By a 68-32 margin, the Senate approves S. 1260, The U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act. The bill, initially known as the Endless Frontier Act, was mainly meant to bolster research and development activities. This is with an eye toward contending with China. It approves funding rises for DARPA and the National Science Foundation and determines a new technology executive at the NSF.
During its price increase on May 12, the Senate Commerce Committee endorses an amendment that increased space-related stipulations to the bill. It includes the Space Preservation and Conjunction Emergency (SPACE) Act. This is a version of legislation deemed last year concerning space traffic management, instructing the Office of Space Commerce to manage civil space traffic management. It also includes a NASA endorsement bill like the one the Senate passes in late 2020. However, not held up by the House.
One add-on to that NASA approval act, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), was a stipulation needing NASA to choose at least two companies. This is in order to build lunar landers as an element of its Human Landing System (HLS) program. NASA selects a single company, SpaceX on April 16. Organization officials say that a lack of financing appropriated by Congress for the fiscal year 2021 kept them from choosing a second firm.
A modified version of that language involves an amendment passed by the Senate just prior to the final passage of the bill, altered elements of that HLS section. It overtly protects the award already made to SpaceX. While it also gives NASA 60 days, instead of the original 30, in order to choose a second company.
While the provision was regularly termed as providing $10 billion to Blue Origin, the bill as a substitute authorizes $10 billion for the overall HLS program. That would endorse two companies, involving SpaceX’s current $2.9 billion awards. Furthermore, while the bill approves $10 billion from 2021 through 2025, financing is needed to be taken on an annual basis. This is without a guarantee that Congress would offer that sum over a five-year period.
The bill will have to be merged with the House, which is pondering legislation tighter in scope than the Senate bill. Also, it is expected not to consist of a NASA authorization act. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), chair of the House Science Committee’s space subcommittee, has earlier said that he intends to take up his own edition of a NASA authorization bill later on this year.
“Optimistically, we can get a NASA consent bill with a sign into law someday this Congress,” Brown adds.