Office of Space Commerce Wins Bigger Budget in FY2021, But Will Remain in NOAA

Office of Space Commerce Wins Bigger Budget in FY2021, But Will Remain in NOAA

NOAA’s Office of Space Commerce won a budget boost in the final version of FY2021 appropriations released today and expected to be passed into law imminently. Although it is not as much as requested, it is more than in prior years as its mission was expanded to encompass Space Traffic Management responsibilities.  However, Congress still did not agree to move it from NOAA into the office of the Secretary of Commerce where the Trump Administration hoped it would evolve into a Bureau of Space Commerce.

In 2018, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive-3, assigning the Department of Commerce (DOC) the role of serving as the civil agency responsible for interacting with non-military space operators on Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Space Traffic Management (STM).

The Office of Space Commerce (OSC), part of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS) that manages the nation’s weather satellites, was assigned the task. NESDIS also is home to the Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs (CRSRA) that regulates commercial remote sensing satellites.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has been enthusiastic about taking on the SSA/STM job as well as regulation of other commercial space activities. He initially wanted to create a Space Policy Advancing Commercial Enterprise (SPACE) Administration within the Department reporting directly to him, but that was later downscoped to a Bureau of Space Commerce.  Wary of creating a new bureaucracy, the concept has found little support in Congress.

Today, Congress released the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which combines all 12 regular FY2021 appropriations bills into one, including the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill that funds the Department of Commerce.

It still keeps OSC within NESDIS, but allows it to merge with CRSRA.  The combined total for the two offices in FY2020 was $4.1 million. The FY2021 request was for a new total of $15 million. Congress is appropriating $10 million.

OSC has been working within its limited resources to create an Open Architecture Data Repository (OADR) as the first step in what it hopes will be its SSA/STM role in the future.  The explanatory statement on the bill acknowledges and encourages that.

Space Commerce. -The agreement approves the request to merge the Office of Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs and the Office of Space Commerce (OSC) and provides $10,000,000 for OSC, which on balance is $5,900,000 above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level. Within the funding provided, the agreement directs NESDIS and OSC to initiate a space traffic management (STM) pilot program, in collaboration with industry, the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, and other Federal partners, as appropriate, to develop STM technical prototypes, initiate an open architecture data repository, and perform STM demonstrations and experiments. Within 45 days of enactment of this Act, NESDIS shall provide the Committees with a detailed spending plan for the funding provided to OSC.

The final bill reflects an independent review by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) that endorsed assigning civil SSA/STM to OSC.  The review was required in last year’s appropriations bill.

UPDATE, December 22, 12:10 am ET:  The House and Senate passed the Consolidated Appropriations bill December 21, but it cleared the Senate just before midnight. The House Rule providing for consideration of the bill reportedly included a 7-day extension to the CR in order to give Congress time to enroll the bill, checking for typographical errors, for example, before sending it to the President.

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