SpaceNews : House introduces NASA reauthorization act

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TOKYO — A bipartisan NASA act would formally authorize several ongoing programs while directing the agency to provide reports on topics ranging from Space Launch System usage to servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The leadership of the House Science Committee released its NASA Reauthorization Act of 2024 July 9, one day before the full committee will formally mark up the bill and send it to the full House.

The bill would formally authorize $25.225 billion in funding for NASA in fiscal year 2025, a figure between the administration’s request of $25.384 billion and the $25.179 billion included in a bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee July 9. The key purpose of the bill, though, is to address a wide range of NASA programs and policies.

“It provides comprehensive support for significant advancements in human space exploration, prioritizing our ambitious missions to the moon, Mars and beyond,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chair of the full committee, in a statement. “The bill also tackles near-term priorities, including the significant operations of the International Space Station and the continuous development of scientific research and innovative technology.”

Lucas is introducing the bill with the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), along with the chair and ranking member of the space subcommittee, Reps. Brian Babin (R-Texas) and Eric Sorensen (D-Ill.), which will likely smooth its passage. That is in contrast to a commercial space policy bill that the committee approved in November along party lines. That bill has yet to be taken up by the full House.

The NASA bill would formally authorize several NASA activities the agency is already pursuing. They include development of new spacesuits for the International Space Station and Artemis missions, an ISS deorbit vehicle, the Commercial Low Earth Orbit destinations program to support work on commercial space stations and the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

The bill also includes provisions requesting a wide range of reports from NASA or other agencies, like the Government Accountability Office, on these and other programs. Some examples of those reports are:

An assessment of non-NASA demand for the SLS;
Studies of Human Landing System development and any “alternative approaches” should current efforts suffer cost and schedule challenges;
A GAO review of NASA’s plans for “uninterrupted capability for human space flight and operations” in low Earth orbit in the transition from the ISS to commercial stations;
A GAO report examining whether current cost caps on NASA science missions are appropriate and how NASA has handled missions that exceeded those caps;
A report from NASA on the studies it has done in the last five years on reboosting or servicing the Hubble Space Telescope; and
A joint NASA and NOAA study on commercial procurement of space weather data.

Besides the reports, the bill signals its support for the Chandra X-ray Observatory amid concerns by astronomers that NASA proposals to reduce its budget could jeopardize its operations. It directs NASA to “take no action to reduce or otherwise preclude continuation of the science operations of the Chandra X-Ray Telescope prior to the completion and consideration of the next triennial review of mission extensions for the Astrophysics division.” That is a reference to the senior review of extended missions in astrophysics, the most recent of which NASA conducted in 2022.

The bill directs NASA to reconsider GeoCarb, an Earth science mission that the agency canceled in 2022 after cost overruns and difficulty finding a commercial geostationary orbit satellite that could host the instrument. Under the bill, NASA would reevaluate the completed GeoCarb instrument and look for potential launch opportunities as part of a broader strategy for greenhouse gas monitoring.

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