WASHINGTON — The Senate and House Armed Services Committees unveiled a final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference agreement late Dec. 6 that includes several space policy and spending decisions impacting the military space and commercial space sectors.
The 2024 NDAA authorizes a defense budget of $886 billion after weeks of negotiations between House and Senate leaders. The final negotiated version of the bill now goes back to the full House and Senate for final passage before going to the President.
Space policy provisions
The final NDAA punted on the thorny issue of establishing a separate Space National Guard, deferring that politically contentious decision to further study. It does direct a review on potentially transferring existing Air National Guard space units into the U.S. Space Force in the near future.
Seeking to address growing threats in the space domain from China and Russia, the legislation also directs new intelligence sharing requirements between the Pentagon and commercial satellite industry. The Secretary of Defense would be required to establish guidelines for providing critical threat information to companies operating satellites in orbit.
The Space Force is also ordered to deliver a plan on integrating commercial space tracking data into day-to-day space domain awareness operations. This reflects a growing push in Congress to leverage the emerging commercial space startups tracking objects and detecting threats in orbit.
In terms of organizational changes, the 2024 NDAA temporarily blocks any spending to establish U.S. Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs pending a new investigation into the former Trump Administration’s last-minute decision to relocate the command to Huntsville, Alabama, and President Biden’s subsequent reversal of that decision.
This provision was inserted by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who has vowed to keep up the fight over the location of Space Command.
Language on commercial use of launch ranges
The legislation permits the Space Force to essentially establish a “port authority” arrangement at launch ranges to improve infrastructure for commercial launch companies. Similar to seaports investing in piers and shipping channels for maritime businesses, launch providers could cover costs for expanded capability at military test ranges in exchange for rapid access.
These provisions have been advocated by the Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 45, which operates the Eastern Range, including the world’s busiest spaceports at Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, Florida.
The language in the NDAA would allow the military range operator to sign agreements with commercial space launch providers to upgrade the infrastructure at the range and allow companies to reimburse the government for certain costs.
Space Force leaders have argued that under current funding mechanisms, federal ranges support commercial launches only when not being used for government activities, even as commercial launches dominate the use of the ranges.