WASHINGTON — The House Science Committee advanced four space-related bills March 20 addressing issues from commercial remote sensing to space resources.

The committee advanced the bills by unanimous votes during the markup session that also considered four other bills on unrelated topics. The bills now go to the full House.

H.R. 272, the Astronaut Safe Temporary Ride Options (ASTRO) Act, would formally authorize transportation for official duties for NASA astronauts once they return to Earth until they are medically cleared to drive. Currently, such transportation has to be approved on a case-by-case basis by the NASA administrator.

“When these astronauts return home, we must make certain they can recover and get back on their feet without red tape,” said Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), chair of the space subcommittee and sponsor of the bill, who said he introduced the bill after conversations with NASA astronauts.

H.R. 6219, the Accessing Satellite Data to Enable New Discoveries (ASCEND) Act, would formally authorize NASA’s commercial data acquisition program to purchase remote sensing data from companies for research purposes. NASA started a pilot program, the Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) program, along those lines in 2017 that has since matured into an operational one.

“With new leadership and responsibilities for CSDA over the past year, it is an important time for Congress to reaffirm our support for this program by enacting this statute, this ensuring its continued growth and success,” said Rep. Tom Kean Jr. (R-N.J.), lead sponsor of the bill.

H.R. 7687, the NASA Streamlining Partnerships for Research and Education for Engineering and Science (SPREES) Act, would allow NASA to jointly fund research with other federal agencies for science, engineering and education programs, one modeled on existing authorities held by the National Science Foundation.

“If NASA were to attempt this today, both agencies would have to jump through burdensome, bureaucratic hoops, which impose duplicative administrative burdens on researchers and students who wish to apply for the funding,” said Rep. Eric. Sorensen (D-Ill.), ranking member of the space subcommittee and lead sponsor of the bill. “The NASA SPREES Act will streamline interagency collaboration.”

H.R. 4152, the Space Resources Institute Act, directs NASA to prepare a report on the merits of establishing an institute for the study of space resources, including science and technology issues. The report would examine the merits of such an institute, which could be either a physical or virtual one and developed with universities or industry.

The bill “is the first step in helping us understand how we can responsibly perform in situ resource utilization,” said Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Colo.), who sponsored the bill to centralize research being done today by companies, universities and NASA, who “would benefit from a central hub to support the development of foundational science and technology for space resources.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...