Congress May Be In Recess, But Members Are Still Weighing in On Space Issues

Congress May Be In Recess, But Members Are Still Weighing in On Space Issues

The House and Senate are delaying their return to Washington until May 4 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Senators and Representatives are still working hard from home.  Just today, three letters were sent to the FCC or Administration officials from a diverse array of congressional leaders making their views known on orbital debris, protecting spectrum for GPS, and NASA’s Artemis program.

The bipartisan leadership of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee sent a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, asking for a delay in its orbital debris rulemaking.  Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Frank Lucas (R-OK), the committee’s Chairwoman and Ranking Member, and Reps. Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Brian Babin (R-TX), Chair and Ranking Member of the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, asked Pai to postpone action because of COVID-19 and the potential impact of its decisions.

Asserting that the FCC’s proposal “contradicts Executive Branch policy and is inconsistent with existing and proposed legislative action,” the letter notes that the FCC itself conceded at the beginning of the process that it might not have sufficient authority to promulgate orbital debris guidelines.  “Regulatory action by the FCC at this time, without clear authority from Congress, will at the very least create confusion and undermine the Commission’s work, and at worst undermine U.S. economic competitiveness and leadership in space.”

Separately, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and the top Republican on its House counterpart joined others in trying to prevent the FCC from approving the application by Ligado Networks to use spectrum adjacent to bands used by Global Positioning System (GPS) for a 5G wireless system. Then known as LightSquared, the company declared bankruptcy in 2012 after losing a battle for the spectrum at that time. DOD is adamantly opposed because of potential interference with GPS, but C4ISRNET reports the FCC is poised to grant Ligado’s application nonetheless.

SASC Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), along with HASC Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) wrote to President Trump today asking him to intervene.  “Ligado’s planned usage will likely harm military capabilities … cost taxpayers billions of dollars to replace current GPS equipment, and force American families and businesses to use foreign space-based navigation and timing systems to replace the functions of GPS. This is fundamentally a bad deal for America’s national and economic security, and the timing could not be worse.”

C4ISRNET also reported that the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), and the chairman of the HASC readiness subcommittee, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), wrote to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in recent days expressing concern that her department has not made all relevant information available to Congress, the public, or the FCC about the issue.

Meanwhile, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine urging him to rely on public-private partnerships (PPPs) for delivering both astronauts and cargo to the lunar surface.

Citing the goal of the Artemis program to not only “plant a flag, but to drive innovation, exploration, and research,” they urged Bridenstine to move forward with awarding contracts for the Human Landing System (HLS) “as currently planned.”

They also want NASA to use PPPs for development of “low-cost, reliable, and repeatable large lunar lander capability” for cargo.  The letter notes that NASA already has invested a “significant amount of funding” though its Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity, Tipping Point Technologies, and NextSTEP E contracts “for co-development of critical lander technologies …. with diverse partners including SpaceX, Astrobotic, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, and many smaller industry suppliers in our states.”  Therefore “we encourage you to expeditiously partner with industry for the development of one or more large cargo landers and follow-on services.”

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