March 20, 2015
Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267) authorizes U.S. use of the ISS
through 2020. In January 2014, the Administration
proposed extending that date to 2024.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration
(NASA) is the primary federal agency for civil space
programs. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Geological Survey
(USGS) also operate civil satellites. The U.S. commercial
space industry provides equipment and services to both the
government and the private sector. Several federal agencies
have regulatory and other roles in commercial space.
With a budget of $18.0 billion in FY2015, NASA develops
and operates both manned and unmanned spacecraft. It also
has programs in aeronautics research and education.
Legislation in the 113th and 114th Congresses
In the 113th Congress, committees in both chambers
developed NASA reauthorization bills. The House bill
(H.R. 4412) passed the House in June 2014. The Senate bill
(S. 1317) was reported by the Committee on Commerce,
Science, and Transportation in December 2014 but did not
receive floor action. The most contentious issue for both
bills was the authorization of appropriations, but both also
contained numerous policy provisions about the scope,
direction, and management of individual NASA programs.
In the 114th Congress, the House has passed H.R. 810,
which is similar to H.R. 4412.
The 113th Congress passed appropriations legislation to
fund NASA in FY2015. As usual, committee reports
accompanying the House and Senate bills, as well as the
explanatory statement accompanying the final omnibus bill,
gave substantial programmatic guidance to NASA as well
as directing the allocation of funds. The 114th Congress has
begun to consider appropriations for FY2016 following the
submission of the President’s FY2016 budget, which
includes $18.539 billion for NASA.
NASA’s current efforts in human spaceflight include
operation of the International Space Station (ISS), support
for the commercial development of U.S. spacecraft to take
astronauts to and from the ISS, and development of
spacecraft for future human exploration beyond Earth orbit.
International Space Station. The ISS, which orbits Earth
at an altitude of 200 to 250 miles, is composed of crew
living space, laboratories, remote manipulator systems,
solar arrays to generate electricity, and other elements.
Crews have occupied the ISS on four- to six-month
rotations since November 2000. The NASA Authorization
To encourage more widespread use of the ISS for research,
the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-155)
designated the U.S. portion of the ISS as a national
laboratory. As directed by subsequent legislation, NASA
has contracted with the nonprofit Center for the
Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage the
ISS national laboratory function. ISS research utilization
and the nature of ISS research continue to be of
NASA used to rely on the space shuttle to carry crews and
cargo to and from the ISS. The space shuttle fleet was
retired after the final flight of Atlantis in July 2011. Since
then, ISS cargo has been carried by Russian, European, and
Japanese spacecraft, and more recently, by two U.S.
commercial providers—Space Exploration Technologies
(SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences—under contract to NASA.
Since the end of the space shuttle program, ISS crews,
including U.S. astronauts, have been carried exclusively by
Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Commercial Crew. NASA is funding two U.S.
companies—Boeing and SpaceX—to develop a commercial
capability to transport astronauts to and from the ISS and
potentially other destinations in Earth orbit. The target date
for the start of operations is 2017. Advocates argue that
using commercial providers will reduce NASA’s costs
through competition and encourage development of a new
commercial industry. Skeptics anticipate few non-NASA
customers, doubt that the market can support more than one
provider, and express concerns about astronaut safety.
Congress and the Administration have often disagreed
about the funding needs of the commercial crew program
relative to NASA’s development efforts for exploration
beyond Earth orbit.
Orion and the Space Launch System. As directed by the
NASA Authorization Act of 2010, NASA is developing
new spacecraft for future human missions beyond Earth
orbit. These are the crew capsule Orion and a new rocket,
known as the Space Launch System (SLS), to carry Orion
into space. A first (unmanned) test flight of Orion, using an
existing rocket, took place on December 5, 2014. The first
test flight of Orion on an SLS, again without a crew, is
planned for late 2018. The first test flight with a crew is
expected in FY2021 or FY2022.
Mars is widely agreed to be the next long-term destination
for human exploration of space. A mission to Mars,
however, would require substantial additional development,
so Orion and SLS are expected to visit other destinations
first. NASA has proposed redirecting an asteroid into orbit
www.crs.gov | 7-5700
around the Moon, where it could be visited by astronauts on
an early Orion/SLS mission. This proposal has met with
some skepticism in Congress. Other possible destinations
include the Moon itself, an asteroid or comet in its original
orbit, and a Mars fly-by with no landing.
