Senate Appropriators Join House in Boosting Funding for FAA Space Office

Senate Appropriators Join House in Boosting Funding for FAA Space Office

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved its version of the FY2019 Transportation-HUD (THUD) funding bill that includes FAA’s space office.  Like the House, it ignored the Trump Administration’s proposal to reduce funding for the office and increased it instead.  The Senate committee approved a smidgen more than its House counterpart.

The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA/AST) regulates, facilitates and promotes commercial space launches and reentries.  With the number and pace of commercial space launches growing significantly, advocates argue for increasing the number of staff to ensure, for example, that license applications are approved in a timely manner.

Nonetheless, the Trump Administration’s FY2019 budget request proposed reducing its funding by about $1 million — from $22.587 million to $21.578 million.

The House Appropriations Committee acted first on the THUD bill, approving $24.917 million, $3.339 million more than requested.  Yesterday the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $24.981 million.  That is $64,000 more than the House committee.

President Trump signs Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2) on May 24, 2018, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, National Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace and Space Council Deputy Executive Secretary Jared Stout.

The Senate committee’s explanatory report acknowledged the growing demand for licenses and “anticipates a reasonable expansion” of the FAA/AST workforce.  However, it also said it is “essential” that the office “significantly streamline” its regulatory process.   Further, it said FAA/AST must “effectively execute its statutory missions before allocating resources to non-statutory interests” and required a briefing on the personnel situation there including “job functions of all personnel.”

Of the $24.917 million, the Senate committee specified that $2 million is to accelerate regulatory reform.

FAA/AST is already under White House instructions to reform its regulatory regime by February 1, 2019.  Space Policy Directive-2 (SPD-2), signed by President Trump on May 24, directs the Secretary of Transportation to review the current regulations and rescind, revise or publish for notice and comment proposed rules rescinding or revising the regulations by that date.  FAA is part of the Department of Transportation.

Although the operation of FAA/AST is the best known FAA commercial space launch activity, it also gets related funding in two other budget accounts: “commercial space integration” in the Facilities & Equipment (F&E) account and “commercial space transportation safety” in the Research, Engineering & Development (RE&D) account.

Commercial space integration in F&E refers to FAA’s efforts to integrate commercial launches and reentries into the National Air Space (NAS) system.  The FAA must close nearby airspace when launches and reentries take place.  It wants to minimize disruption to air traffic, a growing challenge as the number of launches and reentries increases along with other novel uses of the airspace like UAVs.  The requested funding is for a Space Data Integrator tool that will enable the FAA to safely reduce the amount of airspace that must be closed, respond to unusual scenarios, and release airspace as a mission progresses.  This funding goes to the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) rather than AST.

The request is for $7 million to begin design and development of the Space Data Integrator capability.  The House committee approved that funding level, but the Senate committee added $2 million, raising the total to $9 million.

The commercial space transportation safety line item in RE&D funds FAA/AST’s Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation and AST’s R&D activities related to integration of launches and reentries into the NAS.  The request was for $2.5 million and the Senate committee approved that amount.  By contrast, the House committee more than doubled it to $5.262 million without explanation.

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