Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at a May 14 hearing of his space subcommittee that the proposed Space Force could play a role protecting commercial activities in space. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate’s space subcommittee says he’s working with colleagues on a “bold” new NASA authorization bill to direct the future of the agency’s human spaceflight program.

In his opening statement at a July 9 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee on the past and future of NASA’s human spaceflight programs, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said a new NASA authorization bill, yet to be introduced, would build upon a 2017 bill that called for human exploration of Mars.

“The next 50 years have the potential to be even more consequential than the last,” he said, stating that was why he was working with committee leadership “on yet another NASA authorization act to help continue to lay out a bold, visionary agenda for NASA and manned space exploration so that America continues to lead the world in exploring space.”

Cruz didn’t go into details about what the bill would contain, or when it would be introduced, but suggested it would support the administration’s current efforts to return humans to the moon by 2024 as a step towards human missions to Mars, but also support commercial space activities. “We need a bold vision,” he said. “A vision that sees the commercial space industry thriving.”

Cruz said he was working with the subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), as well as Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the chair and ranking member respectively of the full committee, on the bill.

In a luncheon speech at the Future Space 2019 conference here July 10, Cantwell said one priority she had for the bill is “robust funding” for space activities the bill authorizes. She also called for “continued harmonization with NASA on the commercial side,” but didn’t elaborate on what specific measures she was seeking.

She also said the NASA authorization might be used to resolve concerns she and others in Congress have about the use of a 24-gigahertz band of spectrum for 5G services. Both NASA and NOAA have warned that using that band for terrestrial 5G services could create interference with satellite measurements of atmospheric water vapor in a nearby band, which they argued could jeopardize weather forecasting.

“We have a challenge that we’re trying to help NASA with, which is not to give away spectrum that allows them and NOAA to have the best forecasting information,” she said.

The Senate, meanwhile, moved forward on another space-related bill. The Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported S.1694, a bill called the “One Small Step to Protect Human Heritage in Space Act,” intended to provide legal protections for the Apollo 11 and other historic lunar landing sites. The committee favorably reported the bill on a voice vote.

The bill requires any federal agency that licenses commercial lunar activities to make licensees follow recommendations issued by NASA in 2011 regarding preservation of landing sites, as well as any updates to those guidelines. It also allows those agencies to assess penalties against licensees that violate those guidelines, but doesn’t give a specific dollar amount for such fines.

“The Apollo landing sites are the types of historic places that would be preserved for future generations if they were on Earth. As we mark the 50th anniversary of this giant leap for humankind, we must do everything we can to protecting these sites – particularly as more public and private entities look to establish a presence on the moon,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who co-sponsored the bill with Cruz, said in a statement.

“I urge my Senate colleagues to take up and pass this commonsense bill without delay to ensure that, as we ramp up our efforts to return to the Moon, these important parts of history are safeguarded,” added Cruz in the joint statement.

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...