House SS&T Lays Out Work Plan for 2016, Including NASA and NOAA

House SS&T Lays Out Work Plan for 2016, Including NASA and NOAA

The House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) committee has released its annual “Views and Estimates” report for the coming year that lays out its plans for 2016.  The NASA section contains familiar themes — reduce NASA’s earth science funding, keep the Space Launch System (SLS) on track, and prohibit funds for the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM). The NOAA section focuses on the commercial weather data pilot project created by the committee and NOAA’s Polar Follow On program.

The report is entitled “Fiscal Year GOP Views and Estimates,” indicating they are the views and estimates only of the committee’s Republican majority.

House SS&T is an authorizing committee that conducts oversight of NASA and writes legislation setting policy and recommending funding levels.   NASA currently does not have an authorization bill with recommended funding levels since the last version, enacted in 2010, covered only through 2013.  The policy provisions remain in force until and unless they are changed by a subsequent law.   The House passed a 2015 NASA authorization bill last year, but the Senate did not act on it.   This committee approved a 2016-2017 NASA authorization bill (H.R. 2039) last year as well, but there has been no further action (it was approved on a party-line vote).

The report says that the committee this year will:

  • maintain NASA’s budget at the FY2016 appropriated level of $19.3 billion;

  • reduce FY2017 funding for NASA’s earth science program to $1.45 billion, the level authorized in H.R. 2039, and reallocate the resulting $471 million to planetary science, heliophysics, Orion, exploration R&D, and exploration ground systems;

  • reject any proposed cut to SLS and keep it on track for first launch (EM-1, without a crew) in calendar year (CY) 2018 and second launch (EM-2, with a crew) in CY2021; and 

  • prohibit any NASA resources from being spent on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and direct NASA instead to conduct pre-formulation studies for a Mars fly mission. The report goes on to note that Near Earth Object (NEO) survey, detection, and characterization are not unique to ARM and “additional NASA resources could be used to help NASA meet the long-standing goals of the Congressionally-mandated George E. Brown, Jr.  NEO Survey Program.”

NASA has met the first goal of the George E. Brown Jr. NEO Survey Program — locating and cataloging 90 percent of NEOs larger than 1 kilometer — but has indicated that it will not be able to meet the second goal of locating 90 percent of those 140 meters or more in diameter by 2020.  NASA’s NEO program, part of the Science Mission Directorate, is currently funded at $50 million per year and the FY2017 request is for that amount.

The committee held a hearing yesterday on a bill introduced by Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) recommending changes to how NASA is managed and related topics.  A summary will be posted soon.

NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce and does not have an authorization bill similar to NASA’s, so policy matters are dealt with in other legislation.  The House passed the Weather Forecasting and Research Innovation Act (H.R. 1561) last year.

Regarding NOAA’s satellite activities, in this Views and Estimates report the committee says it will:

  • provide the remaining $6 million authorized in H.R. 1561 for a commercial weather data pilot project ($3 million was appropriated for FY2016); and

  • make funding for NOAA’s Polar Follow On (PFO) program to build the second set of Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) satellites (JPSS-3 and JPSS-4) contingent on certification “of no feasibility of commercial data or satellite alternatives.”   Appropriators approved the requested $370 million to begin PFO in FY2016; the FY2017 request is $383 million.

The committee also oversees the FAA’s Office of
Commercial Space Transportation (AST).  Last year, the
Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (P.L. 114-90) was enacted and the Views
and Estimates report states that implementation of the act should not
increase AST’s activities in FY2017 compared with FY2016.  The President
is requesting $19.8 million for AST this year, a $2 million increase over FY2016.

Correction:  An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the NEO program’s current goal is locating asteroids 140 kilometers or more in diameter.  It is 140 meters, not kilometers.

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