HASC Chairman adds $150 million in NDAA for space launch technology development

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The $150 million addition is for investments focused on the National Security Space Launch Phase 3 competition.

WASHINGTON — The House Armed Services Committee next week will mark up the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in the draft bill known as the chairman’s mark directs the Air Force to create a $150 million program for the development of space launch technologies.

In other space related provisions, the chairman’s mark cuts funding for the Space Development Agency by $12 million and directs the establishment of an assistant secretary of defense for space and strategic deterrence policy to oversee DoD space, nuclear deterrence and missile defense.

The HASC will debate the chairman’s proposal on July 1. The bill authorizes $731.6 billion for national defense spending in fiscal year 2021.

Funds for NSSL Phase 3

The $150 million addition is for investments focused on the National Security Space Launch Phase 3 competition.

The Department of the Air Force will award two contracts this summer for the NSSL Phase 2 procurement. Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance are competing in the program.

The HASC bill supports the Air Force’s plan to select two providers in Phase 2 but accelerates the timeline for the Air Force to begin investing in technologies for Phase 3. The chairman’s mark says this is necessary to “maintain competition and support innovation.”

Under the $150 million program the Air Force will conduct a “full and open competition” to select up to three companies that will use the funds for “vehicle certification, infrastructure requirements and transformational technologies.”

Smith’s provision would give launch companies — including those that did not win Phase 2 contracts and other new competitors — an opportunity to compete for government funding and stay in the game until they can bid for the NSSL Phase 3 procurement contracts to be awarded in 2024 or 2025.

The Air Force in October 2018 awarded Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance and Northrop Grumman $2.3 billion in so-called Launch Service Agreement development funding to be spread over six years. But only companies that win Phase 2 procurement contracts will keep receiving LSA funds.

The HASC bill supports the Air Force’s decision to terminate LSAs with companies that don’t win a Phase 2 procurement contract, but wants the Air Force to find a different way to continue to invest in commercial launch vehicles.

Smith’s proposal is somewhat similar to what the Senate Armed Services Committee proposed in its version of the 2021 NDAA but the HASC would further accelerate investments for NSSL Phase 3.

The SASC adds $30 million in 2021 and $250 million through 2027 to “establish a program to develop technologies and systems to enhance phase 3 National Security Space Launch requirements and enable further advances in launch capability.”

Smith’s mark sets at September 30, 2021, deadline for the Air Force to sign three agreements with National Security Space Launch providers for Phase 3 investments.

The bill increases development funding for the National Security Space Launch program from $560.9 requested by the Air Force to $710.9 million.

By adding funds for NSSL Phase 3, both the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees’ draft bills appear to agree with the recommendations of a RAND Corp. independent study that suggested the Air Force should try to support as many domestic launch providers as possible beyond the two it selects in NSSL Phase 2.

RAND senior policy analyst Bonnie Triezenberg told SpaceNews on June 25 that the NDAA provisions “appear to be a positive step forward and a strong signal that the U.S. Congress intends to support continued development of our critical launch industrial base.”

Assistant secretary for space deterrence policy

Last year’s NDAA directed DoD to establish the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy. The HASC proposes changing that position to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space and Strategic Deterrence Policy with responsibility for space, nuclear deterrence and missile defense policy.

The committee says the the realignment of nuclear deterrence, missile defense, and space policy under one assistant secretary would “streamline deterrence policy development” and acquisitions of new systems. The person holding this position would be a member of DoD’s Space Acquisition Council.

Space Development Agency

The chairman’s mark cuts 2021 operations funding for the Space Development Agency from $48.1 million cut to $36.1 million. A reduction of $7 million is from studies and another $5 million is but due to “unjustified growth.”

FCC’s order on Ligado 5G network

The SASC bill criticizes the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to approve Ligado Networks’ request to build a terrestrial cellular network using spectrum adjacent to GPS. The bill prohibits the use of DoD funds to comply with the FCC order on Ligado until the Secretary of Defense submits an estimate of the costs associated with the potential GPS interference.

The HASC has no language on the Ligado issue. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be at some point in the future, because members feel strongly about this,” a committee aide told reporters on June 25.

The HASC aide noted that the FCC falls under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. “We couldn’t do something without the approval of the committee of jurisdiction.”