SASC Adds Funds for ORS, STP and Commercial Imagery Purchase

SASC Adds Funds for ORS, STP and Commercial Imagery Purchase

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) completed markup of its version of the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act yesterday.  Among its actions, SASC added funds for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program and Space Test Program (STP) as well as for the government to purchase commercial satellite imagery.

Overall, the committee kept the total funding authorized in its version of the bill (S. 2467) to the same level requested by the Obama Administration, unlike the companion measure (H.R. 4310) passed by the House on May 18, which is $4 billion above the request.

Among the many changes to the President’s request within that topline, the committee added money to and changed the reporting structure of the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) program instead of eliminating the program as the Obama Administration proposed.  SASC also directed that money be transferred into ORS from DOD’s now-cancelled Defense Weather Satellite System so the ORS program can develop a low cost weather satellite instead.  According to the committee’s press release, its bill —

  • “Moves the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office from reporting to the Executive Agent for Space to the Commander of Air Force Space and Missile Center; requires the Office to be geographically separate from the headquarters Space and Missile Center; has the Program Element Officer for Space as the acquisition executive for ORS; establishes an Executive Committee of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD(AT&L)), Commander U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), Commander AF Space Command and the Executive Agent for Space and authorizes a transfer up to $60.0 million in FY 2012 funds (subject to appropriation acts) from the Weather Satellite Follow on program for the ORS Office to build a low cost high technology readiness level weather satellite,” and
  • “Restores $10.0 million proposed by the DOD to be taken from the ORS program, adds $35.0 million to restore funding at $45.0 million to continue working with the combatant commands (COCOM)s, and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) in particular, on low cost responsive satellites similar to ORS-1.”

The House authorization bill added $25 million for ORS (the request was zero), but does not include the other provisions.

As for STP, which the Obama Administration also wants to end, SASC added $35 million to the $10 million requested, identical to the House authorization action.

The House Appropriations Committee, however, did not restore funding for either program.  The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted on its bill yet.

SASC also added $125 million for the government to purchase commercial satellite imagery from GeoEye and DigitalGlobe to keep funding level at FY2012 levels, according to the press release.   SASC also is requiring a study by the Joint Staff and the Congressional Budget Office “on the requirements for, and the role of, commercial imagery.”   Rumors have been rampant that cuts are in store for the EnhancedView contract under which the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) purchases imagery from the two companies, whose business prospects are highly dependent on the arrangement.  NGA’s budget is classified, so detailed information has been difficult to obtain.  Both companies reported earlier this month that their FY2012 EnhancedView funding was secure, but GeoEye’s sudden public offer to buy DigitalGlobe, almost immediately rebuffed, fueled concern that the companies’ government funding beyond FY2012 was in jeopardy.

Other space-related provisions mentioned in SASC’s press release include the following:

  • “Ensures that before any major satellite acquisition program is undertaken schedules are developed that integrate the satellite and its ground systems”;
  • “Authorizes private entities using DOD ranges or launch facilities to contribute up-keep and maintenance of the ranges and facilities”;
  • “Authorizes the Air Force to procure block buys of satellites 5 and 6 over 6 years, including advanced procurement of 3.9 billion,” an apparent reference to Space-Based InfraRed Satellite (SBIRS) geostationary (GEO) satellites; and
  • “Ensures the Department of Defense is represented adequately at all dispute resolution forums for spectrum that it must relocate from.”

The press release makes no mention of including language to ease export controls on commercial satellites.   Such a provision was added to the House version of the bill as an amendment during floor debate.   Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) recently introduced a bill with the same goal that theoretically could be offered as an amendment when this bill is considered in the Senate.  The schedule for floor action on this bill was not announced.  

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