Bridenstine to introduce space policy bill in April


WASHINGTON — Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) said Feb. 26 he plans to introduce a wide-ranging space policy bill in April, but acknowledges that the full bill is unlikely to pass this year.

Speaking at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation breakfast here, Bridenstine said he will circulate a draft of his proposed American Space Renaissance Act with industry in the next few weeks. He will then formally introduce the bill during the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in April.

“The overall point of the bill is to promote policies that will permanently make America the predominant spacefaring nation,” he said in his remarks. “A big part of that is fostering, encouraging and incentivizing industry to innovate and thrive here in the United States.”

Bridenstine, who has been talking about the proposed bill for some time, said he wants to build on the momentum created by the passage last year of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, a bill that updated various sections of commercial launch and related law. “We should proactively work to address issues that could serve as further impediments to commercial space,” he said.

A big part of the bill, he said, will be to encourage government agencies to purchase more services, such as communications, remote sensing, and weather data, from industry, arguing that would save money for the government.

Bridenstine said that he does not believe the entire bill will pass. “I expect it to serve as a conversation piece, as well as a repository for the best ideas that we can plug and play into difference pieces of legislation,” he said. Some work, he added, is already underway to incorporate bill language into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

One such provision will start the process of transferring space situational awareness oversight from the Defense Department to the Federal Aviation Administration. “My objective is to gradually build the capacity of a civilian agency to perform space situational awareness activities,” he said.

The language he’s seeking for this year’s defense authorization bill will be limited, he said, but is intended to be a first step towards eventually handing over space traffic management responsibilities to the FAA. “That day is going to have to come,” he said.

He said he would also seek to authorize the Defense Department to buy commercial weather data, similar to a pilot program underway at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support civil weather forecasting.

In addition to discussing his proposed bill, Bridenstine used the speech to call for additional funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST). He warned that the office, which licenses commercial launches and spaceports, is “underfunded and understaffed” as commercial launch activity grows. Bridenstine won a $250,000 increase in the office’s budget in the House last year, which was increased in the final omnibus spending bill.

The FAA requested $19.8 million for AST in its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal, $2 million more than what it received in 2016. Bridenstine endorsed the proposed increase. “I intend for Congress to appropriate this amount, and will exhaust every avenue to ensure that FAA/AST is fully funded,” he said.