Senate Appropriators Approve More than House But Less Than Request for FAA Space Office

Senate Appropriators Approve More than House But Less Than Request for FAA Space Office

Before leaving for the July 4 recess, the Senate
Appropriations Committee approved the FY2016 Transportation-HUD (T-HUD)
bill that includes funding for the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space
Transportation (AST).  It approved an increase over current
funding, but less than the request.  Funding for AST could become an
issue as it oversees the investigation into Sunday’s SpaceX launch
failure on top of its current oversight of the October 2014 Antares failure. The Senate committee action took place before the SpaceX accident.

Funding for commercial space launch activities is located in
three parts of the FAA’s budget request this year: Operations;
Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D); and Facilities and
Equipment (F&E).  The RE&D and F&E requests are related to
safety and to integrating commercial space launch into the National Air
Space (NAS).

The request for AST itself is in the Operations portion. 
The Administration is asking for $18.114 million, approximately $1.5
million more than its current funding of $16.605 million.  FAA said in
its budget justification that the money would pay for an additional 13
full time equivalent (FTE) staff positions needed due to the expected
increase in requests for commercial launch licenses, permits,
certifications and technical outreach. 

The explanation did not specify
that any of the positions were needed to support AST’s oversight of the October 2014 failure of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s (now Orbital ATK) Antares rocket, which may be completed by the time
FY2016 begins, but AST now has a second investigation on its hands with
the June 28 failure of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.  In each case, the companies are in charge of the investigation, but AST provides oversight.  The companies must obtain licenses from AST for commercial space launches.

The Senate Appropriations Committee (S. Rept. 114-75)
approved $17.425 million for AST, $820 million above current funding, but $689
million less than the request.   The House-passed T-HUD bill (H.R. 2577)
only a $250,000 increase over current spending, and that was added during floor debate, not by the House Appropriations Committee.

Commercial Spaceflight Federation President Eric Stallmer
praised the Senate committee’s action, singling out the chair and
ranking member of the T-HUD subcommittee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
and Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington)
for their support.  He said that while the Senate committee’s level
does not fully fund the AST request, “it should ensure that AST can
diligently process commercial space licenses and permits in a timely

Bigelow Aerospace’s Mike Gold, who chairs the FAA’s
Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC), said in an
interview on June 29, the day after the SpaceX launch failure, that it
would be a “tragedy” if commercial space is substantially delayed “for
want of $1.5 million” to adequately fund AST.   He added that AST was “already in a rough situation” before the SpaceX failure and hopes Congress adopts
the Senate figure rather than the House’s in the final appropriations
bill.  That still is not the full $1.5 million increase requested, but is an improvement.

The FAA also requested $3 million for “Commercial Space
Transportation Safety” in the Research, Engineering & Development
part of its budget.  The money is for research related to the “safe and
efficient integration of commercial space launches into the NAS,
advanced safety assessments methods, advanced vehicle safety
technologies, and safety factors for high utilization reusable
vehicles.”   The House approved $1 million.  The Senate committee
approved $2 million.  There was no similar line item in FY2015 budget
although, interestingly, the House report has a notation that in FY2015
the funding was “buried in NextGen Ground Integration per FY14
congressional language.”

Another $2 million was requested for “commercial space
integration into the NAS” in the Air Traffic Management section of the
F&E budget.  The FAA budget documentation says it is needed to
advance Commercial Space Integration into the NAS “through the mission
analysis phase of the Acquisition Management System (AMS).”  This is the
first time such funding is being requested.   It is one of four items
comprising a $13.7 million request for Air Traffic Management in the
F&E account.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committee reports
do not provide that level of detail, but the Senate committee approved
the full $13.7 million for that line, while the House apparently cut it
to $5.739 million.

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