FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation Budget Boosted in Senate Bill

The Senate Appropriations Committee has ignored a request by the Trump Administration to cut the budget of the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST), instead providing it with a significant boost.

The funding measure would raise the office’s budget from $19.826 million to $21.587 million for fiscal year 2018. House appropriators have approved an identical increase.

The Trump Administration had proposed cutting FAA AST’s budget to $17.905 million.

FAA AST officials have said they need to hire more personnel to oversee the growing commercial space sector. The office grants experimental permits and launch licenses, conducts inspections and provides pre-application consultations to the sector. It also conducts investigations into launch failures.

Senate appropriators also included $1.872 million in the FAA’s research, engineering and development budget for commercial space transportation safety. The work is currently funded at $2.453 million for fiscal year 2017. The administration had proposed cutting funding to $1.796 million.

The Senate bill also includes $4.5 million for commercial space integration into the national air traffic control system. This is the same amount requested by the administration for FY 2018.

Appropriators also directed the FAA to provide a report to the committee and a public summary of the failure of a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster that sent a Dragon resupply ship with $118 million worth of cargo to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The vehicle was headed to the International Space Station.

“The report must consolidate all relevant investigations by, or at the request of, the Federal Government that were conducted, including those completed by NASA as part of the FAA report, and must also include a summary suitable for public disclosure,” the committee report states. “The Committee directs the FAA to submit its report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 30 days of enactment of this act.”

The committee report also contains a provision related to private lunar exploration and NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System, which is designed to facilitate exploration beyond low Earth orbit.

“The Committee encourages the FAA to explicitly define non-interference and to enhance its payload review process to provide companies planning private sector lunar development with the security and predictability necessary to support substantial investments,” the report states.

“The Committee also encourages the office, in collaboration with
the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee, to
engage in conversation with National Aeronautics and Space
Administration [NASA] to explore the lift power and capacity of
the Space Launch System [SLS] as a means of facilitating
commercial-space efforts, in accordance with the Commercial
Space Launch Act, in which the SLS sometimes serves in an
infrastructure-building role to speed the transport of large-
volume payloads and non-profit or cost-sharing payloads, and
payloads benefit from being launched into lunar orbit together,” the report added.

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