The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to increase the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s budget to handle a sharp increase in commercial launches as it also seeks a streamlined regulatory process.
The committee approved a FAA AST budget of $24.981 million for FY 2019, which is $64,000 higher than the level approved by the House Appropriations Committee. The Senate funding represents an increase of $2.394 million over the current fiscal year, and it is $3.4 million higher than the amount requested by the Trump Administration.
Appropriators said the additional funding will allow for “a reasonable expansion” of FAA AST’s workforce to handle a record number applications of launch licenses and experimental permits. The committee also said
it is essential that AST significantly streamline its licensing approach and regulations so that industry growth doesn’t necessitate one-for-one bureaucratic growth. The Committee also believes that AST must fully and effectively execute its statutory missions before allocating resources to non-statutory interests.
With this in mind, the Committee directs AST to provide a briefing to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 60 days of enactment of this act on FTE levels, hirings and separations, current vacancies, and job functions of all personnel within AST. Further, the Committee recommendation includes $2,000,000 for AST to accelerate space transportation regulatory reform.
Elsewhere in the funding bill, the committee approved $9 million for integration of commercial space into the national air traffic control system. This is an increase of $4.5 million over FY 2018 and $2 million above the administration’s request.
Appropriators also approved the administration’s request for $2.5 million for commercial space transportation safety activities. The current budget is $1.872 million.
The committee also approved $10.5 million for advanced materials and structural safety research into additive manufacturing processes that have “the potential to transform aircraft and spacecraft. The Committee understands the primary challenge in additive manufacturing for aerospace applications is the certification of airworthiness of complex processes used within the additive manufactured components.
“The Committee, therefore, directs $6,000,000 of this funding to advance the use of these new additive materials (both metallic and non-metallic based additive processes) into the commercial aviation industry, as well as additional funds to advance the use of fiber reinforced composite materials into the commercial aviation industry through the FAA Joint Advanced Materials and Structures Center of Excellence,” the committee said.