House Committee Drafts Compromise on NASA Spending Bill

WASHINGTON? House Science and Technology CommitteeChairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) has drafted a new version of thethree-year NASAauthorization bill the panel approved in July that recommendssubstantivechanges to the original measure, including more money for commercialspacetaxis and robotic exploration precursor missions called for in acompanionmeasure approved by the full Senate in August.

"Thisis House compromise language, with bipartisansupport," Gordon said in a statement today (Sept. 23). "It reflectsmonths of discussion and input from many Members. As a result, webelieve wehave a bill that both builds on and improves on H.R. 5781, the NASAAuthorization Act that was marked up by the Science and TechnologyCommitteeearlier this year. Moreover, we believe this compromise helps move thediscussion about the future of NASA closer to a final product." [NASA'sNew Direction: FAQ]

Gordon'srevisedlegislation,which aides said could go to the Housefloor this week as a substitute to H.R. 5781, increases proposedfunding levelsfor NASA commercial crew taxis to $1.2 billion over three years. Thatfigure isstill $400 million shy of the Senate's $1.6 billion recommendation forcommercial crew and cargo initiatives, but represents a sizeableincrease overthe original $464 million through 2013 recommended in H.R. 5781.

Gordon'ssubstitute legislation also calls for initiatinga robotic precursor program in 2011, recommending $50 million annuallythrough2013. The earlier House proposal sought to delay funding for roboticprecursormissions, calling for just $5 million in 2013 to initiate the program.

Therevised bill also directs NASA to begin planning a newspace launch systemfor exploration beyond low-Earth orbit thatby the end of 2016 can provide "assured government back-up access" tothe international space station should commercial cargo or crewservices beunavailable. However, the new language would prevent thegovernment-ownedcapability from competing with commercialspace providersfor routine cargo and crew deliveryservices.

Althoughthe revised House bill puts no timetable ondeveloping the heavy-lift capability for missions beyond the spacestation, itcalls for the new exploration architecture to "provide a scalablecapability of lifting payloads of at least 130 metric tons into lowEarth orbiton a single launch vehicle with an upper stage in preparation fortransit formissions beyond low-Earth orbit."

Italso directs NASA to leverage space shuttletechnologies as well as its $10 billion investment in the Moon-boundConstellation program the White House seeks to abandon.

TheSenate's version of the NASAauthorization bill,S. 3729, calls for starting development in2011 of a space shuttle-derived launcher initially capable of liftingbetween70 metric tons and 100 metric tons to low Earth orbit by the end of2016. TheSenate language directs that the vehicle be designed to accommodateupgradesthat would enable it to deliver 130 metric tons to orbit.

Gordon'soriginal bill called for funding agovernment-owned rocket and spacecraft capable of delivering astronautsto thespace station by the end of 2015.

Therevised House language authorizes the additionallaunch-on-need shuttle flight adopted in the Senate bill and calls for$2.67billion for NASA's proposed space technology program, including $1.9billionover three years for exploration technology development.

Italso authorizes $45 million through 2013 for acommercial suborbital research program involving reusable rockets tosupportscience, technology development and education, according to the billsummary.

Thisarticle was provided by SpaceNews,dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

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SpaceNews Staff Writer

Amy Klamper is a space reporter and former staff writer for the space industry news publication SpaceNews. From 2004 to 2010, Amy covered U.S. space policy, NASA and space industry professionals for SpaceNews. Her stories included profiles on major players in the space industry, space policy work in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as national policy set by the White House.