WASHINGTON — The U.S. defense policy bill signed into law Jan. 3 by U.S. President Barack Obama effectively terminates a joint missile defense effort with Germany and Italy while blocking Pentagon plans to eliminate a program designed to develop, test and field quick-reaction space capabilities.

The White House had previously threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013 over provisions related to dealing with suspected terrorists. The $633 billion authorization measure was finalized Dec. 18 by conferees from the House and Senate armed services committees.

According to a summary released by the House Armed Services Committee, the legislation authorizes spending some $50 million more on national security space programs in 2013 than was requested. It also preserves two largely experimental enterprises that had been marked for closure by the U.S. Air Force: Operationally Responsive Space and the Space Test Program.

In its 2013 budget request unveiled in February, the Air Force proposed closing the Operationally Responsive Space Office located at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and transferring its knowledge base in developing quick-reaction space capabilities to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. The NDAA directs that the Operationally Responsive Space Office be preserved at a location other than the Space and Missile Systems Center.

The NDAA authorizes spending $45 million in 2013 on Operationally Responsive Space activities. Roughly the same amount of funding was authorized for the Space Test Program, which finds rides to space for experiments and technologies developed by various Pentagon agencies and which was also marked for termination by the Air Force this year.

It is unclear, however, how or even whether the funds authorized for any programs in the NDAA will affect actual spending. The Pentagon, like the rest of the federal government, is operating for at least the first six months of fiscal year 2013 under a so-called continuing resolution that keeps funding at 2012 levels.

The NDAA would appear to bring an end to U.S. involvement in the Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, an omnidirectional missile defense system that has been under development with Germany and Italy for more than a decade. The White House wanted to finish testing the system before pulling out at the end of 2013 and had previously rattled its veto saber in response to proposals in earlier versions of the NDAA to terminate the program.

The final version of the bill also directs the U.S. secretary of defense to evaluate at least three additional U.S. sites for placement of interceptors capable of defending against missile threats from nations including North Korea and Iran. At least two of the locations must be on the East Coast of the United States, the bill says.

But the conference bill softens a provision in the House version of the NDAA that would have directed the Missile Defense Agency to field a so-called third interceptor site — the U.S. territorial shield currently has interceptors emplaced at bases in Alaska and California — by the end of 2015. The final measure calls for environmental impact statements on three sites selected by the Missile Defense Agency to be completed by the end of 2013.

Other missile defense-related provisions in the final NDAA include directives to evaluate the cost of and alternatives to a proposed missile tracking satellite constellation and to develop a long-term plan for enhancing and eventually replacing the exoatmospheric kill vehicle that currently sits atop U.S.-based interceptors.

The measure also approves Air Force plans to simultaneously order two additional missile warning satellites provided that doing so costs less than procuring the spacecraft separately. The bill authorizes the Air Force to award a fixed-price contract for the two Space Based Infrared System satellites, with a total value not to exceed $3.9 billion.

Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...