A bipartisan quartet of US Senators has submitted a new bill that sets the space policy for NASA for the coming decade. The new licensing laws are broadly consistent with NASA's current activities, but differ in some key respects from White House policies.
In particular, the law requires NASA to support the International Space Station by 2030. The Trump Administration has attempted to commercialize spacecraft in near-Earth orbit by 2024 by potentially becoming a customer of a privately operated International Space Station or supporting the development of smaller private laboratories.
"By extending the ISS until 2030, this legislation will help expand our already burgeoning space economy, strengthen US leadership in space, strengthen US competitiveness around the world, and create more jobs and opportunities at home," said Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who chairs the Subcommittee on Space and Space aviation, said in a press release.
Cruz, along with three other senators, participated in the launch of the 201
The new legislation follows the 2017 NASA Transition Authorization Act, which was also led by Cruz and signed by President Trump in March 2017. Almost immediately after this bill became law, Cruz characterized it as a preliminary measure to stabilize NASA through the transition to president. The new bill seeks to further expand space policy and includes the Trump government's Artemis program to land people on the moon.
Although the 2019 approval law does not foresee a 2024 moon landing, NASA calls for "working with commercial and international partners to establish sustainable moon exploration by 2028". As part of that, according to a legislative source, NASA should have landed people on the moon by 2028.
"The goal here is to ensure that after landing on the moon in 2024, measures continue to be taken to build a permanent presence," the source said. "We do not want a repeat of the Apollo program."
This is notable because Vice President Mike Pence talked about a lunar base, while some NASA officials have adopted a touch-and-go strategy for the Moon. as if it were a box to be checked on the way to Mars. (They were encouraged by President Trump, who seems more interested in Mars than the Moon). Instead, the new licensing law states that the Moon should play an important role in preparing NASA for its overall strategy of getting people to Mars Send.
The new legislation also addresses a number of other areas of space policy. For example, during and after the useful life of the ISS, the United States must maintain a continuous human presence in a near-Earth orbit. it supports NASA's efforts to develop next-generation space suits; and the Agency should make full use of private sector investment to support human space exploration.
In addition, the legislation supports NASA's recent announcement to develop and launch a new space telescope by or before 2025 to discover the vast majority of near-Earth asteroids that could potentially hit Earth. "NASA should develop and launch a dedicated space-based infrared survey telescope," the bill says.
The approval of laws is only part of the budgeting process. When this bill becomes law, it serves as a guide for NASA and budget authors, who still have to pass a law on the funds that will finance the activities envisaged in the legislation for approval. However, with Washington, DC's broken political process, authorities like NASA often need to survive on-going resolutions, not on new budgets.