House Appropriators Hold Back on Increase for FAA Space Office, Endorse NTSB Role in Safety Oversight

House Appropriators Hold Back on Increase for FAA Space Office, Endorse NTSB Role in Safety Oversight

The House Appropriations Committee plans to increase funding for FAA’s space office in FY2023, but not as much as the Biden Administration requested. In its draft report scheduled for approval tomorrow, instead of the $42.5 million requested for the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, it is recommending $33.7 million. That still is more than the $27.6 million for FY2022. The committee also weighed in on plans by the National Transportation Safety Board to get more involved in investigating commercial space accidents, a controversial idea, but one the committee endorsed.

The Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) promotes, facilitates, and regulates commercial space launches and reentries.  Over the past decade the number of U.S. companies launching satellites and the number of launches per year has grown tremendously, some of which now involve launching people to space on a commercial basis.

AST has been struggling to keep pace with it all and is requesting additional resources, especially personnel.

AST ended up with $27.555 million in FY2022 according to the FAA’s FY2023 budget request documentation. The Biden Administration wants a sizeable increase for FY2023, $42.777 million. Of that increase, $6.170 million is for streamlining launch and reentry licensing and $2.179 million is associated with commercial human spaceflight regulation both under the current “informed consent” legal regime and preparing for new rulemaking in 2023 when restrictions on FAA’s ability to establish new regulations in this area expire.

The committee does not explain why it recommended less funding for AST than requested or where the cuts would be made. The only language associated with AST in that part of the committee’s report “reminds” AST that a report on spaceports required by the 2018 FAA Authorization Act is “overdue.” It wants the report to include an assessment of funding and finance programs available for spaceport infrastructure.

Commercial spaceflight is funded in two other FAA accounts. The committee approved the $10 million requested for an automated Space Data Integrator system to integrate space launches into the National Airspace System and $5.7 million for FAA/AST’s safety Center of Excellence.

The committee also shared its view on the role of NTSB in investigating commercial space accidents. In November, the NTSB issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) signalling its intent to expand its role in this area. It met immediate pushback from Republicans on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that oversees FAA/AST and in April the bipartisan leadership of that committee wrote to President Biden saying the NTSB’s rulemaking was “inconsistent with statutory authorities, existing interagency agreements and regulations, and it is plainly unlawful.”

In its report today, the House Appropriations Committee said it sees a role for both the FAA and NTSB in “ensuring an innovative, safe, and mature” commercial spaceflight industry develops. It praised the FAA and NTSB for ongoing efforts to update their Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on commercial spaceflight and “allay confusion that may have been generated” by the November NPRM.

The full committeee will mark up the bill tomorrow (Thursday) at 10:00 am ET.  [UPDATE, JUNE 30: The committee did not make any changes to this portion of the bill during markup.]


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