Senate Passes Omnibus Appropriations, ORBITS Act

Senate Passes Omnibus Appropriations, ORBITS Act

The Senate passed the $1.7 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY2023 this afternoon. The next stop is the House, which is expected to pass it tomorrow before the Continuing Resolution keeping the government open expires at midnight. While waiting for the deal to be made, the Senate also passed the ORBITS Act to address the problem of space debris.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaking after the Senate passed the FY2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Credit: C-SPAN.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, or omnibus, combines all 12 regular appropriations bills that funds departments and agencies in the discretionary part of the U.S. budget. That includes NASA, the Department of Commerce including NOAA, the Department of Defense including the U.S. Space Force, and the Department of Transportation including the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.

Negotiations came down to the wire and looked bleak as day broke, but as is often the case, a deal was finally cut. The bill (H.R. 2617) allowed votes on 15 amendments, none of which affect the space program. It passed with a bipartisan vote of 68-29.

The bill now goes to the House, which must pass it or another Continuing Resolution by tomorrow midnight to avoid a government shutdown.

While they were hammering out the deal, the Senate kept busy passing other relatively non-controversial legislation including Senator John Hickenlooper’s (D-CO) ORBITS Act. Co-sponsored by the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and its Space and Science Subcommittee, the bill passed by unanimous consent.

The Orbital Sustainability Act directs NASA to publish a list of debris objects that pose the greatest risk and establish a demonstration program with industry to develop Active Debris Removal technologies, encourages the U.S. Government to buy ADR services when available, and directs the National Space Council to update the Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices and the Department of Commerce to develop and promote standard practices for avoiding collisions and near misses.

The vote on the omnibus appropriations bill was the last for the U.S. Senate in the 117th Congress.

The House will be in session tomorrow to vote on the omnibus and other legislation. It is widely expected the omnibus will pass, but whether the ORBITS Act makes it or not is unknown.

Any legislation that does not get enacted in one session of Congress must begin anew in the next.

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