FAA Commercial Space Activities Get Mixed News in Final FY2020 Appropriations

FAA Commercial Space Activities Get Mixed News in Final FY2020 Appropriations

The final version of the FY2020 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill has mixed news for FAA’s commercial space transportation activities.  The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) got a slight increase over the request, but the two other components of the FAA’s commercial space portfolio received substantial cuts from requested levels.  All in all, instead of the $64.6 million requested, Congress approved $51.54 million. [UPDATE: The bill passed the House on December 17 and the Senate on December 19.]

House and Senate appropriators released the final versions of all 12 FY2020 appropriations bills late Monday afternoon.  They are grouped into two “minibuses.”  THUD, which includes the Department of Transportation (DOT), of which FAA is part, is included in the “domestic priorities and international assistance” minibus, H.R. 1865, along with seven others: Labor-HHS, Agriculture, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and State-Foreign Operations.

The “national security” minibus, H.R. 1158, combines Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services, and Homeland Security.  Congressional appropriators and leadership are optimistic that both minibuses will pass by the end of the week when the existing Continuing Resolution (CR) expires.  They believe the White House is on board and the bills will be signed into law by Friday midnight, finalizing FY2020 funding.

FAA/AST regulates, promotes and facilitates commercial space launch and reentry.  With the burgeoning number of companies developing space launch systems and conducting launches, the FAA has been trying for years to get more funding to pay for more personnel to efficiently manage applications for licenses and permits.  The FY2020 request was $25.598 million and Congress approved a slight increase of $44,200, for a new total of $26.040 million in the FAA’s Operations account.

All those launches and reentries can be trying for the Air Traffic Control system as airplanes must be diverted from their regular routes near launch and reentry sites, which also are growing.  The FAA is developing a Commercial Space Integrator tool, also called a Space Data Integrator, to reduce the amount of time the airspace must be closed.

The FY2020 request included a significant increase for that effort, $33 million, up from $9 million in FY2019.  The final appropriation is not that generous.  Appropriators approved $23 million, $10 million less than requested, but $14 million more than last year.  That funding is in the Facilities and Equipment (F&E) account.

The third element of the FAA’s commercial space activities is a Center of Excellence to support integration of launch and reentry into the NAS, advanced safety assessment methods, advanced vehicle safety methodologies, and human spaceflight safety.  It is part of the Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D) account.  The request was $5.971 million, but Congress approved only $2.5 million, the same as FY2019.

In total, Congress approved $51.54 million as follows:

  • $26.04 million for AST operations, an increase of $44,200 above the request, compared to $24.949 million in FY2019 (which was $3 million above the request)
  • $23 million for commercial space integration in F&E, a reduction of $10 million from the request, but $14 million more than FY2019
  • $2.5 million in RE&D for the Center of Excellence, the same as FY2019, but a reduction of almost $3.5 million from the request

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