Industry Reactions to New NASA Authorization Bill Vary Widely

Industry Reactions to New NASA Authorization Bill Vary Widely

Space industry groups reacted quite differently to the 2020 NASA authorization bill that will be marked up by a House subcommittee later this week.  The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) rebuked those who crafted the bill and called for it to be withdrawn. By contrast, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE) said the bill’s focus on Mars, not the Moon, should come as no surprise and credited it for sparking a “robust exchange” of views. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) also was upbeat. The statements from each are reproduced herein.

In some respects, the dividing line for the industry associations is between what is commonly called “new space” and “traditional space” although the terms are imprecise and it can be difficult to categorize some companies as one or the other.

By and large, CSF represents companies that many consider new space or “entrepreneurial space,” such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.  NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the Moon and later go on to Mars, which is rejected in the bill, would benefit many of its members.  Blue Origin, for example, is leading a team that wants to build human lunar landers as a public-private partnership (PPP) with NASA, the agency’s preferred procurement model instead of traditional government cost-plus contracts.

CDSE counts the “big three” traditional aerospace companies — Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman — among its Board of Directors along with Aerojet Rocketdyne and Jacobs.  The House committee’s bill would benefit many of its members.  Four of those five, for example, are part of the Space Launch System (SLS) program.  Boeing is the prime contractor for SLS, a Saturn V-class launch vehicle that is the rocket of choice in the bill.  Boeing builds the core stage and its upper stage, Aerojet Rocketdyne provides the engines for both, Northrop Grumman provides the side-mounted solid rocket boosters, and Jacobs is one of the companies involved in Exploration Ground Systems supporting SLS launches at Kennedy Space Center.  For its part, Lockheed Martin builds the Orion crew capsule, which is also prominently mentioned in the bill.

To illustrate the challenge of separating companies into one category or the other, however, some belong to both organizations, like Axiom Space, which just today was selected by NASA to build the first commercial space module to be attached to the International Space Station.  Not to mention that Blue Origin’s human lunar lander team includes Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

AIA is much more broadly based, with many of its members focused on aviation and defense rather than space.  Those that are in the space business run the gamut from Boeing to Virgin Galactic.

With their differing memberships it is not surprising that their views of the bipartisan NASA authorization bill introduced on Friday vary widely.

The bill rejects the Trump Administration’s plan to quickly return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024 relying on PPPs and commercial rockets, with SLS playing a limited role.  Instead, the legislation calls for a focus on human exploration of Mars and champions use of SLS and its Exploration Upper Stage.  It still calls for a return to the Moon, but by 2028 (NASA’s original plan) and only to develop and test whatever is necessary to enable the Mars goal, not building outposts or exploiting the Moon’s natural resources through in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).  Commercial space would play only a small role if the bill were to be enacted as is.

The bill is the product of a bipartisan consensus among the leadership of the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee and its Space Subcommittee that authorize NASA’s activities: subcommittee chair and ranking member Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK) and Brian Babin (R-TX), and full committee chairwoman and ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Frank Lucas (R-OK).  The Space Subcommittee will mark up the bill on Wednesday.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is asking the committee to work with the Administration to modify the bill.

CSF goes further.  It wants the bill withdrawn. By contrast, CDSE and AIA are pleased with the legislation.  Their statements are as follows.

Commercial Spaceflight Federation

1444 Eye Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC 20005

27 January 2020

The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson
Chair, Committee on Science & Technology
U.S House of Representatives

The Honorable Kendra Horn
Chair, Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
Committee on Science & Technology
U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Frank Lucas
Ranking Member, Committee on Science & Technology
U.S. House of Representatives

The Honorable Brian Babin
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
Committee on Science & Technology
U.S. House of Representatives

Chairwoman Johnson, Chairwoman Horn, Ranking Member Lucas, and Ranking Member Babin:

On behalf of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF), representing over 85 member companies, organizations, and universities across the United States, we write to express our strong opposition to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Act of 2020, as well as the process through which the bill was formulated. Although we appreciate the Committee’s attention to matters relating to space policy, this legislation as drafted falls far short of our shared goal of establishing a sustainable national space exploration enterprise. This legislation will set back America’s national space enterprise for decades, ceding ground to global competitors that leverage their national capability, as it rejects the proven capability demonstrated by the commercial space sector, a core competency and foundation of American innovation driven by the commercial space industry.

The U.S. commercial space industry—a unique feature of American innovation—drives significant economic value nationwide; more importantly, it has contributed to the success of the American space sector at the very time that traditional models have clearly failed. Yet, the House Science Committee’s bill explicitly and unfairly excludes the participation of the American commercial spaceflight industry, irrationally barring fair competition from NASA’s deep space exploration initiatives. At a time when NASA itself has acknowledged the criticality of leveraging commercial space innovation, it is profoundly disappointing that this Committee has, without consultation with NASA or industry, selected a path that will systematically degrade America’s space capability.

Any sustainable space exploration effort must bring together the best of Government and commercial industry to achieve a safe and affordable American space program. The Committee’s draft bill unfortunately does not even contemplate the possibility of this collaboration. CSF and its members, which contribute daily to advancing our Nation’s space enterprise, strongly oppose this legislation.

This Committee should withdraw this bill and engage in a fully transparent process to seek NASA, industry, academic, and public input in a meaningful way. This legislation was apparently drafted with no input from critical stakeholders, the public, or even Members of the Committee, and should be reconsidered. We are—as American companies and the Government—one team. We look forward to the Committee adopting a more equitable approach to understanding the totality of American space industry capability. We will work with the Committee to improve this legislation, should the Committee be open to doing so.


Eric W. Stallmer President
Commercial Spaceflight Federation


Coalition for Deep Space Exploration


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE) – a broad based association of companies supporting NASA’s programs in human and scientific exploration of space, space commerce, and the advancement of space technology – thanks the House Space, Science and Technology subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics and its Chairwoman, Representative Kendra Horn, and Ranking Member, Representative Brian Babin, as well as the Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the full committee, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Frank Lucas, for their hard work on the development of HR 5666.

“As we have seen in NASA Authorization Acts for a decade, Congress has been clear that Mars is the goal, so it is no surprise that we are seeing that here,” said Dr. Mary Lynne Dittmar, president & CEO of CDSE.  “However the path to executing this goal – including meaningful activity at the Moon – remains a topic of significant discussion, and this bill is helping to spark a robust exchange about the best way to achieve that bipartisan vision.  We look forward to active engagement across the entire aerospace community – with NASA, industry, associations, the National Space Council, and Congress – as we collectively continue to work toward this goal and our shared future in space.”

Aerospace Industries Association

Eric Fanning, President and CEO

“NASA is a critically important organization that is leading us into the future. It not only conducts cutting-edge research, but also drives our economy and inspires the next generation of American workers,” said AIA President and CEO Eric Fanning. “But none of this is possible without the passage of an authorization bill. Thank you, Chairwoman Kendra Horn, for your leadership in putting forth this legislation. We remain committed to working with Congress to pass a NASA authorization bill this year.”

Mike French, Vice President for Space Systems

“The space policy community should be smiling. After record marks last month, we now have bipartisan, bicameral support across Congress and the Executive Branch to return to the Moon this decade and go on to Mars. On the eve of an anticipated strong budget request, I’m looking forward to working as a community to secure and fund this consensus.”


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