Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Credit: U.S. Senate Energy Committee

WASHINGTON — A compromise defense bill cobbled together by congressional leaders includes language that would potentially bar the installation of Russian Glonass satellite ground stations in the United States, among other space-related provisions.

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act passed the House Dec. 12. The bill is expected to go to the Senate floor as early as the week of Dec. 16, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Dec. 9. Lawmakers are hoping to get the measure passed and signed into law before the end of the year.

While the bill returns authorization amounts for nearly every space program back to the original amount requested by the president, funding for those programs will be decided by congressional appropriations committees. Several of the bill’s key provisions were highlighted in fact sheets released by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. 

  • The bill “prohibits the President from approving the installation of Russian satellite ground stations in the United States that pose a threat to U.S. national security,” according to the House fact sheet. The U.S. State Department is considering a Russian proposal to install signal-integrity monitoring stations for its Glonass positioning, navigation and timing constellation on U.S. territory. This has triggered a backlash among congressional Republicans, some of whom have argued that the stations could be used for spying and to improve the accuracy of Russian missiles. 
  • The bill requires the Defense Department develop strategy for multiyear procurement of commercial satellite services. The satellite telecommunications industry has long complained that the Defense Department’s typical practice of signing one-year satellite leases hamstrings their ability to plan for the future or invest in long-term infrastructure.
  • The bill calls for “support for fair competition on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.” National security launches currently are the near-exclusive province of Denver-based United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that is prime contractor on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The Defense Department in 2012 authorized the Air Force to buy up to 36 EELV rocket cores over five years from ULA while setting aside 14 missions for competition. Although the competitively awarded missions will give so-called new entrants like Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, Calif., an opportunity to win significant Pentagon launch business, ULA also will be allowed to bid on those missions. An earlier version of the bill drafted in the House called for the secretary of the Air Force to draw up a comparison of the cost, schedule, performance and mission assurance activities of each company bidding for satellite-launching contracts and to submit the comparison to Congress.
  • Citing “increasing foreign threats,” the bill calls for “an emphasis on space protection and Operationally Responsive Space programs,” according to the fact sheet. The Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space Office was established at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., in 2007 to quickly develop low-cost space capabilities in response to emerging military needs. But the Air Force, which like the rest of the Pentagon is struggling to cope with a difficult budget environment, has been seeking to eliminate the office and transfer its activities to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has been fighting the proposed closure and said in October he received assurances from the Air Force that the office would be kept open at Kirtland at least through the remainder of fiscal year 2014.
  • The bill “requires the Missile Defense Agency to deploy an additional missile defense radar to protect the United States from long-range missile threats from North Korea,” according to a fact sheet from the Senate Armed Services committee. It also authorizes $30 million for initial costs toward deployment. In marking up its version of the 2014 defense authorization bill June 14, the Senate Armed Services Committee recommended investing $30 million in additional X-band radars or other sensors to track incoming missiles. Many in the Democrat-controlled Senate believe it may be more cost effective to invest in target discrimination capabilities than a third interceptor site.
  • The bill also includes an increase of $80 million to correct a problem that caused a missile defense flight test failure in July 2013, and $80 million for enhanced kill vehicle and discrimination capabilities. In July, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system suffered its third consecutive intercept failure in two years.

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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...