possibilities for us.”