NASA’s science program consists largely of unmanned
spacecraft such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the
Mars rover Curiosity. The program also conducts some
research from aircraft. There are four main research areas:
planetary science, Earth science, astrophysics, and
heliophysics. In addition, NASA’s Science Mission
Directorate acquires and launches satellites on behalf of
other agencies, such as NOAA.
Planetary Science. Following the launch of two major
Mars missions in 2011 and 2013, the Administration
proposed reducing funding for NASA planetary science in
order to fund science in other research areas. Congressional
supporters of planetary science, especially Mars
exploration, have opposed these proposed reductions each
year since FY2013, with partial success.
Two NASA planetary science probes will reach their
destinations in 2015. Dawn arrived at the asteroid Ceres in
March, and New Horizons will arrive at Pluto in July. These
will be the first two spacecraft to study dwarf planets at
Earth Science. NASA funding for Earth science has risen
from a low of $1.2 billion in FY2007 to about $1.8 billion
in FY2015. Recent congressional debates over NASA
science funding have often balanced support for Earth
science against support for planetary science. Climate
research is a major element of NASA’s Earth science
program. As a result, congressional attitudes toward the
program often align with positions on climate change.
James Webb Space Telescope. In NASA’s astrophysics
program, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is
intended to be a successor to Hubble. Following a series of
schedule delays and cost overruns between 2005 and 2010,
NASA developed a revised plan for the JWST in 2011. In
2012, Congress capped the telescope’s formulation and
development costs and mandated annual reports on the
program by the Government Accountability Office. The
third such report, in December 2014, stated that the
program remains on schedule and on budget, but that
technical challenges have increased schedule risk. The
JWST continues to receive close congressional oversight.
Other U.S. Civil Space Programs
NOAA Weather Satellites. NOAA operates geostationary
and polar-orbiting satellites to provide data for weather
forecasting and other purposes. Although NOAA’s
operational satellites differ from NASA’s research-oriented
Earth science satellites, they share some characteristics, and
improving coordination between the two agencies has long
been a focus of congressional interest.
Landsat. The USGS operates Landsat satellites for land
remote sensing, with applications in agriculture, regional
planning, emergency response, and other areas. As with
weather satellites, there is some overlap with NASA’s
research-oriented Earth science program. Views differ on
the best approach to future land-imaging satellites. Some
stakeholders advocate alternative approaches, such as
privatization or international partnerships. Others prefer the
current model: stand-alone satellites under USGS
management. Other issues for Congress include cost control
and data continuity.
A survey by the Department of Commerce found that U.S.
companies had $62.9 billion in space-related sales in 2012.
While U.S. government programs provided much of this
market, about one quarter of sales were within the
New Space. Some observers have identified an emerging
“new space” sector of relatively new companies focused on
private spaceflight at low cost. One factor driving this trend
is NASA’s reliance on commercial providers for access to
the ISS, but “new space” companies are also focused on
other markets. These include the launch of national security
satellites for the Department of Defense, the launch of
commercial satellites for U.S. and foreign companies, and
even space tourism.
FAA Regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) licenses commercial space launch and reentry,
including commercial spaceports. As part of the FAA
licensing process, the federal government indemnifies
launch providers against certain third-party liabilities. The
114th Congress may revisit this indemnification policy,
which has been renewed eight times since 1988 and
currently expires on December 31, 2016. Although the FAA
has the authority to regulate the safety of crewed
spaceflight, a statutory moratorium restricts the application
of that authority until October 1, 2015. This moratorium has
been a focus of recent congressional interest because of
NASA’s plans for commercial crewed flights to the ISS.
Other Federal Roles. Several other federal agencies are
also involved in the commercial space industry. NOAA
licenses commercial imaging satellites. The Federal
Communications Commission licenses the use of radio
frequencies by commercial satellites and assigns locations
for satellites in geostationary orbits. The National
Transportation Safety Board investigates certain spacecraft
accidents. The Department of Commerce Office of Space
Commercialization supports and promotes U.S. space
commerce. Oversight of export controls on commercial
communications satellites shifted from the Department of
State to the Department of Commerce in 2014.
Daniel Morgan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-5849
www.crs.gov | 7-5700