Draft House Infrastructure Bill Funds NASA & NOAA Space Programs, But Not HLS

Draft House Infrastructure Bill Funds NASA & NOAA Space Programs, But Not HLS

NASA will get an extra $4.4 billion if Congress agrees with draft legislation proposed by the House committee that oversees the agency. While generous, it is far short of what NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is seeking and does not include any money for a second lunar lander for the Artemis program. The committee is also proposing over $4 billion for NOAA, including additional money for the space weather satellite program.

Nelson is hoping Congress will add $15.7 billion to NASA’s coffers on top of the agency’s regular appropriations through President Biden’s effort to secure $4.5 trillion for the nation’s infrastructure.

The $4.5 trillion was split into two bills, one that has bipartisan support ($1 trillion) and passed the Senate last month and the other expected to win only Democratic votes ($3.5 trillion) that is still being written. The latter is often called the “human infrastructure” bill since it would fund social programs, but is also for climate change research and other purposes.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), Chairwoman, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee

Realizing that the human infrastructure bill cannot get the 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass most legislation, Democrats are using a budgetary process called reconciliation that can pass with a simple majority of 51.  It begins with passing a Budget Resolution that sets spending limits and directs authorizing committees to write conforming legislation.

The Budget Resolution passed the House and Senate on party-line votes in August. Many committees received direction to write bills and the House leadership set a target date for them to do so by September 15.

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee, which oversees NASA and NOAA, was instructed to “report changes in laws within its jurisdiction that increase the deficit by not more than $45,510,000,000 for the period of fiscal years 2022 through 2031.”

The first committee to act, it will mark up its bill on Thursday and released the draft text today. The bill proposes $4.4 billion for NASA:

  • $4.0 billion for fixing and modernizing aging facilities at NASA’s centers across the country
  • $388 million for climate change research and development
  • $12 million for associated activities in information technology and cybersecurity ($7 million) and oversight by NASA’s Inspector General ($5 million)

The $4 billion for fixing NASA’s physical infrastructure is about 75 percent of the $5.4 billion Nelson is seeking. He also wants $10 billion for a second Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon, however, and the committee did not provide any. Nelson’s request also included funding for nuclear propulsion technology development and lunar spacesuits that did not make the cut.

The $4.4 billion is on top of the President’s $24.8 billion budget request for FY2022 that is separately working its way through the normal congressional appropriations process. The House Appropriations Committee approved $25 billion, including a plus-up for NASA’s nuclear propulsion program, but funds only one HLS as the President requested.

NASA wants two companies to develop HLS systems to reduce technical and cost risk, but so far Congress and the White House appear satisfied with one. NASA chose SpaceX, but competitor Blue Origin is challenging the selection in court.

The Senate Appropriations committee has not acted on NASA’s FY2022 request, nor has the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s released its reconciliation bill, so there is still a chance a second HLS could get money this year. Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who represents Blue Origin’s headquarters near Seattle, added $10 billion for a second HLS in the Senate-passed NASA authorization bill in June, but whether she can get it into the reconciliation bill is an open question.

Apart from NASA, the House SS&T bill also provides funds for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  NIST and NOAA are part of the Department of Commerce.

NOAA is in charge of the nation’s civil weather satellite system as well as “space weather” satellites that monitor the Sun to warn of radiation bursts that can disrupt the electric grid and satellites in Earth orbit.

Of the $4.3 billion the committee adds for NOAA, $173 million is for the space weather program. Congress passed the Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act last year. These funds would help implement that Act by accelerating delivery of instruments and spacecraft, and prioritizing an independent launch for the Space Weather Next mission.

The committee markup will take place virtually on Thursday morning. Watch on the committee’s website.

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