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President Barack Obama signed into law on January 14, 2013, H.R. 6586, known as the Space Exploration Sustainability Act. This legislation renews for one year commercial space launch indemnification. For over twenty years, the U.S. commercial space launch program has relied on the FAA’s launch indemnification program which has benefited the commercial launch market and the space industry with no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
While AIA and the space industry advocated for a multi-year renewal of the indemnification program, the shorter extension was said to allow the FAA “to conduct a review of the underlying formula for calculating probable levels of loss.” A reference to a study conducted last year by the Government Accountability Office, argued that the FAA should use more sophisticated models for determining the third-party maximum probable loss (MPL) that launch providers must be financially responsible for, with the government indemnifying any losses above the MPL level up to approximately $2.7 billion. Also included in the legislation is a provision to extend NASA’s waiver from the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act until 2020. It would allow the agency to continue buying goods and services from Russia in support of International Space Station operations.
Reflecting congressional intent on broader civil space issues, the legislation expresses the view of Congress that NASA should develop the heavy lift Space Launch System (SLS), Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and the commercial crew systems in a balanced manner. Retiring Science and Space Subcommittee Ranking Member Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) stated the bill reaffirms the intent of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act. She crafted the act with Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) as a compromise between the emphasis placed by the Obama Administration on commercial crew systems to take astronauts to and from the ISS, and the emphasis placed by Congress on developing a rocket (SLS) and crew spacecraft (Orion) to take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. Another important piece of legislation that was signed into law at the end of the 112th Congress is the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a number of provisions that are important to AIA members. The NDAA, among other provisions, allows for the easing of restrictions on exporting satellites by enabling the administration, subject to congressional oversight, to transition items from the U.S. Munitions List to the more flexible Commerce Control List.
Two other NDAA provisions are also important to note. The U.S. Air Force Operationally Responsive Space Program was restored by adding an additional $10 million in funding, bringing the total to $45 million. The Obama Administration sought to terminate the program but instead reorganized the program within the Air Force. Additionally, although the President’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget requested the termination of the Space Test Program (STP), a provision was included in the bill that added $35 million for the program, making the total authorized funding level to $45 million. STP has provided access to space for more than 500 military research payloads since 1965 and is an important program for the space industrial base. While full-year funding will still be dependent upon Congressional action once the Fiscal Year 2013 Continuing Resolution ends on March 27, the NDAA legislation clearly shows Congress’ support for defense space programs.
AIA Source: kristen.moore[at]aia-aerospace.org