WASHINGTON — The chair of the Senate Commerce Committee says she will push for a multiyear NASA authorization bill, mirroring plans by her House counterpart.
In a Feb. 10 speech at the Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Space Transportation Conference, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said a multiyear authorization was needed even though Congress included a NASA authorization act in the CHIPS and Science Act, a broad science and technology bill, that was enacted last year.
“In the CHIPS and Science bill, we authorized many NASA programs, including Artemis, but we need to have a multiyear authorization now to continue our investments into the future and give a clear understanding of the direction that Congress would like to see,” she said.
Cantwell said her committee will hold a series of space-related hearings in the coming months. Among the topics of those hearings will be support for new technology development, oversight and guidance of NASA programs and more effective ways to integrate space launches into the National Airspace System. She did not discuss any specific provisions she would like to see in a new NASA authorization bill.
Her call for a new NASA authorization bill mirrors plans by the House Science Committee. That committee’s new chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), has also said he wants a new NASA authorization. An authorization and oversight plan for the committee approved by members at an organizational meeting Feb. 8 includes a NASA authorization as a priority.
“During the 117th Congress, the CHIPS and Science Act included a narrower section authorizing certain NASA activities, however the language did not include any authorizations of appropriations for any program,” the plan stated. “During the 118th Congress, the Committee will engage in a comprehensive review of each directorate at NASA and will develop a comprehensive NASA authorization, including recommended funding levels.”
“The CHIPS and Science Act included a NASA authorization bill, but it was pretty pared back,” said Tom Hammond, senior policy adviser to Lucas on the House Science Committee, during a panel discussion at the FAA conference after Cantwell’s speech. “There was a lot of stuff left on the cutting room floor that we made significant progress on but which we just couldn’t get over the finish line that we could probably pick up and move forward.”
A NASA authorization act could be one of several bills that cover civil and commercial space activities. In a speech at the conference Feb. 9, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) said he would look to using the annual National Defense Authorization Act as well as an upcoming FAA reauthorization as vehicles for passing launch-related provisions.
“We can financially support the development of new launch vehicles and new launch sites and find ways to streamline the permitting and approval process for these launch facilities,” he said. “We can also work to improve airspace management to make it easier to find launch windows and to do it without disrupting commercial aviation.”
Hammond said on the panel that the House Science Committee may also consider a standalone commercial space bill. That bill could address a range of issues, from the “learning period” set to expire this September that limits the FAA’s ability to regulate safety of spaceflight participants on commercial vehicles, to improving space situational awareness.
The Senate Commerce Committee and House Science Committee have slowly been organizing their membership, including who will serve on subcommittees that deal with space. The House Science Committee announced Feb. 9 that the space subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas), who has been the ranking member of the subcommittee in the previous Congress. Babin’s district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
The ranking member of the space subcommittee will be Rep. Eric Sorensen (D-Ill.), a freshman member of Congress and former meteorologist. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who chaired the space subcommittee in the previous Congress when Democrats held the majority, did not return to the science committee in this Congress.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) will chair the Senate Commerce Committee’s space and science subcommittee. Sinema, who left the Democratic party late last year but continues to caucus with them, replaces Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), who will chair a subcommittee for consumer protection. The ranking member of the full committee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has not announced who will be the ranking member of the space subcommittee, a position held in the previous Congress by Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.)