FAA Space Office Gets Budget Boost in House Appropriations Bill

FAA Space Office Gets Budget Boost in House Appropriations Bill

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) got a budget boost today during House consideration of its FY2020 funding bill. An amendment by Rep. Ross Spano (R-FL) was adopted adding $8 million to FAA/AST’s FY2020 budget, bringing the total to $33 million.  It is just one step in the appropriations process, but may be an indicator of growing congressional interest in commercial space launch issues.

FAA/AST facilitates, regulates and promotes the commercial space launch and reentry business. The office’s leadership has been trying to get budget increases for the past several years to allow hiring more staff to process the ever-growing number of license and permit applications and provide other services to the burgeoning space launch sector.

For FY2020, the Trump Administration requested $25,598,000 for FAA/AST.  The House Appropriations Committee approved $24,949,000, $649,000 less than the request and the same amount that was appropriated for FY2019.

Rep. Ross Spano (R-Florida)

Rep. Ross Spano  (R-FL) offered an amendment to add $8 million.  It was combined with several others into en bloc amendment 8 that was offered by Rep. David Price (D-NC), chairman of the House Appropriations Transportation-HUD (THUD) subcommittee, and passed without debate.

Spano is a member of the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that authorizes FAA activities. His district is in central Florida. In a statement this evening, he called space transportation “a key to our national security and foreign policy interests” and important to “our local economy.”  He added that it is “critical” that FAA/AST be positioned “for success” to ensure the “safety and security on our airspace.”

In last year’s FAA Reauthorization bill, Congress authorized $33 million for FAA/AST for FY2019, $43.5 million for FY2020, and increasing budgets for the next three years ending with $75.9 million in FY2023.

Authorization bills recommend funding levels, but do not provide any money.  Only appropriations bills provide money.  Appropriators are not required to abide by recommendations in authorization bills.  Strictly speaking they are not supposed to appropriate more than authorized, but may appropriate less.

The FAA is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and its funding is part of the THUD appropriations bill.

The House is currently considering a bundle of five appropriations bills, Minibus-2 (H.R. 3055), which includes THUD as well as the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA and NOAA.  The House finished the CJS section of the bill last week and is now debating THUD.

If the Senate agrees with the House’s action today, FAA/AST would get $33 million for FY2020, the same as was authorized for FY2019.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted on its version of the THUD bill yet.

The FAA’s budget has three pots of money for commercial space transportation activities:

  • The FAA/AST office in the Operations budget.
  • The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization’s (ATO’s) development of a Space Data Integrator (SDI) tool in the Facilities & Equipment (F&E) budget.  SDI will safely reduce the amount and length of time that airspace must be closed whenever there is a space launch or reentry.
  • The FAA/AST’s Center of Excellence in the Research, Engineering, & Development (RE&D) budget.  The Center supports integration of launch and reentry into the NAS, advanced safety assessment methods, advanced vehicle safety methodologies, and human spaceflight safety.

The complete FAA FY2020 request for commercial space transportation is $64.6 million, broken down as follows:

  • $25.598 million for AST operations. For FY2019, $24.949 million was approved, $3 million more than the request.
  • $33.000 million for SDI.  For FY2019, $9 million was approved, an increase of $2 million above the request).
  • $5.971 million for the Center of Excellence.  For FY2019, $2.5 million was approved,the same amount as requested.

In total. Congress appropriated $36.5 million for FAA’s commercial space activities in FY2019.

The House THUD bill includes the requested funding for SDI and the Center of Excellence.  If Spano’s additional $8 million survives the rest of the appropriations process, the total for FAA’s commercial space transportation activities in FY2020 would be $72.6 million, almost exactly double what was appropriated for FY2019.


Updated with the comment from Rep. Spano.

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