FAA Space Office To Get Budget Boost from House Appropriators – UPDATE

FAA Space Office To Get Budget Boost from House Appropriators – UPDATE

House appropriators are recommending a budget boost for FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  The office received $19.8 million for FY2017, but the Trump budget proposal for FY2018 is $2 million less.  By contrast, the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the office is proposing $21.587 million. [UPDATE:  the subcommittee approved that amount on July 11 as did the full House Appropriations Committee on July 17.]

The Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) subcommittee will mark up the bill tomorrow evening.  In total, the bill allocates $56.5 billion for the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  That total is $1.1 billion less than FY2017 and $8.6 billion above the Trump Administration’s request.

FAA/AST regulates, facilitates and promotes the commercial space launch industry.  Among its responsibilities is issuing permits and licenses related to commercial space launches and reentries.  With the burgeoning growth in both areas, advocates point to the need to provide the office with enough funding to hire sufficient staff to process applications in a timely manner.  Debate continues over whether to expand FAA/AST’s role into non-military space situational awareness or regulating non-traditional space activities, but on a more fundamental level the question is how to ensure the office can effectively execute its current assignments.

The office received $17.8 million for FY2016.  The FY2017 request from the Obama Administration was $19.8 million and Congress eventually appropriated that amount in May 2017.  Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) were particularly influential in convincing House appropriators to provide that level of funding last year.

Unfortunately, the Trump Administration was formulating its FY2018 budget request while Congress was still debating the final FY2017 numbers and FAA/AST was funded by a Continuing Resolution at its FY2016 level.  Thus, the Trump Administration may have viewed its FY2018 request of $17.8 million as level funding when in fact it would be a $2 million cut.

In any case, the T-HUD subcommittee’s recommendation of $21.587 million is a boost over FY2017.  In March, Bridenstine testified before the subcommittee in favor of a $23 million budget, a $3.2 million increase above FY2017.  The $21.587 million proposed by the T-HUD subcommittee is a bit more than half of that.

FAA also funds commercial space transportation-related activities in two other accounts, but the draft bill released by the committee today does not provide sufficient detail to know how those requests fared.   The FY2018 requests are $1.796 million in Research, Engineering and Development (RE&D) for AST’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and other R&D related to safely integrating commercial space transportation into the National Airspace System; and $4.5 million in Facilities and Equipment (F&E) for the Air Traffic Organization (ATO) to acquire a Space Data Integrator tool that will enable ATO to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.

Tomorrow’s subcommittee markup is at 7:00 pm ET.  It will be webcast.


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